Reconciliation without justice
Sept. 21 is a day to remember for a generation of Filipinos whose experience of martial law can best be described as one long nightmare of arbitrary arrests, rape, torture, involuntary disappearances, and "salvaging" (a wry euphemism for extrajudicial killing); of military offensives accompanied by indiscriminate bombings, arson, "hamletting" and psy-war campaigns of terror and deception; of economic hardship and misery for the greater majority while the Marcos cabal was enriched by state policies that favored foreign capital, their local trading partners, and the big landlords.
All these in a surreal backdrop of prettified images of the "New Society" churned out by a tightly controlled mass media, of studied indifference and carefully constructed rationalizations by the institutional church, most of the intelligentsia and polite society in general.
And so it was commemorated in major cities throughout the country -- by civil libertarians, human rights advocates and activists under the banner of the Sept. 21 Committee and BAYAN -- by way of mass demonstrations, prayers, candle lighting and symposia, their voices resonating: "Never again to a fascist dictatorship!"
For its part, the Arroyo administration marked the day in a rather curious fashion.
In the first National Security Council (NSC) meeting under Mrs. Arroyo's new term, she led Council members, including former Presidents Aquino and Ramos and selected representatives of the religious sector (notably, a certain Jesuit priest, Fr. Romeo Intengan, representing the CBCP head, Archbishop Fernando Capalla), in forging a consensus on how to bring about "reconciliation."
The Arroyo administration identified the failure to put a closure on its "conflict" with two deposed leaders -- the family of Ferdinand Marcos, ousted in February 1986, and former President Joseph Estrada, in January 2001 -- as one of the root causes of the lack of political harmony and national stability.
From the point of view of those who choose to remember the infamy of Sept. 21, there are four sore points preventing closure of that bloody chapter of our nation's history under the military boot of the US-backed "Conjugal Dictatorship."
First is the indemnification of the victims of massive human rights violations by the Marcos regime premised on the recognition that these violations took place as a result of state policy (and not, as Gen. Ramos put it, as a result of aberrations in specific commands of the police and military).
Second is the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators of the most egregious human rights abuses.
Third is the return of the Marcos loot (including that part entrusted to cronies) where it rightfully belongs -- to the Filipino people.
Fourth, and not the least, is the reversal of state and economic policies instituted by the Marcos regime that kowtow to the IMF-WB (and now, the WTO) and surrender our economic sovereignty and national patrimony to foreign monopoly capital.
How will the Arroyo government, with the aid of no less than key figures in EDSA I as well as high-profile leaders of the Catholic Church and, doubtless, taking foreign policy into account, go about "creatively" resolving these outstanding issues against the dictator's descendants, cronies and henchmen, and their foreign patrons?
How, when former First Lady Imelda Marcos adamantly declares there were no human rights violations during martial law "as certified by the Philippine Commission of Human Rights"; that those complaining loudly about their rights being trampled on were "communists who were merely being put away because they were trying to overthrow the government."
How, when NSC members and participants to the meeting appeared equivocal on the issue of compensation for rights victims because they worried about the "risk" of giving compensation to "mostly CPP-NPA-NDF members."
How to achieve "reconciliation" when notorious torturers and killers, such as former Constabulary Col. Rudy Aguinaldo and MISG Col. Rolando Abadilla, were allowed to get away with their crimes against humanity with impunity -- then reinventthemselves as honorable congressmen, crimefighters, presidential advisers and high-ranking civilian bureaucrats -- until the NPA was able to render its own brand of revolutionary justice.
How, when the Marcoses claim not to have stashed away a single peso of ill-gotten wealth, for as Mrs. Marcos points out, her husband was already fabulously rich, having discovered a treasure trove of Yamashita gold; thereafter she claims her husband multiplied his riches by being such an astute businessman, investing in more money-making ventures.
How to achieve "closure" when government agencies dedicated to prosecuting the Marcoses and their cronies for the high crime of plunder, have consistently botched these cases one after another; when such cronies have become the closest allies of the Arroyo administration; and when President Arroyo herself has amply demonstrated her capacity for paying off her political debts.
How, when the Arroyo government supports the US "war on terror" in exchange for paltry economic and military aid, allows increased US military presence and activity in the country, follows the US baton in pushing an anti-terrorist law that suspends constitutional rights and campaigns for the "terrorist" listing of the CPP, NPA and the NDF chief political consultant in order to pressure these revolutionary forces to capitulate.Perhaps, more to the point, are the Arroyo government's moves to come to terms with the Marcos/Estrada camps really meant to render justice along with reconciliation? Or are these merely intended to widen Mrs. Arroyo's base of support for the "bitter pill" of new tax measures, higher prices and increasingly non-existent social services? Are they meant to neutralize, if not co-opt, dissent and opposition to pending "emergency measures" that will be set up to deal with the anticipated social unrest and heightened resistance to the Arroyo regime's anti-people policies?
Sept. 24-25, 2004