On the Filipino People's Day of Protest, teleSUR spoke to veteran fighters against the U.S.-backed Marcos dictatorship and those fighting fascism's return under Duterte.
On September 21, 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos imposed Martial Law on the country, plunging it into the darkest period it had seen since the Japanese occupation of World War II and engraving a deep trauma on the collective consciousness of the people.
Threatened by growing unrest from labor unions, student groups, Muslim self-determination movements and the country's communist revolutionaries, Marcos used the order to abolish democratic institutions and establish a nearly decade-long regime of lawlessness and terror. Torture, detention, mass murder and corruption became the norm as the economy was plundered and the Filipino people faced widespread rights abuses.
45 years later, the period continues to loom large in the minds of Filipinos. This year's anniversary date – the Filipino People's Day of Protest – was marked by massive nationwide rallies and demonstrations against the violent style of President Rodrigo Duterte's rule as exemplified by his bloody war on drugs, his imposition of martial law on Mindanao, and his frequent threats to follow Marcos' example and extend military rule across the country.
Duterte remains an ardent admirer of the late dictator who enjoys a cozy relationship with the still-powerful Marcos clan.
“On top of the 14,000 dead in Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ and the destruction of Marawi, human rights group Karapatan has documented 420,046 victims of forced evacuation, 891 victims of illegal arrest, and 357,754 victims of aerial bombings and indiscriminate gunfire in relation to Duterte’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan,” youth group Anakbayan said in a statement issued during the protests.
In Metro Manila, diverse mass organizations representing students, social movements, citizens and leftist groups rallied in the thousands. Chanting “Never again to Martial Law,” the protesters burned a large cube effigy covered in portraits of Adolf Hitler, Marcos, Duterte, and a lapdog symbolizing loyalty to U.S. imperialism. Demonstrators also burned an effigy of Duterte on a throne, modeled on the evil character "Night King" in the popular television series "Game of Thrones".
"In the face of a military beholden to U.S. dictates, Duterte has inched closer and closer to an open fascist rule,” said Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay. “With his significant influence in all three branches of government, a de facto martial law has already been put in place. Whether it is formally declared or not, the people will continue to resist continuing State fascism.”
"The parallelism between the Marcos and the Duterte regimes are becoming more pronounced, as the latter not only aids the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses but also employs the same fascist tactics and anti-people policies of the US-Marcos dictatorship, including threats to impose a nationwide martial rule,” she added.
The threat was leveled again by Duterte prior to the Day of Protest in case the marches caused unrest. It not only failed to dissuade the country's mass movements but emboldened them instead.
“The youth has proven through mass protests that it knows history, and is ready to fight the revival of Martial Law under Duterte,” Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo told teleSUR. “Youth groups have led a campaign to revive anti-fascist political education in schools. Duterte's tyrannical and Marcosian rule have also resulted in a resurgence of political education among the youth.”
Under Marcos' Martial Law regime, the military enjoyed total control over all aspects of civilian life. Press freedoms were rendered nonexistent. 70,000 Filipinos – students, labor militants, alleged communists, dissidents – faced imprisonment while 34,000 were tortured. Over 3,000 people were summarily executed, while 1,000 were subject to enforced disappearance.
“The fascist dictatorship was unbridled terror and greed,” Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison told teleSUR. “The cruelties were aimed at terrorizing the people and the opposition forces, monopolizing political power and grabbing public resources, business privileges, the land and natural resources for the benefit of the U.S. monopolies, the Marcos fascist clique and its cronies.”
One of the main motivations behind Martial Law was the expansion of revolutionary activity following the reestablishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26, 1968. On March 29, 1969, the CPP formed its guerrilla force, the New People's Army. At the time, the young Sison – then known by his alias, Amado Guerrero – said the NPA “started with sixty fighters, armed with nine automatic rifles and twenty-six single-shot rifles and handguns in the second district of Tarlac province.”
“For us who were in the underground and in the countryside ahead of the 1972 proclamation of martial law since December 26, 1968 (founding of the CPP), the martial law years were an intense period of rapidly building the revolutionary forces,” said Sison, now 78 and living in exile in Utrecht, the Netherlands. “So many people were being subjected to repression and wanted to join the armed revolution in order to fight the U.S.-supported Marcos fascist dictatorship.”
However, suspected communists and known progressives were liable to be arrested, tortured and murdered by the repressive regime of the “Marcos fascist clique.” Sison himself is among the most prominent survivors of the Marcos dictatorship's atrocities.
“Together with others, I was captured in Nov. 1977,” Sison explained. “ I was subjected to physical torture – fist blows and water boarding – and death threats.”
“But the worst was solitary confinement in a cramped cell for more than five years out of almost nine years in detention,” he added. “It was mainly psychological torture. My long poem, Fragments of a Nightmare, describes my torture and struggle to overcome it.”
Thousands of others were forced to suffer the “water cure,” savage beatings, and other cruel forms of psychological and physical torment. In his book Cordillera Red Rising, Marcos-era student organizer and California-based writer Rudy Liporada describes the regime's interrogation methods in a narrative about “Amante,” a young revolutionary who faced two years' incarceration:
“Learning from those who have earlier been captured and incarcerated or escaped, Amante knows that the pasistas (fascists) employ tortures during interrogations whenever one does not easily cooperate. Dunking one’s head in a pail or toilet tub is a common story. Dabbing electric rods on different parts of the body is another. Others tell of their private parts being singed with cigarettes. Shreds of sticks are also inserted into penises and blunt objects into vaginas. Women are also raped.”
By driving the country's militant opposition and communist fighters underground or into the mountains, the Marcos government had the space to repurpose the Philippine economy toward serving the needs of foreign investors, multinational corporations and a narrow segment of foreign-loyal “comprador” local elites.
