Ferdinand Marcos Imelda Marcos Martial Law Escalante Massacre

We should never forget the horrors of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship

On the 21st of September 1972, Filipinos remember the declaration of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos. It is an occasion to remind ourselves of the brutality of the dictator’s regime, and to commemorate the sacrifices of the human rights activists who fought valiantly to restore the rule of law.

Unfortunately, the incumbent government of President Rodrigo Duterte has effectively sanitized the legacy of the Marcoses. There is a large, and growing, sector of the Filipino public who not only deny the corruption and violence that was perpetrated by the state during martial law, but would even argue that President Marcos was a benevolent ruler who was wrongfully ousted by corrupt entities himself.

This specious line of thinking has been made possible by historical revisionism made accessible to everyday Filipinos mostly through social media, but also through blogs and websites. The digital age may have made the transfer of knowledge much simpler, it has also facilitated the swift dissemination of false or misleading information.

CARMMA protest versus Martial Law and Marcoses
Members of CARMMA (Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law) hold a protest against fascism and state repression during a Martial Law commemoration in 2018. [Photo from CARMMA Facebook page]
We can see the evidence of the Marcos family’s return to a level of influence today: the dictator’s namesake and only son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, nearly won the race for vice-president during the 2016 general elections. Imee Marcos, a daughter of Marcos Sr, won a seat as Senator during the 2019 midterm elections and received the eighth highest number of votes.

Perhaps the most evident proof that Marcos Sr’s reputation has been repaired was when President Duterte had his remains transferred to the Libingan ng mga Bayani” (Heroes’ Cemetery), which is a site reserved for fallen soldiers and deceased honourable public officials. By virtue of Marcos’ burial in this cemetery, he had been given de facto status as a hero.

CARMMA Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos Martial Law era
President Ferdinand Marcos and his First Lady Imelda Marcos lived a life of royalty during their 20-year rule of the Philippines. [Photo from CARMMA]
To counter this blatant historical revisionism, those who lived through the martial law period, and scholars who have studied in depth the facts of the Marcos regime, are obliged to remind the world – particularly the Filipino people – the horrors that happened under those dark times.

A good place to start would be to hear from the human rights activists who suffered under the Marcos era firsthand, and several narrate their stories in this video by CARMMA (Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law):

The Martial Law survivors in that video recount the torture they experienced under the Marcos Regime, and violence was definitely a recurring theme during those days. In fact, a shrine to memorialize all those who did not live to tell their tale was erected as a reminder of all the brutality called the Bantayog ng mga Bayani” (Monument of Heroes).

The Monument also tells the stories of those victims, like student activist Edgar Jopson who was arrested by Marcos’ soldiers and tortured, later summarily executed, for organizing labour union strikes challenging the worsening state of workers’ rights under the regime. Or the story of five individuals collective called, “The Bulacan Martyrs”, namely, Danilo Aguirre, Edwin Borlongan, Teresita LLorente, Renato Manimbo, and Constantino Medina, who were organizing a protest when military forces suddenly arrested them one day in 1982 and all five of themwere found dead the following day.

Escalante Massacre victims Martial Law Ferdinand Marcos
Victims of the 1985 Escalante Massacre, where 20 protesters were gunned down in cold blood by Marcos’ soldiers. [Photo from CARMMA]
The period was also notorious for its massacres, an example of which was the Escalante Massacre in the province of Negros Occidental. Sugar plantation workers, backed by other activists, conducted a noise protest in Escalante City, calling on the government for fair wages and land distribution; instead of meeting their grievances, the protesters were met with tear gas and bullets by responding units of the Regional Special Action Force (RSAF) and the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF).

The aftermath found 20 activists dead, with thirty more wounded. Nearby buildings and structures were riddled with bullet holes, and bodies had to be recovered from the protest site and from sugarcane fields surrounding the location. This event is also sometimes remembered as, “Bloody Thursday” and is among the most brutal episodes of the Marcos period.

Judy Taguiwalo protest Stop the Attacks
Judy Taguiwalo, a martial law-era political prisoner, leads a protest against extrajudicial killings. [Photo by Carlo Manalansan]
There were Marcos-era dissidents who were lucky enough to live to see the fall of the dictatorship in 1986. Many of whom were either tortured or became political prisoners during the Martial Law era, becoming activists who continue to remind us of the atrocities of those dark days.

One of them is Prof. Judy Taguiwalo, a University of the Philippines women’s studies professor who was a staunch activist during the Marcos period. She was already pregnant when she was arrested by state forces in 1984, and eventually gave birth to her daughter in prison.

