Survivors of the Marcos era ask for the truth as the new Marcos rises | Human rights news

Manila, Philippines – At a small gathering with martial law victims and their surviving families at the Manila Heroes Monument memorial park, Joey Faustino wonders what has happened to the Philippines.

“Should I feel betrayed because lies have prevailed? Or forgotten and neglected by our countrymen who believed these lies? he asks, a week after voters chose Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the country’s former dictator, as their next president.

In the park, popularly known as Bantayog, is the black granite Wall of Remembrance inscribed with the names of 320 Filipinos who fought against the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s. They are only a fraction of those who suffered under his brutal rule. : Amnesty International says that more than 3,200 people were killed, 35,000 tortured and 70,000 detained during that period.

Gerardo T Faustino, Joey’s older brother, is among the names on the wall.

In July 1977, the 21-year-old University of the Philippines student was kidnapped along with nine other student activists in what is considered the largest kidnapping case during the martial law era. He has been missing ever since and, along with thousands of others missing, he is presumed dead.

Now, nearly 50 years later, in a development once unthinkable, another Marcos is president.

A long Wall of Remembrance stands at the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani (Heroes Monument), where the names of 320 Filipinos who rose up against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos are engraved. Days after his son won the presidency, people began laying flowers and lighting candles to honor the dead. [Jhesset O Enano/Al Jazeera]

The landslide victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr, better known as ‘Bongbong’, surprised a nation deeply divided between two opposing forces: one that chooses to remember and seek justice for the victims of its dark history versus another that prefers to put the past aside. . and move on

There are many in between who question the well-documented atrocities and looting that took place under Marcos’s father, aided by misinformation on social media that has helped return the family to political prominence and the son’s triumph. in the polls.

Human rights groups and martial law victims say a ‘Bongbong’ Marcos presidency signals not only more efforts to rewrite history, but also a further setback in the country’s human rights situation. His vice president, chosen separately from the president, is Sara Duterte, currently mayor of the southern city of Davao and daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial outgoing president.

Both have vowed to carry on the work of their fathers.

Without a concerted effort against disinformation and historical revisionism, experts warn the situation will get worse.

“That victory is not an affirmation of human rights, given their history,” Carlos Conde, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. “[Marcos Jr’s] The entire campaign is rooted in misinformation about human rights abuses, not just from his father’s regime, but from this regime… Some might find the idea that he, of all presidents, will make things better for the poor is ridiculous. human rights in the country.

Somber prospect

President Duterte, who will leave office on June 30, leaves a bloody legacy from his war on drugs, which primarily targeted the poor and is now the subject of an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation, to his crackdown on critics and activists.

For their part, despite demands ordering them to compensate victims of human rights abuses, the Marcoses have refused to acknowledge the abuses or apologize for what happened.

In 1986, after thousands of Filipinos took to the streets in a “people power” uprising, the Marcoses fled into exile in Hawaii, carrying boxes of cash valued at more than $700 million, as well as gold bars and jewelry. . The deposed dictator is believed to have looted up to $10 billion during his rule, while his wife Imelda became a byword for greed and excess.

“What am I going to say I’m sorry about?” Marcos Jr said in an interview in 2015, when he launched what was ultimately an unsuccessful vice-presidential run against Leni Robredo. This year, that result was reversed with Robredo, a human rights lawyer, finishing a distant second in the presidential race.

As a senator for six years, Marcos Jr has shown little inclination to defend human rights, Conde said.

“Sara Duterte, on the other hand, had extrajudicial executions [happening in Davao City] during his shift too, not just his father’s,” he added. She took over as mayor from her father, who had held the position for more than 20 years.

“If she was put on trial for that, then that’s also a pretty damning kind of story,” he said.

Experts also warn that incoming Philippine leaders are likely to resist the ICC investigation into Duterte’s drug war killings.

Joey Faustino standing in front of the memorial wall for the victims of Martial Law
“There is no more retirement for us,” Joey Faustino told Al Jazeera, calling on martial law-era veterans to wage a new battle for truth after Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr was elected president. His older brother was kidnapped by the regime in 1977 and was never seen again. [Jhesset O Enano/AL Jazeera]
University professor Nestor Castro.
In 1983, Néstor Castro, then 23 years old, was illegally detained and tortured for criticizing the violent dispersal of indigenous students in Baguio City. Now that he is a professor at the University of the Philippines, he has started talking about his painful experience again. [Jhesset O Enano/Al Jazeera]

Human rights groups estimate that at least 27,000 people have been killed in vigilante-style anti-drug operations since Duterte took office in 2016. Government figures are more conservative but still frightening, putting the death toll from police operations at approximately 6,000.

In a recently released report, the Philippine Human Rights Commission said the Duterte government consistently blocked its efforts to independently investigate the killings.

“It has encouraged a culture of impunity that shields perpetrators from accountability,” the commission said.

Battle between truth and lies

Survivors of torture and wrongful imprisonment during the Marcos dictatorship have long sounded the alarm about Marcos’ attempt to rehabilitate his family name.

For much of his life, Néstor Castro, a cultural anthropologist and professor, chose not to speak of his painful experience during the Marcos era.

“After going through that experience, why relive it? Remembering what you went through is very painful,” she said.

But in 2016, when President Duterte allowed the burial of the elderly Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery, where deceased Filipino presidents and national heroes, scientists and artists are buried, Castro knew he had to speak out about his torture, especially to his young men. students. .

In March 1983, the then 23-year-old was arrested without a warrant for opposing a violent dispersal of indigenous students in Baguio City. While he was detained, state agents repeatedly hit his head against the walls, burned his chest with cigarettes, and threw him into a cramped cell where he ate, slept, and relieved himself.

He decided to tell his story on video and upload it to TikTok, a social media platform that has been widely used by disinformation networks to spread false information and portray the Marcos era as a “golden age.”

Trolls and Marcos supporters immediately spammed and reported his video en masse, and TikTok took it down. Castro appealed to the social networking site, but to no avail.

On Facebook, where the video is still available, the comments are peppered with hateful comments.

“You were probably disobedient and that’s why you were jailed,” said one.

“You were probably doing something wrong. We don’t break any laws so we’re really okay with martial law,” said another. “You can’t make us change our minds; we are BBM (Bongbong Marcos) and Sara straight from the heart.”

A crowd of young people at a political rally protest efforts to revise history by carrying banners that read
In recent years, Filipino youth have pushed back against concerted efforts to review history, particularly abuses during the Martial Law era. [Jhesset O Enano/Al Jazeera]

Back in Bantayog, May Rodríguez remembers how the wounds of the survivors of the dictatorship have reopened several times in recent years.

“For me, it’s not the physical memory of remembering the torture. Is to listen once again to the song ‘Bagong Lipunan’ [New Society]. That is the most painful”, she said in reference to a propaganda song composed to exalt the dictatorship. Marcos Jr revived the anthem during his campaign, remixing it to fit the 21st century.

“That song gets to my guts when I listen to it,” added Rodriguez, the park’s executive director.

As Marcos Jr prepares to be sworn in in a few weeks, martial law survivors fear dark times are ahead.

For veterans like Faustino, the battle to keep their stories alive, painful as they are to remember, has become increasingly important.

“This is another era where we will need to, more than just survive, but speak and hold on to the truth,” he said. “There is no other recourse.”

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