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20 September 2012

“WE NEED TO REMEMBER THE PAST TO CLARIFY THE PRESENT AND GUIDE US INTO THE FUTURE”

 

On 21 September 2012 we commemorate the 40 th anniversary of the proclamation of Martial Law by then President Ferdinand Marcos that ushered in one of the darkest periods in our history.

Forty years is a long time, more than a generation. As we look back, we join the nation in saying “Never again!”. Never again should we allow dictatorship to be imposed on our country. Never again should we allow the rights of the Filipino people to be massively violated. Never again should we allow the plunder of our nation’s wealth. And never again should we allow our democratic institutions to be trampled upon.

This message should be taken to heart by every Filipino, especially those in government, in whose reins we have entrusted the governance of the country that we so dearly love, guided by the high and noble principles of the 1987 Constitution that was forged from the struggle against the dictatorship.

The overarching message of the 1987 Constitution marking our “Never again” moment in EDSA in 1986 is that respect for human rights should be at the core of governance and of our way of life as a nation.

And yet, 40 years after Proclamation 1081 imposed martial law throughout the country in September 1972, the thousands of victims of human rights violations still have not obtained compensation in their pursuit of justice. Despite their historic court victory in 1992 in a decision of the US District Court of Hawaii adjudging Marcos guilty of gross violations of the human rights of 9,539 class and individual action plaintiffs, the victims have only been able to receive $1,000 each from a partial distribution last year. The compensation bill, pending in Congress since the 8 th Congress, still has to be passed and signed into law. And a number of the victims have already died, are sick and aging.

The CHR, true to its mandate in the 1987 constitution, has consistently campaigned for the passage of the compensation bill ever since the first legislative proposal was filed in Congress. It has also assisted in the distribution last year from March until October of the checks to the victims arising from the Hawaii case. It has also successfully lobbied for the AFP to turn over declassified files of the martial law period. This is still a work in progress.

The lessons of that dark period should also be taken to heart by the security forces today. Having been the implementors of martial law during that time and inevitably the perpetrators of the massive human rights violations against our people, we are heartened today by the AFP’s paradigm shift and the PNP’s Transformation Program that upholds human rights and the rule of law at the core of their programs. This has been made possible by the government’s positive attitude to human rights and the more favourable environment for their observance.

Unfortunately, there are still reports of continuing human rights violations by personnel of the AFP and the PNP, and although on a lower scale than before, there are still victims of torture, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. The policy shift is still not matched by the practice of their people on the ground.

Today, the CHR joins other sectors of Philippine society in opposing the attempt by some political sectors to rewrite that dark period in our history to portray it as the best thing that ever happened to the Philippines. This is a pernicious attempt to escape accountability, to deny the victims their right to justice and compensation. What is worse than plagiarism? It is rewriting history.

We acknowledge the support of other institutions and sectors in these efforts of the CHR, including civil society and the UN Development Program (UNDP) office in the Philippines. This is a common effort by all stakeholders to uphold historical truth, and to promote justice and human rights for all.

We need to remember the past in order to clarify the present and guide us into the future.#

 

COMMISSIONER JOSE MANUEL S. MAMAUAG
Officer-in-Charge
Commission on Human Rights

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