DAVAO CITY, Philippines — “I’m happy to see the youth who are brave. They are not afraid, which no one should be if they are fighting for something.”
Arthur Elson, 72, told davaotoday.com as he clapped while listening to a young speaker during a protest in commemoration of the 50th year of Martial Law at this city’s Freedom Park.
Elson voluntarily attended the activity despite his difficulty in walking. He wore a red shirt which, he said, symbolizes “the unwavering courage of the Filipino people.”
“I’m here to show the youth and of course those who fought the dictatorship like me that the fight is not over. Administrations come and go. But from Marcos Sr. up to now that his family is back in power, our situation remains,” he said.
He recalled in 1973, when he was just in his 20s, that he campaigned against the Marcos referendum. While sticking posters on the wall near their house in Sampaloc, Manila during the Martial Law, he was arrested without warrant by the Philippine Constabulary (PC). Later on, he was tortured.
“I was just a student back then. I saw the dire situation of the people. Wherever you go, there was a problem with our basic services and human rights. Then the Marcoses had planned to extend their power. They did not intend to relinquish power,” he said.
Recalling what happened during his arrest, Elson said the PC played Russian roulette to torture and psywar (psychological warfare) him. He was hit with a gun on his body and face, and forced him to identify the leaders of the communist movement. Eventually, he escaped the horror from the hands of his captives. He worked at a non-government organization and in the early 2000s, his family decided to live in this city.
“Everyone was protesting during our time. How can you not when you see the worsening situation? There was nothing to eat. Our country was in a bedridden state. Back then, you don’t need an organization to protest because you see it, you experience it,” Elson said.
What they know
The stories and ordeals of Martial Law seem not enough for some young Davaoeños who believe that the Marcos dictatorship is the golden period of the Philippines.
For Glen, a senior high student of Sta. Ana National High School, the past dictatorship “has only imposed transformation of Filipinos into a disciplined people as many have joined the movement against his administration.”
“I cannot really say that Martial Law is bad because during that time, many anti-Marcos held rallies. And it is the government’s job to implement order. I think those who said they were victims, they are those who violated the curfew that time or those who protested against the government,” he said.
His classmate Michelle also viewed the past dictatorship as the period of the country’s peace and prosperity. This was, she said, what they understand in their class “long time ago.”
“We were told that many buildings and structures were erected during that time. Even in the provinces, for example, I think it was the San Juanico Bridge,” she said.
The two students also cited other information they learned on Tiktok, an online video hosting service, saying during the Martial Law “the communist wanted to seize power and rule the country.”
For Alyssa Monte, 17, the military rule is not entirely wrong, saying it only targeted enemies of the government “just like any administration that is confronted with security issues.” She believes the atrocities during the Martial Law is “somehow necessary to prevent the enemy from controlling the people.”
“Pres. Marcos made a wise decision when he implemented military control because the communists’ influence on the people that time was overwhelming. In our history, the church, professionals or just anybody have joined the movement to overthrow the government,” Monte said.
Other students who were interviewed by Davao Today admitted they only learned a little about Philippine history. They do not have enough access to martial law narratives and information.
With these views and circumstances, new generation activists see a greater challenge “in pursuit of justice.”
Challenge for the youth
“The youth needs to know and understand that under the Marcos dictatorship, thousands were killed,” said Beverly Godofredo, the regional spokesperson of Anakbayan, an organization of youth and students.
Despite attempts to bury the truth through various propaganda like movies and social media posts, Godofredo said there are documented cases of human rights violations, with survivors sharing their experiences and attesting the truth on Martial Law.
“Those are not hearsays. Their experiences should be our bases to continue demanding for justice,” she said.
She added the yearly commemoration of Martial Law is a constant reminder to make the Marcoses accountable for the “insurmountable human rights violations and massive corruption they committed against the Filipino people.” (davaotoday.com)