Her only “crime” for being arrested was that she was one of the founders, and avid activist, of the women’s rights organization Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababihan (Free Movement of New Women; MAKIBAKA). As was the case during the Marcos dictatorship, anyone who dared oppose the regime would – at the very least – find themselves behind bars. Those less fortunate, would either end up missing or summarily executed.

Liliosa Hilao Martial Law
Liliosa Hilao [Photo from bantayog.org]
Dr. Taguiwalo’s fellow activist at that time, Liliosa Hilao, was one of those less fortunate ones. Although not active in demonstrations, “Lily” was an avid writer and poet who authored essays critical of the Marcos regime.

One fateful night, drunken soldiers broke into the Hilao family residence and demanded the household surrender Lily’s brother, who was an activist. Instead, she refused to give any information to the soldiers without them showing an arrest warrant first.

For demanding that they follow the rule of law, Lily instead was beaten up and arrested by those soldiers. She would be tortured, as was testified by her brother-in-law who was an army officer himself, and when Lily’s sister visited her the next day she would already be dead.

A Cordillera tribe performs a customary dance
A Cordillera tribe performs a customary dance during the Marcos era. [Photo copyright: Luis Liwanag, 2012]
Of course, talking about the horrors that happened during the Marcos regime would not be complete without mentioning the plight of indigenous Filipino tribes. The most famous example was the story of Macli-ing Dulag of the Butbut tribe from Kalinga province, who led his tribe to resist the construction of the Chico River dam in their ancestral land during the late 1970’s.

The dam project would have affected 100,000 people, most of whom were from the tribe as Dulag, and would also have environmental impacts on their tribal land. As the tribal chieftain, he led his tribe to conduct demonstrations that would hinder the construction of the dam, eventually forcing the Marcos administration to pull-out National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) survey teams from the site of the dam temporarily, in 1975.

Dulag had proved to be a formidable barrier blocking Marcos’ ambitious project, thus on April 24, 1980 members of the President’s armed forces approached the tribal chieftain’s house and opened fired on it – killing him instantly. Outrage ensued because of the blatant violation of human rights that occurred, forcing the World Bank – which partly funded the project – to shelf the dam entirely.

Bantayog ng mga Bayani
Bantayog ng mga Bayani, a monument that enshrines the names of the victims and martyrs during the Marcos dictatorship. [Photo from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Judgefloro]
The atrocities under the Marcos dictatorship were so brutal, and done so blatant, that it is astonishing how many Filipinos have come to the conclusion today that the dictator was benevolent. How they could even think that he was not only innocent of all the crimes accused, it was Marcos himself who was the victim.

In these times, that famous quote by George Santayana resonates loudly: “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. If many Filipinos are choosing to forget the suffering that our country endured under the Marcos rule, it is not surprisingly that a majority of them tolerate the worsening crimes under the current Duterte regime.

They turn a blind eye to injustices happening around them, complacent that these brutal acts are not happening to them or anyone they know. Unbeknownst to them, President Marcos was popular too at first, before he used his popularity to bring about an era of impunity and tyranny.

Padme Amidala, a fictional character in the Star Wars film series, is known for this line applicable to the present-day situation in the Philippines: “This is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause”. It is painful to think that Filipinos are constantly reminded of the horrors of fascism and dictatorship every September 21st, but instead they choose to forget the lessons of the Marcos era and continue to usher in another dark period in our country’s history.

18 Replies to “We should never forget the horrors of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship”

  1. Ellena Cabanas

    How dare you that this horror im born in 60’s i know what happen in that year martial law very safe not like the cory s regine very worst worst govt rule Marcos is real hero they build kidney center heart center and so many more how about cory what is the achievement of aquinos govt only corruption

    • Louie Encabo

      Is it not possible that BOTH Marcos and Aquinos are corrupt and crooked?

      I agree that the time of Cory Aquino was also full of brutal killings, but you cannot deny the thousands of documented injustices that happened under Marcos’ era.

      • Hoz Holla

        Whataboutism” is a common defense used by marcos apologists. They can’t defend his dirty deeds so they cry about the Aquinos in an attempt to deflect the debate.

        The Aquinos are a separate issue and should be addressed as such, not used as camouflage for the marcos apologist to hide behind.

    • Veronica Lozada

      If u were born in the 60’s u were too young to know the events current at the time. Suggest u read the book Conjugal Dictatorship by Primitivo Mijares

    • Louie Encabo

      Okay, so why did Marcos’ soldiers fire on the Escalante city protesters?

      Why did his soldiers assassinate Macli-ing Dulag?

      Can you say why he ordered the arrest of many activists without arrest warrant?