While Marcos touted himself as the consummate Philippine nationalist committed toward ushering in a so-called “New Society” unfettered by colonial legacies, his economic policies were anything but. The kleptocratic Marcos and his infamous shoe-hoarding wife, Imelda, were notoriously corrupt and pilfered the country to the tune of $10 billion as they blatantly sold the country out.
The Philippines was effectively transformed into a laboratory of neoliberal globalization as special economic zones, free-market policies and Asia's first World Bank structural adjustment loan stripped the country of protections. U.S.-loyal elites, oligarch clans and crony capitalists gained control over the country's ag crops and plantations, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, banking, construction, medical, telecoms, logging, mining and other strategic sectors of the economy.
“Foreign loans were used to undertake showy infrastructure projects but these were overpriced, graft-ridden and burdensome to the people,” Sison explained. “The underdeveloped and agrarian character of the economy became deepened and aggravated. The Philippines became more dependent on the export of raw materials and cheap labor, import of manufactured goods and foreign indebtedness to cover the chronic deficits in trade and budget.”
Marcos' rule was an unmitigated disaster for peasants and the rural poor, peasant leader and recently-dismissed Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano told teleSUR.
“Marcos and his cronies acquired more landholdings and land-grabbed vast tracts of lands,” the former Duterte Cabinet secretary said.“Marcos also allowed multinational companies to lease thousands of hectares of agricultural lands … These historical injustices committed against farmers by the Marcos dictatorship and successive regimes after it, all the more justify the need for a new and genuine land reform program.”
Mariano, a former leader of the militant Peasant Movement of the Philippines or KMP, was recently rejected by a Duterte-loyal congressional on alleged grounds of supporting the NPA and backing militant landless peasant movements' attempts to redistribute land promised to them under agrarian reform laws. A veteran of land struggles dating back to the waning days of Marcos' rule, he sees a continuation of Marcos' mistreatment of peasants in the Duterte administration's rejection of genuine land reform policies based on social justice.
"Insofar as there are undeniable, discomforting parallels between Marcos and Duterte, the systemic conditions which have plunged the country into deeper and deeper crisis remain the same,” Palabay of Karapatan said. “Peasants remain landless, workers remain tied to slave wages, exploitative contracts and work conditions, the government continues to be run by corrupt politicians from powerful clans, the country still adheres to unequal foreign agreements which has robbed us of any real chance at development, and the majority of Filipinos still live in poverty. Throughout regimes, change has come in profits and increasing revenues for the rich, and greater misery and burden for the rest of us."
"Marcos’ martial law was used as a tool to plunder public funds, plunge us into debt, restrict forms of protest, and completely do away with civil and political rights,” said Palabay. “We now have martial law in Mindanao and it has expectedly followed the same trajectory of escalating rights abuses."
For the Maranao Muslim and Moro people, Duterte's iteration of martial has been even more frightful than that imposed under the dictator Marcos, according to Amirah Ali Lidasan, a Moro community advocate and former chairperson of the Muslim-leftist Suara Bangsamoro group.
“Duterte's Martial Law is done in the age of Islamophobia, and his use of the terror scare has fanned discrimination against the Moro people,” Lidasan told teleSUR from the 36th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council being held in Geneva, Switzerland.
“It is different and more horrifying because he can get away with it at the time that there are more human rights instruments and venues than before, and at during an age when mass media and social media can help expose the situation,” she explained. “He can pulverize an entire community, more than 300,000 has fled his military airstrikes and he can prolong the attack for more than 4 months.”
Continuing, Lidasan said that the Moro people's experience of martial law consists of constant military airstrikes, tight checkpoints, and arbitrary arrests due to “looking like” a terrorist or having a name that matches a terrorist. The Moro people are experiencing a situation of families losing loved ones in a legal black hole created by the lifting of habeas corpus and a de facto declaration of open season on Moro Muslims subject to arrests on grounds of suspicion or the lack of proper identification.
“In a larger context, Martial Law for the people of Mindanao means that aerial bombardment – military airstrikes – could come to any and all areas tagged as 'terrorist' or 'communist' havens,” she added.
Duterte's threats to impose martial law have been primarily aimed at Asia's oldest communist insurgency led by the CPP, NPA and National Democratic Front. For Jose Maria Sison, however, the threats carry little weight when measured against the growing force of the Filipino people's nationwide strength, its “organs of political power (committees of peopleś democratic self-government), the alliances and the domestic and international solidarity networks.”
“The revolutionary forces had small beginnings in the 1960s but grew by leaps and bounds during the period of martial law,” Sison observed. “Now, they have for a chief representative someone like Duterte who behaves like a psychopath and sociopath and has an excessive predilection for state terrorism and open contempt for human rights and due process.”
“The crisis of the ruling system has become so grave that the ruling classes of big compradors and landlords are increasingly unable to rule in the old way,” Sison explained.
Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan told teleSUR that young people remain “ever ready to fight the fascist U.S.-Duterte regime's Martial Law.”
“If Duterte decides to impose a full-blown fascist dictatorship, he will hasten the development of the movement which will cause his ouster and his regime's downfall,” Crisostomo added. “Duterte is a paper tiger – on the other hand, the people's movement is growing.”
Still equipped with the powerful sense of optimism that helped him survive nearly a decade of captivity at the hands of the Marcos regime's jail-keepers, Sison also remains hopeful of the Filipino people's ultimate victory.
“Because of the ever-worsening crisis of the domestic ruling system and global capitalism, the revolutionary forces are now in a far better position than in 1972 to confront and fight the renewed threat of martial rule under Duterte,” Sison said.
“The prospects are bright for the revolutionary cause of national and social liberation.”