BOOK REVIEW: Marcos Martial Law: Never Again – A Brief History of Torture and Atrocity under the New Society

by Rose Churma

The first page of the book contains a poem from the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. written while he was in prison during Martial Law. The last stanza notes: “Many are called but few are chosen/ Fewer still are those gifted/ with the rarest privilege of MARTYRDOM.”

Ninoy Aquino is the most well-known martyr of Marcos’ Martial Law, his death on the tarmac of the international airport in Manila would trigger an upheaval that would topple the dictatorship. But there are numerous other martyrs whose names are only known to their families and friends, and those who simply disappeared. This book tries to explain and make sense of that era.

The introduction consists of three articles: the first one is on the kidnapping, torture and murder of Luis Manuel Mijares, the son of Primitivo Mijares, a Marcos confidant who became a whistleblower and exposed Marcos’ plot to grab power, his human rights abuses and his corruption. (Mijares also published a 499-page book—The Conjugal Dictatorship available in PDF.)

The second article was on Hilda Narciso, then a 37-year-old teacher trying to set up basic Christian communities in Davao among the very poor; she was gang-raped and tortured for her advocacies.

The third article is about “the victims the nation forgot.” Almost three decades after the dictator was toppled, the Philippine Congress finally legislated the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013” and created a board to receive and verify claims of martial law atrocities and as of 2016, the board has verified 75,730 claims.

In the first chapter, the book tracks the “advent of the New Society” and the road to Martial Law during the presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos. It also includes a brief biography of Marcos and cites the two infamous murders that marked his life.

He was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison for the murder of Julio Nalundasan, a newly elected assemblyman from Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, Marcos’ father’s political opponent.

Marcos was then a law student at UP Diliman was allowed to graduate and placed first in the bar exam of 1939. In 1940, the Supreme Court overturned the judgment and set him free.

According to the Mijares, this was due to the intercession of Justice Laurel who felt “the country couldn’t afford to lose a person of such potential.” If this first murder case shot him to prominence, the second –that of Ninoy Aquino – led to the regime’s collapse.

Out of the eight chapters in the book, four are devoted to torture and how atrocities were legalized. Chapter 2 proves that “Marcos was in charge” and that he approved and sanctioned the torture but was masked with a ” facade of legality and confused hierarchy.”

All of these would be confirmed by the class action suit filed against Marcos in Hawaii, where he fled in exile.

Chapter 3 documents the history of torture in the Philippines a tradition going back centuries, first documented by its Spanish colonizers in 1582.

Chapter 4, titled “The Torture Theater” notes that torture was a “deliberate policy,” part of state-controlled machinery to suppress dissent and an integral part of the regime’s security strategy.

Chapter 5 called “Islands of Fear” notes that the youngest political prisoner ever arrested was a 10-week-old baby boy. The chapter also describes a separate secret archipelago composed of detention camps, security cells, bartolinas, “rehabilitation centers” and safe houses and within these “islands” lived thousands of prisoners making Marcos the first president associated with the wholesale construction of facilities dedicated to the violation of human rights.

Chapter 6 “Crescendo and Collapse” chronicles the last few years of the Marcos era, the extent of the plunder and the uprising that propelled the exile to Hawaii.

Chapter 7 “Amnesia, Impunity and Justice” discusses the aftermath. The 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution “had chopped down the Marcos political tree” but its roots spread out far and wide in the Philippine bureaucracy. All the Marcoses needed to do was to nurture the roots and wait for the tree to grow back. It has with technology and social media helping it along, and countless trolls.

The author notes that those who were tortured will forever be scarred, “yet what they underwent has almost been forgotten, buried by amnesia far beneath the public’s awareness.”

Ironically, there is a Marcos museum long before there was one for human rights martyrs this speaks volumes about the Filipino’s collective memory and their historical sense. The author posed a question: Is this how Filipinos value human rights?

In the preface, the author says “this book was difficult for me to write.” It is also difficult to read. Not because of its literary merits, but its contents. I had procrastinated reading the book, but due to the results of the last Philippine election, I felt it was time to remember those years and write about them.

This book is a study of the strongman rule that the Philippines once had, to serve as a warning that giving up our freedoms in exchange for promises of unity and prosperity will exact terrible consequences affecting many generations.

It is not surprising that the author dedicates this book “for all human rights victims of the Marcos dictatorship whose sacrifices we are building on today, and for the unborn generations who might be asked one day to make the same sacrifice.”

Aside from the main text, the book contains several sidebars (i.e.“How the Marcoses and their Cronies Plundered the Philippines”),  photographs and illustrations.

The sidebar and accompanying photograph that is unforgettable was the one taken by John Silva (now the Executive Director of the Ortigas Foundation Library) when he went to Negros Island with Oxfam, an international relief agency. The photograph shows an emaciated nine-year-old girl who died soon after a victim of the crony capitalism and sugar monopoly in Negros.

The book contains exhaustive endnotes that cite the documents referenced for each chapter (Appendix 1). It also contains the security and spy network of the Marcos Regime and its chain of command (Appendix 2).

Appendix 3 are facsimiles of how certain foundations were set up to benefit the Marcos family while Appendix 4 & 5 are the sworn statement and affidavit of Rolando Gapud, the self-styled “financial adviser” of Marcos. Appendix 6 is the transcript of the testimony of Ambassador Stephen Bosworth at the class action lawsuit in Hawaii.

The book also includes an extensive bibliography and an index.

ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.

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