Monday, September 21, 2015

Never Forget… Never Again

             Forty three years ago President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. He abolished congress, suppressed press freedom and other civil liberties and violated the rights of the people.  Thousands of opposition leaders and student activists were imprisoned. Suspected subversives and criminals were subsequently arrested or executed (salvaged) without due process. His justification for his dictatorial rule:  to save the republic, reform society and build a new society – ang Bagong Lipunan . He emphasized discipline and one of the slogans was: “sa ikakaunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.”  Through farcical referendum and plebiscite, Marcos enacted a new constitution which provided a legal basis for his dictatorial rule, with a subservient judiciary and parliament. He tried to replace the oligarchy with his cronies who controlled all sectors of the economy. Thus, he monopolized  political and economic power. He was a ruthless, repressive and corrupt dictator, who enriched himself while majority of his people wallowed in poverty. Many of those in the military and the police became corrupt as well and engaged in torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.

I was one of the victims of the Marcos dictatorial rule. In 1973, on the first anniversary of Martial Law, I was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for seven months. My crime: producing and distributing leaflets that denounced the dictatorial rule. I was just an 18-year old college seminarian studying at a University in Cebu and involved in student activism. After I was released from prison and continued my priestly formation, I was constantly haunted by a recurring nightmare reminding me of the terror and pain I experienced.  During that dark period, priests that I personally knew were among the victims: Fr. Godofredo  Alingal, SJ the parish priest of Kibawe assassinated for his prophetic denunciation of military abuses and Fr. Rudy Romano, CSsR, a fellow Redemptorist who was abducted and made to disappear by military intelligence agents. There were BEC leaders and pastoral workers who were arrested or killed by military and paramilitary units.  A few months before the end of the Marcos era, my mother was murdered and robbed by a gang composed of members of the Philippine Constabulary (PC - now known as PNP-SAF) who were later killed in a shootout with the police after another robbery attempt. Everything seemed so hopeless at that time until the miraculous EDSA  People Power which was for me a manifestation of God's liberating action in history.

 It seemed a long time ago and many have forgotten or are ignorant about the dark period of the history of our country.  Nowadays, there are many who believe that Marcos was the greatest president of the Philippines and who question the heroism of Ninoy Aquino whose death later became the inspiration of the People Power. These are the people who are too young and ignorant to know what really happened or old enough to be instruments or collaborators of the Marcos dictator and who benefited from his rule. These are the same people who are clamoring for his son to run for the highest office. Some are supporting the candidacy of a politician who has the reputation of being as corrupt as the former dictator and is being investigated for plunder. Others who are fed up with the judicial system and rule of law are clamoring for a strong man – another dictator – who will instill discipline,  rule with an iron hand, abolish congress, ignore human rights and civil liberties and unleash the death squads all over the country to stamp out criminality. They want history to repeat itself.  This is our fatal flaw. Our collective memory as a nation is as short as our noses. Ferdinand Marcos is long dead but his legacy lives on. Graft and corruption is imbedded in our political, economic and judicial systems. There are government officials as well as those in the military and police who think and act as if they are above the law, who use their positions to enrich themselves, and who violate human rights. Forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings continue.

Those of us who witnessed, who suffered and who survived that dark period have an obligation to remind the nation and the new generation of the evil of the Marcos dictatorial rule and its persistence in our time. We will continue to cry out: “We will never forget. Never again.”

Here’s a poem I wrote which sums up what I and many went through under detention:

   A Prisoner's Psalm

From this dark and damp cell
I cry out to you --
Lord, can your hear my groaning 
I cry to you all day long,
I call out to you in the night
But you are so distant or absent.

My throat is sore, I cannot scream anymore
Day and night they ask me all sorts of questions,
they strike, punch and kick me  when I do not answer.
My fingers are swollen, I cannot clench my fist
My ribs are broken, I cannot stand erect
My whole body is enflamed, it is getting numb. 

I was thirsty and they forced me to drink  rum.
to loosen my tongue and reveal to them the truth.
They stripped me off my clothes and my dignity.
They are preparing the machine that will electrify my body.
And now I dread the sound of footsteps and the opening of the door.
I prefer this darkness than face the glaring light.

They said only I can end my suffering
if I confess to them everything and betray those
who oppose this dictatorial regime.

How much longer, do I have to suffer?
How much longer can I hold on?
How much longer can I maintain my sanity?
Will I ever see again the sky and the sun?
Will I ever see again the faces of those I love and serve?
Or will they make me disappear forever?

Lord, do not abandon me?
Deliver me from these kidnappers and murderers
who are trying to maintain peace and order.
Deliver me from these mercenaries in uniform
whose obsession is to defend national security
the security of this blood-thirsty and power hunger dictator
the security of his cronies and their big business interests
the security of his alien lords and their bases and investments.
O, Lord my God,
I know you are neither blind nor deaf.
Your mercy and compassion endure  forever.
You have always been a subversive God -
you depose the mighty from their thrones and raise the lowly.
I cry out now to you: subvert this dictatorial regime!
Let your Spirit fill the hearts of those who are struggling
to build a kingdom of justice, peace and freedom.
From this dark and damp cell
I cry out to you, Lord can you hear me?
Into your hands I commend my broken body
and my wavering spirit.

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