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Published: September 23rd 2008
Sept 21 is the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines by Ferdinand Marcos. Although I doubt the word anniversary is proper when talking about a suspension of all democratic rights. What runs through my mind on a day like today? I have no real cultural reference for interpreting a day like Sept 21.
I was watching The Hour online today and George made a Imelda Marcos shoe joke. I don't even know when the episode was filmed, but watching it today was really bad timing on my part. We all know Imelda, she is a figure of pop culture infamy. I run in the kinds of circles who love figures of pop culture infamy. We love the old, iconoclastic Simpson's, and good Saturday Night Live - we interpret life by mocking our collective history of bizarre humanness. But I was offended by the joke today. She isn't a joke anymore, she is a monster; a horrifying creature who feed her own overblown needs at all costs. Ferdinand declared Martial Law, he was the one committing the violence, the one beating the protesters, and disappearing, torturing, killing the activists. But it was Imelda who was using federal
money to build wildly expensive cultural projects as the population grew more and more hungry. I don't know who is worse, the person who breaks someones body and spirit with violence or the person who breaks their body and spirit with poverty.
Thinking about Martial Law leads me invariably to think about the October Crisis. Of course. It is my only point of reference. But how ridiculous to compare the two. As a human rights advocate I can't rank a person's inalienable rights. I have to condemn both periods of Martial Law equally. But, honestly, even in that one month in Canada when we knew no law, we had more law and order, more justice, more respect from out government then Filipinos ever have. Martial Law ended in 1986 and our during was better then their after. that is what it comes down to.
I was given a great book to read about “the first quarter storm” a period of student activism in the late 60's and early 70's that preceded the larger activism against Marcos. They were the vanguard. They were strong, passionate, and tireless. However, they were exactly like the youth activists I see now. The
issues today are the same they were 30 years ago, and so it seems are the speeches and the avenues for change. Is this how change really happens, this long term exertion of the exact same effort? Going to protest after protest? Maybe this is the answer: being present, being persistent, being frightening to the establishment. But doesn't that also break a person's spirit: fighting the good fight your whole life? Spending your whole life in the 2 minute segment at the end of a Rocky movie when he is almost beaten, his eyes are swollen shut and everyone is telling his to quit. But people choose to do that everyday. That is the choice people are forced to make when their governments take away their rights. The choice seems to be, have your spirit broken by the government or have your spirit broken while getting in a few punches. But maybe I am wrong, maybe in a bad situation that is the only choice that keeps your spirit intact.
On this anniversary of Martial Law we are facing a crisis in our office. One of human rights workers in Abra; Ate Irene, one of the woman who works
in Baay Licuan, a friend; is being threatened. She and her daughter have both received text messages warning that she will be killed on November 1st. With 6 peoples advocates assassinated by state security forces in this Cordillera since 2001these threats are no joke. There is a real possibility that on November 1st a few Philippine soldiers will put on plain cloths and black ski masks, board motorcycles and attempt to shot her in the street. And Marital Law ended 36 years ago. Today, as everyone else remembers the victims of Martial Law from 36 years ago Irene is struggling to decide if she will stay in Abra and continue to assert the peoples' human rights or whether she will leave the people she loves to save herself from becoming a martyr. What a time to be celebrating Philippine democracy.
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