Martial Law Files: A Rationale

As we honor the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and celebrate Human Rights Day around the globe, it is but fitting that a new website dedicated to freedom and democracy and the promotion and defense of human rights be inaugurated.  The need for greater effort in cultivating human rights awareness remains and cannot be overemphasized.  The recent commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law in the Philippines underscored this fact.

The martial law years was a period of turmoil in Philippine society.  Political repression and censorship made difficult the documentation of events under a dictatorial regime.  With the passage of time, this part of the Filipino nation’s past run the risk of fading from its people’s collective memory.

It is imperative that what really happened be exposed and let known especially to the Filipino youth, and that its lessons are grasped.  As the statement of Claimants 1081 on the martial law anniversary pointed out:

“…Learning the lessons of life under a dictatorship is of utmost importance so that the ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights will flourish among the people and that these ideals will be pursued.  We must therefore reminisce, expose and make widely known what really happened during martial law. The present generation of Filipinos will not be able to truly appreciate the value, much less defend and advance the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights if it will not look back at the past, and realize the hardships and sacrifices of the people and especially the heroism of those who fought to topple a ruthless and oppressive regime…”

This website aims to contribute to the attainment of the above objectives.  Its establishment and continuous development is within the context of the Country Programme Document entitled “Fostering Democratic Governance: Nurturing a Culture of Human Rights” that was forged between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the United Nations Development Programme.  The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) stands as the implementing partner and Claimants 1081, Inc. its appointed responsible party for this project. Thus are the logos of the cooperating entities displayed at the top of this website’s page.

For its initial content, martiallawfiles.net presents articles on the four legal cases that victims of human rights violations during martial law have filed in the courts.  The articles attempt to explain in layman’s language what these cases are about, the main legal issues, highlights and status.  Foremost among these cases is the Hawaii class action suit filed by almost 10,000 victims against Marcos, and his estate subsequent to his death.  In this unprecedented case,  the Hawaii District Court found Marcos guilty of gross human rights violations and liable to pay exemplary and compensatory damages.  The final decision on the case has become part of the international human rights jurisprudence that victims of human rights violations all over the world can draw from.

But while the victims have already won favorable judgment, efforts to locate and attach Marcos properties so that said court judgment could be satisfied continue to this day.

This is the reason why all subsequent cases filed by the counsel on behalf of the class sought to recover Marcos assets.  It is the common theme of the other three articles, namely those on the Arelma, Singapore and Makati cases.  The first is a case filed in Hawaii against Merrill Lynch, manager of the funds of Arelma Inc, a Panamanian-registered Marcos corporation.  The second involves multiple claims to money in the Philippine National Bank (PNB) escrow account that was deposited in West LB, a bank in Singapore.  The money in the PNB escrow account was originally hidden Marcos funds deposited in Swiss banks.  The last aims to obtain permission from the Makati Regional Trial Court to have the Hawaii judgment enforced in the Philippines.

A separate article complementing those on the legal cases tackles the compensation bill which is often mistaken to be similar, if not identical in nature to the Hawaii class suit.  While the latter is a civil case for damages against Marcos and his estate for responsibility in the gross violations of human rights, the former represents a legislative action that is premised on the admission of the State of its moral and legal obligation to give recognition to and compensate the victims for their sufferings under the Marcos dictatorial regime. The article explains the basis and objectives of the bill, explores its main features, and discusses it status and prospects. It also touches on the bill’s history, or why the bill has been languishing in the Philippine Congress for the last 17 years.

A section of the website contains the profiles of victims of martial law; the initial selection gives an ample view of people from different social classes or sectors, gender, age and geographical locations across the entire archipelago who suffered in various ways during the martial law years.  These profiles are not mere biographical sketches that lend names and faces to the mass of people collectively called victims.  These are also personal stories intertwined with the country’s history, because these victims lived –and for some, died– in a time of grave crisis, ruthless suppression and intense resistance.

Perhaps, the exact number of persons who were detained, tortured, summarily executed or disappeared during the martial law period will never be told. Still, we owe it both to them who sacrificed and laid down their lives, and to the future generations to come, that we strive to unearth and reconstruct historical details decades after they happened.  Toward this end, the website devotes a section for data and statistics on human rights violations including the numerous detention centers based on different sources including an amnesty international report.

A document library rounds up the initial iteration of this website.  Documents on and about the proclamation of martial law, the class suit and other legal cases, references used in writing the different articles, and other documents of interest were included in the collection.  In the future, documents turned over by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to the CHR in digitized form will be uploaded.

The launching of this website signals a humble beginning.  The project partners are aware that it will take much, much more than just a few articles in one website to accomplish its mission.  We nevertheless resolve to embark on this journey of a thousand miles.

2 comments on “Martial Law Files: A Rationale

  1. put the real name of the victims and the real hero during that time,,,like datu udtog matalam,,,and his legal adviser….

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