January 31, 2013

Getting their due

The passage of the landmark Marcos human rights victims compensation bill or the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013” is a most welcome development even if reservations persist about how it will be implemented,  once signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III, to the satisfaction of the victims themselves.

Finally, here is official recognition that the Marcos regime was a brutal and repressive regime imposed upon the Filipino people via the declaration of martial law that was nothing less than a craftily disguised Palace coup d’état.

The principal characters who jointly perpetrated and benefitted from the blood-soaked and kleptocratic regime such as the other half of the Conjugal Dictatorship, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, martial law administrator Juan Ponce-Enrile, and businessman and now Presidential uncle, Danding Cojuangco, wish to wash their hands of their complicity or even try to rewrite history.

To a certain extent they have been able to do just that by virtue of their ill-gotten wealth, their undeserved positions in government, as well as their reinstatement in high society circles after being considered, fleetingly, as social pariahs.

But the existence of tens of thousands of victims subjected to gross violations of their human rights such as extra-judicial killing, forced disappearance, torture and prolonged, unjust detention in subhuman conditions belies any attempt to justify or prettify Marcos’ martial rule.

It is to the credit of these victims, their bona fide organization, SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto) that filed the original class action suit against the Marcos estate in 1986 in the US Federal District Court of Honolulu, Hawaii and won for its 9,539 members an award of $2 Billion in 1995, and the human rights defenders and political activists who refuse to allow the lessons of martial law to be forgotten, that the Marcos compensation bill has come this far.

It has been 27 years and many of the victims are either dead or old and ill, and their families destitute.  They are more than deserving of this token reparation and that their names be inscribed in a “Roll of Victims” to be part of the “Memorial/Museum/Library” that will be set up to honor them.

Unfortunately the bill says very little about what else aside from the martial law atrocities and the victims’ heroism that will be memorialized.

Pres. Aquino is reported to have remarked in connection with the compensation bill that the martial law era was an “aberrant period”, “ a nightmare that happened to the Filipino nation” and that it should be written down with formality “so that we can be sure that this would not happen again in the future.”

For their part educators and historians have decried how the martial law era is treated perfunctorily if not sketchily in the textbooks used in our public schools so that its whys and wherefores are lost on the younger generation.

While Marcos’ ambition, cunning, puppetry and greed were among the main ingredients in the setting up of the dictatorship, this did not take place in a vacuum.  Rather, Marcos imposed martial rule in the midst of an acute crisis in a chronically crisis-ridden social system weighed down by poverty, maldevelopment, social injustice and neocolonial domination.

 It was his scheme to tamp down the crisis by eliminating all opposition and thus monopolize the spoils of elite rule and perpetuate himself in power with the blessings of the US.  How many know about the complex reasons behind the political imprimatur and economic backing provided by the United States government to Marcos’ one-man rule, only to drop the favored dictator like a hot potato and embrace his successor, Mrs. Corazon Aquino, some 14 years later.

Marcos was overthrown but the reactionary system still exploits and oppresses the Filipino people.  State fascism and concomitant human rights violations are not mere aberrations but are well entrenched in this system so that impunity for human rights violations still reigns.

Glossy, coffee table books on the EDSA “people power“ uprising give more than ample coverage of the roles of Senator Ninoy Aquino’s widow “Cory”,  Cardinal Sin, General Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce-Enrile and other personalities in toppling the dictatorship but they provide only snapshots, at biased angles, and not a continuing account of the people’s history of resistance as it unfolded from the moment Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

The defiant call “Never again (to martial law)!” can easily be rendered meaningless when the complete context – socio-economic and political – as well as the specific historical facts and circumstances that gave rise to and propped up Marcos’ authoritarian rule are not rigorously documented and objectively analyzed.

Indeed, the untold stories of how the Filipino people, especially the masses of peasants, workers and other urban poor, struggled against the dictatorship must be collected and retold in such a way that the martial law era will be remembered as one of resistance and not submission or even “victimization”.

There should not be any discrimination against those who took the path of armed revolutionary struggle against the fascist dictatorship since this form of struggle contributed significantly to its weakening and eventual overthrow not to mention that most of these revolutionaries paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in the process.

In the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) inked between the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and the NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines), Articles 4 and 5, provide for indemnification to victims of human rights violations, citing in particular the need to compensate victims under the Marcos regime.  In the many sessions of the GRP-NDFP peace talks (both formal and informal) the NDFP peace panel had consistently and persistently raised the issue with their GRP counterpart.

The GRP appeared to have acknowledged the justness of this demand by eventually signing CARHRIHL that provides for it.  But the actual indemnification did not materialize evidently due to the Arroyo regime's machinations.  Now it remains to be seen, assuming Pres. Aquino will sign the bill into law, whether the martial law human rights victims will finally get what is due them. #

Published in Business World
1-2 February 2013

January 29, 2013

In memoriam: Atty. Eduardo G. Araullo (1947-2013)

This column has been absent for some time due to health issues confounding its writer.  The prolonged leave from political and social activism and the lengthy pause from writing a weekly column in this paper had given rise to an unfamiliar ennui.

