By Lilybeth G. Ison, PNA and U.S. News Agency / Asian
President Benigno S. Aquino said Friday he respects those who believe that life would be better and more developed under Martial Law.
“Sometimes, I do not know whether to laugh or cry whenever I hear someone insisting that life was better during Martial Law,” the President said in his speech on the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani monument in Quezon City.
“There were many conflicting opinions during that period, and perhaps I cannot blame those of our countrymen who take Mr. Marcos’ side — who say that if Martial Law continued, then, surely, our country would be better and more developed by now — that we would be living in a New Society.”
He added: “They have a right to express their own opinion, and we respect that right.”
The President, however, asked them what the country has gained during the 13 years of dictatorship.
The President added: “But while we try our best to be fair to these people, I wish they could look us in the eye and answer us when we ask them this: Did we gain anything from Martial Law?
“I’m sorry, but I will not allow people to be misled by the skewed perceptions of a few.
“If Martial Law was the solution that would stunt the growth of communism, then why is it that, according to the book ‘Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power,’ the number of people in the NPA (New Peoples Army) grew from 1,250 in 1972 to an estimated 40,000 in 1983?
“If Martial Law was the solution that would improve the economy, why is it that the value of the peso dropped from P4.00 to US$ 1.00, to P25 to US$ 1.00, during Marcos’ time in office? Is this the promise of the New Society?”
Aquino said that in those 13 years the country was governed under the Marcos regime, they had their way “with our laws and placed the interest of the common people in jeopardy.
“He (former president Ferdinand Marcos) wrote his own Constitution, and pushed it in a Constitutional Convention for a vote.
“When he found that the Constitution would probably lose (in) a plebiscite, he changed the rules once again.
Instead, there was a simple raising of hands in each barangay: a move undoubtedly fueled by cronyism and cheating.
“Because of this Constitution, he padlocked Congress and took from them their power. Even the Supreme Court, based on their decision on the Javellana versus Executive Secretary case back in March 1973, showed that Marcos’ new Constitution was in effect.
He succeeded in amassing all the powers of the state, and plunged our country into abyss of dictatorship.”
Came 1978, Aquino said the peoples’ collective doubt of the sincerity of Martial Law began to solidify.
He said: “Those who used to turn a blind eye to the questionable goings-on in society were slowly overcome by disappointment and anger.
“They could not sit back and keep quiet at the unexplainable disappearances of civilians.
“They grew tired of shutting their eyes to the corrupt practices and the abuse of soldiers and government officials.
“Even the soldiers used by the regime to spread intimidation, fear, and violence, were beginning to ask: Are we still doing the right thing? If we are truly soldiers of the people, why are we being ordered to hurt our defenseless fellowmen?
“The dictatorship spared no one. Every person was victimized by Martial Law. Every person, including our soldiers.
“Let us be honest. If Martial Law was supposed to be the solution that would bring down crime, why were we showered with news of disappearances, salvages, and summary executions? You be the judge.
As reaction to the disapproval from other nations, Marcos formally lifted Martial Law in 1981.
But, as expected, the President said, Marcos still wanted the upper hand.
He said: “Because of his constitutional amendments, he (Marcos) still held absolute power over the country. In short, they made a fool of Juan dela Cruz.
“Until we reached the incident that sparked a revolution: on the tarmac of the airport, even before he could once again step on our native soil, the sound of gunshots resounded in the air.
“My father (former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino) was assassinated. This signaled the start of the revolution.”
However, Aquino stressed the country had won back democracy not because of the assassination of his father but because of those who stood up and fought for their rights at the expense of their lives.
Aquino said: “I wish to make it clear: we won back our democracy not because of the assassination of my father. We reclaimed it because we had hundreds of heroes who committed to fight for the rights of those in the margins; because there were those who insisted on fighting for our freedom, so that they could depose those who acted as if they were kings; because there are those who refuse to be enslaved by a dictator, and instead stand up for the rights of their fellowmen; because there are many other martyrs who freed themselves from the chains of the Marcos regime, at the cost of their lives.”
To value the lessons learned under the Martial Law and ensure that only the right information based on “true historical events” will be passed on to the Filipino youth, Aquino directed the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to form a Commission whose purpose is to thoroughly collect experiences and stories from individuals who were alive during the Martial Law era.
“We wish to ensure that only the truth will be printed in the books of our students — not the collected lies of propagandists and not the deceitful clippings of revisionists,” he noted.
As the saying “Those who forget the mistakes of the past are bound to repeat it,” the President urged the Filipino nation “not to allow our rights and our freedom to ever be imperiled again.”
He said: “I will not bequeath the mistakes of history to the coming generations.
“Let us value the lessons of Martial Law. It is the task of each and every one of us to uphold these lessons, by becoming our brother’s keepers and by recognizing the hardships and sacrifices my father, and other victims of Martial Law, undertook.
“We will turn the crooked principles and beliefs onto the straight path, so that we may help everyone remember the value of democracy and freedom, as well as the love for nation displayed by the Filipinos who fought against the dictatorship.
“Only truth and integrity will guide us on the straight path. Never again will we go astray, and our bequest to you — to our youth — will be a nation illuminated by justice and freedom.”