President Benigno Aquino III with the students of Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y. earlier this week. Mr. Aquino received a doctor of laws degree, honoris causa.

Those who forget the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.

President Benigno Aquino III paraphrased the writer George Santayana here Tuesday, saying that martial law imposed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos 39 years ago should be instilled in the Filipino memory, the better to learn the lessons of history.

The President said the dark days of authoritarian rule should never be ignored much less forgotten, since that was the time that military officers committed human rights violations with impunity, sanctioned by the commander-in-chief.

Mr. Aquino’s father, former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., an opposition stalwart who was a vocal critic of the Marcos administration, was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and later lived in exile in the United States.

He was assassinated when he returned home in 1983.

The President said the person who declared martial law had been allowed by the Constitution to do so and stayed well beyond his term of office.

“He was supposed to be a Bar topnotcher but he trampled human rights by sending civilians to be tried in military courts,” he said, referring to Marcos, whose son, Ferdinand II, is now a senator and Mr. Aquino’s former colleague in the Senate.

The President also hit the former strongman and the people around him during that time for his decisions that according to him resulted to the country’s external debt that reached $25 billion since 1974 and the futility of having to establish the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant whose loans were paid by Filipino taxpayers for several years, among others.

“There was a study that came out before martial law that we almost have no external debt. I believe I saw a record that we started in 1974, that is when they started talking about the $25 billion,” the President said in Filipino.

He, however, reiterated that there were suggestions that Asian nations should have a paternalistic system and a strong leader.

In Manila, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda defended the Aquino Administration’s human rights record and emphasized that the compensation bill that would give monetary assistance to martial law victims is still being worked out.

The human rights compensation bill seeks to provide assistance to some 10,000 victims during the martial law years.

Lacierda said there was a discussion on the bill prior to the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council but the terms and provisions were so broad that those present were not able to determine who exactly should be considered a rights victim.

Different points of view

Meanwhile, militant groups commemorated the 39th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by holding a rally at the foot of Mendiola Bridge in Manila, the site of many demonstrations during the Marcos regime.

“Justice remains elusive for the thousands of victims of the Marcos dictatorship and the fascist regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Martial law’s anniversary reminds us not just of the atrocities committed in the past, but also of the difficult struggle for justice being waged by victims of the past and present,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr.

Bayan lamented that while the compensation of Marcos victims was mentioned during the President’s State of the Nation Address, there has lately been no pronouncement or update on the matter.

The group also said the Aquino government has been slow to release more than 350 political prisoners, most of them arrested on trumped-up charges during the Arroyo regime.

“The AFP continues to deny the existence of political prisoners in the Philippines. The government doesn’t even have a working definition of who these prisoners are. It’s as if the 350 prisoners do not exist at all,” Reyes said.

Akbayan party-list, on the other hand, filed a resolution urging the House of Representatives to officially declare the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos an “enemy of democracy.”

In filing House Resolution 1756, Representatives Walden Bello and Arlene Bag-ao called on Congress to condemn the atrocities committed by Marcos.

It also called on Congress to “strongly oppose” the revival of any proposal that would portray him as a hero.

The lawmakers said the Marcos dictatorship “was perhaps one of the darkest parts in the country’s political history.”

They said the Marcos dictatorship, through the utilization of a brutal military establishment, was responsible for 3,257 murders, 35,000 torture cases and 70,000 incarcerations.

But Marcos loyalists disagreed.

Lawyer Oliver Lozano, a staunch supporter of the fallen dictator, justified the implementation of martial law, saying Proclamation 1081 brought peace and development and made the country among the leading economies in the Asian region.

“It was an act of self defense against mob rule. There was no dictatorship only constitutional authoritarian rule against the enemies of the state that were on the verge of taking over the government. Crime rate went down, progress and development began reaching the countryside,” Lozano told the Philippine Star.

He said aside from the restoration of law and order, martial law also sped up implementation of infrastructure projects and instilled discipline among the citizenry.

Lozano, whose son and driver were killed by carjackers early this year, said he would support the declaration of a modified “martial law” provided it is within the bounds of the Constitution, to address the worsening crime situation.

Martial law documents

In a related development, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin turned over Wednesday to civilians previously confidential martial law documents in a simple ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Gazmin said the documents, enough to fill up a room, will be preserved to allow Filipinos to learn from the past.

“Your defense and military establishment fully commit to turn over all declassified martial law documents in our possession to our Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for preservation and for the sake of posterity,” he said.

The Department of National Defense (DND) and the CHR would coordinate with the National Archives and the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) to preserve and digitize the documents.

The two feet thick documents include news clippings about former Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, a key figure of the popular revolt that ousted Marcos and reports on former Sen. Ninoy Aquino.


President Barack Obama and President Aquino at the formal launching of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manattan on Sept. 20.


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