    • Zenaida

      Do you have any proof it didn’t happen? Didn’t you see the picture that was shown of dead men and probably women? How dare you blame it to the yellow TARDS, while your retarded president is the one that have coveted all those corrupt in the government in the like of Imelda, Joseph Estrada, Revilla, Arroyo to name a few. This administration is more corrupt than the previous administration.

      • Lady Z

        Why was Father Romano a Redemptorist priest abducted by military? He was only helping those poor victims of military’s killings. Victims were tortured and killed by military under the Marcos regime. Relatives cannot afford to buy casket and scared to get the dead bodies. Father Romano helped to make ways to provide caskets and place for the wake in the church. But he was picked up by militaries in broad daylight with many people witnessing and since then he was nowhere to be found. Police did not make actions to find him. I hope that scary Marcoses won’t get elected again.

  2. Manuel Lozano

    They may not be directly victimized by the brutalities of Marcos dictatorship, all Filipinos were victims of being denied of freedom and descent living which made me left the country but went back in 1978 for the people’s power revolution. There was hope. Everyone was happy. But alas, with the incumbent government it did not last and history seems to repeat itself, lest we forget.

  3. Maria Locsin

    Search the CBS “60 Minutes” files… find how there is a camp, funded by your dictator, with monies stolen from you, “his people”. I remember it was 60Billion US$. That was 1972, he was just beginning! That training camp trains dictators in Ilocos Norte. True, I thought, this is unbelievable. NOT.

    Tell all about it. Expose the truth. It’s all you can do. You have to.
    Expose. Claim more unknown heroes.

  4. Nivram

    We peacefully lived during Marcos and Martial law time. It was indeed a perilous era of chaos.. A global turmoil wherein our dear motherland was once again exploited and inevitably involved in the so called “COLD WAR” between America and Russia. An era of contest and war of idealism and the evil greediness of EXPANTIONIST behavior of the two giant nations.. The WAR OF INFLUENCE OF IDEALISM – Communist Marxism and Democracy..
    The doctrine of Marxism gradually crept its infuence in South East Asia down to our beloved Philippines.. Joma Sison et al. started to plant seed of Marxism in our country and this was the time were Marcos championed the cause of Democracy in the Philippines..
    Some bunch of Filipino activists started to decry Marcos alligiance to America particularly those belonged to his enemies [the Political Losers], started to indoctrinate SMART STUDENTS and became also the champion of political bloody Red Revolution.. Some of these Filipinos secretly decry to go AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION of that time [The 1972 Constitution] subversively went to engaged themselves in ARMED STRUGGLE which was PROHIBITED in the Constitution.. This was the birth of Political War planted by its brain “Joma Sison et al.” A perilous times wherein many became victims of cunning EXPLOITATION of IDEALISM.. Those that SUBVERSIVELY took ARMS against the government BECAME AN ORDER of BATTLE in the Martial law era.. Thousands are indeed considered CASUALTIES OF WAR and many of these rebels subtly took advantage in the ISSUE OF HUMAN RIGHTS.. Most of them claimed to be victims of human rights violation.. A human right victim but disrespecter of laws and constitution of the Philippines..

    WE SHALL REST TO SETTLE OUR CLAIM BY SAYING THAT “We live PEACEFULLY during Martial Law era” because….
    WE CHOSE TO FOLLOW AND OBEY LAWS and RESPECT THE CONSTITUTION during the time of Marcos. WE DID NOT PARTICIPATED IN THE BLOODY ARMED STRUGGLE OF THE COMMUNISTS PROPAGANDA CONCOCTED by JOMA SISON et al..
    The main reason why Martial Law will never be forgotten..

  5. felino

    i was born in 1944 and kept myself abreast with the times all these years. in 1976 i worked with the Department of Public Information (DPI) regional office atlhough that office have been renamed several times. I also had the opportunity to work with the Bureau of National and Foreign Information which manages the government news agency or PNA. I also have had extensive experience and exposure to events in the area and the country because i also worked , as a sideline, wit private news agencies and establishments. I have heard about so called abuses during the matrial law years, I heard but sorry to say i never had the opportunity to witness such incidents or examples ofbrutalities denounced these days by people who were still handing in the balls of their fathers in those days. Of course there were killing left and right.. rebels , soldiers and policemen. In fact at one time, i changed upon a rumor that50 soliders were ambushed or killed by rebels in the Zamboanga Penisnula. I managed to get the story by checking and confirming the deaths in a funeral parlor where the bodies of these soldiers were taken for proper disposition. As for the mrcoses, we in the Old DPI have our way of checking out things about the first family and sifting thoruh facrs, falacies, lies and the truth…

    • Louie Encabo

      And this is the level of intellect I expect from the Dutertard crowd. No arguments to make, no refutations to the arguments I raised…just blatant name-calling and strawman fallacies.

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