October 6, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — Survivors of torture and other atrocities under Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos on Wednesday marked his declaration of martial law 50 years ago by pressing their demand for justice and an apology from his son — now the country’s president in a stunning reversal of fortune for the once-maligned family.

Activists held street protests and a music concert and presented a documentary at the Philippine State University. The events are said to be aimed at preventing a repeat of the abuses and looting that began after Marcos imposed martial law in the Philippines in September 1972, a year before his term expired.

The dictator was ousted in a military-backed “People Power” uprising in 1986 and died three years later in American exile without admitting any wrongdoing, including allegations that he, his family and friends amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while was in power.

His son Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June after a landslide election victory, addressed the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. A small group of Filipino-American protesters chased him and at one point managed to get close to him and boo him and repeatedly shout, “Never again martial law!” when he left the convoy and entered the building with a security escort.

He or his key officials had not made any statement on the emergency anniversary as of Wednesday afternoon.

For many survivors of abuses under Marcos, now mostly in their 70s and 80s, the anniversary brought back trauma and painful memories of other victims, who were either killed by state forces or missing. They denounced efforts to cover up crimes and portray the martial law years on pro-Marcos social media as a “golden age.”

“The scars may have healed, but deep down, the anger and sadness are still there not only because I went through this but because so many good and patriotic people died resisting the dictatorship,” said Judy Taguiwalo, a former cabinet official and a women’s rights activist who was imprisoned for two years and tortured in the 1980s.

Taguiwalo, 72, demanded an apology from the president and asked him to “stop lying about the horrors of martial law.”

Marcos Jr., 65, rejects such invitations. In a television interview last week, he said his father’s decision to declare martial law, suspend Congress and rule by decree was necessary to fight communist and Muslim insurgencies. He also said that describing the late president as a dictator was “wrong” and denied that he and his family were whitewashing history.

Bonifacio Ilagan, a leftist activist who was detained for more than two years starting in 1974 and often beaten and severely tortured, said he could never accept Marcos as president. In 1977, his sister was kidnapped by government agents with several other anti-Marcos activists in the city of Manila and was never found.

“The trauma has returned with all its inhumanity,” said Ilagan, 70, renewing his call for justice and a clear apology from Marcos. “That’s why I couldn’t say he was my president for the life of me.”

Loretta Rosales, former head of the independent Human Rights Commission, was arrested with five other activists in 1976 by military agents and subjected to electric shocks and sexual abuse.

She said that the president should respect the provision of the law from 2013, which she co-authored as a member of Congress, which calls for the documentation of the crimes and the construction of a museum that would commemorate the suffering of thousands of people.

The law was used to compensate victims of abuse. Separately, a court in Hawaii found the elder Marcos liable for wrongdoing and awarded $2 billion from his estate to more than 9,000 Filipinos led by Rosales who sued him for torture, extrajudicial killings, imprisonment and disappearance.

Marcos’ ouster in 1986 was a high point, Taguiwalo said, but poverty, inequality, injustice and other social ills have remained rampant in the country for decades afterward. This allowed political dynasties, including the Marcoses, to exploit deep discontent to their advantage.

“It’s not because we as humans are stupid or that forgiving,” Taguiwalo told The Associated Press. “I think the biggest lesson we’ve always emphasized is that it’s not enough to overthrow a dictator or restore a certain amount of free press and academic freedom, civil and political rights.”

“You have to show that democracy works for the majority of people who should have jobs, land and a decent living,” she said.

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