The untimely and completely unexpected demise of human rights lawyer, Atty. Eduardo G. Araullo, last January 19 - a person who had been held in esteem by his co-workers, friends, relatives and even acquaintances, as an upright man, a patriot and a social reformer - prompts me to once more string words together, to find meaning, and draw comfort and not a few lessons, from his uncommon life.

Ed Araullo could be compared to the proverbial elephant whose nature several blind men had been trying to figure out by touching different parts of its body but in the process missing out on the whole.

For it seems there is a piece of him there for his very wide social circle that includes high government officials and functionaries; revolutionaries (current and ex-); bishops, priests and nuns; and ordinary folk he had been able to extend a helping hand to at one time or another.  They gathered at his wake – an interesting mix of people high and low, cutting across social classes, philosophical orientations and political persuasions and pretensions.

Ed came from a middle-class family, the seventh in a brood of nine children.  He and his siblings were raised in Guagua, Pampanga and Malabon by unassuming parents who put a premium on honesty, hard work, discipline, frugal living and clan solidarity to achieve success in life.

He studied in De La Salle University from elementary to high school where he formed his bonds with lifelong friends and imbibed Christian and humanitarian ideals.

Upon entering the University of the Philippines, Ed became a Marxist student radical in the late sixties and early seventies.  He was an indefatigable recruiter of students into the Nationalist Corps who then went on to become more mature national democratic or “ND” activists in Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan and Kabataang Makabayan.

He was a well-known fixture in student politics, an indomitable behind-the-scenes figure helping to engineer the victories of “ND” activists in the hotly-contested student council elections.

Ed joined the underground movement upon the declaration of martial law.  He was arrested, tortured and illegally detained like thousands of other youth during that time.  When he was released he continued his law studies and went on to become a labor lawyer in the true sense of the word, lawyering for and in behalf of workers and trade unions.

As the resistance to the Marcos dictatorship intensified and became more widespread, human rights violations by state security forces mounted.  Professionals such as teachers, lawyers and doctors began to stir from their apolitical slumber to defend peasants, urban poor and workers who were bearing the brunt of the fascist dictatorship’s attacks.

Atty. Araullo, together with other young progressive lawyers, joined hands with stalwart nationalists and civil libertarians such as Senator Jose W. Diokno, to establish the first lawyers’ human rights organization FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group).  Thereafter Ed co-founded and chaired the more political lawyers’ organization MABINI (Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism) together with such leading lights as Atty. Rene Saguisag and Atty. (now Vice-President) Jejomar “Jojo” Binay.

Among those who took the time to express their grief and condole with Ed’s family were his pro bono clients, many of them victims of political repression not just under the Marcos dictatorship but also during the so-called democratic regimes that followed.

When the dictatorship fell, Ed helped MABINI lawyer Bobbit Sanchez who was appointed Labor Secretary, and was himself appointed to a post in Geneva, Switzerland.  Subsequently, he returned to private life and concentrated on building his law practice and raising his young family.

By some twist of fate, he became the lawyer and friend of Fernando Poe Jr or “FPJ”, the man who would be president of the republic but was cheated of the chance by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He also became one of the unconventional campaign managers of Makati Mayor Binay when the latter undertook an uphill run for the vice presidency in 2010. (Ed liked to say that he used “united front” tactics in cobbling together the “Noybi” movement that supported “Noynoy” Aquino for president and Binay for vice president.)  Mr. Binay achieved an electoral upset to become the current second highest official of the land.

Subsequently, when asked what position he was interested in, Ed refused any government appointment.

Until he was asked to help Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Chair Margie Juico clean up that government agency in order for it to become more effective in delivering charitable aid from state-controlled lottery revenues to the poor and needy.  Ed’s deeply-ingrained social reforming streak became agitated and challenged by the offer of public service. He took it on with gusto.

As PCSO board secretary, Ed not only became involved in rooting out corrupt practices ingrained in the agency but in putting in place institutional reforms that would help it become more effective, transparent, and less prone to wastage and graft and corruption.

He became a key witness in the plunder case filed against former President Gloria Arroyo, a job he did not relish but which he dutifully accepted, in order to demonstrate to the PCSO rank and file that the new leadership was running after the big-time crooks that stole the monies intended for charity and not just the small fry.

Ed had expressed several times his desire to be of help in breaking the impasse in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the revolutionary National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).  In fact he said that if this had been the job offered him from the beginning, he would have given it priority.  Whenever his help was sought in trying to find ways to overcome obstacles, he readily took discrete steps but unfortunately, the Aquino government’s hardline stance could not be overcome.

In the last years of his life, Ed revealed himself more and more as a staunch patriot, a persistent social reformer, and a helpful and caring friend to his legion of friends and “friends” of friends.  He also uncovered his growing spirituality as he invoked biblical references and his faith in a just and kind God to spur on the reforms the new PCSO management was undertaking.

Fortunately, Ed also had the chance to be a loving husband and an inspiration and role-model to his three children – Sarah, Sandino and Joshua – on what it means to be an upright man, in an unconventional, out-of-the-box sort of way.

It is hoped that his life story and example can be shared to other young people so that they may begin to appreciate the kind of meaningful, if unheralded, life one can live as a Filipino and as a human being. #

Published in Business World
25-26 January 2013