Martial law vs rule of law

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The Top 15 Toppled Dictators was the main topic of a special issue in 2011 by TIME magazine, the highly respected international publication. According to the article, the top 15 dictators were as follows:

Adolf Hitler, Germany; Saddam Hussein, Iraq; Muammar Gaddafi, Libya; Benito Mussolini, Italy; Pol Pot, Cambodia; Idi Amin, Uganda; Mobutu Sese Seko, Congo; Nicolae Ceausescu, Rumania; Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia; Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haiti; Ferdinand Marcos, Philippines; Hosni Mubarak, Egypt; Fulgencio Batista, Cuba; Antonio Salazar, Portugal; Alfredo Stoessner, Paraguay.

Forty-three years ago, Marcos declared martial law and justified it based on a series of lies and half truths. He talked of a social volcano and the threat of  a Communist takeover. But his most prominent prisoners were several Opposition Senators led by Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno and Soc Rodrigo; and, prominent media people like Manila Times publisher Chino Roces and ABS-CBN president, Eugenio Lopez, Jr. More than 30,000 political prisoners were arbitrarily detained without any charges. This was one effect of martial law.

But the long term effect was worst. When Marcos became president in 1965, the Philippines was the second wealthiest nation in Asia, next only to Japan. The country was more prosperous than South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. When he was toppled in 1986, the Philippines had become the “sick man” of Asia. Today, the Philippines has the second fastest economic growth in Asia and finally, is now on the way to catch up with its  neighbors.

When Marcos took power, we became among the most corrupt nation in the world.  Corruption had become systemic and was even perceived to be part of a so-called Filipino way of life. Imeldific had become a synonym for the excessive lifestyle of the ruling family. Today, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index shows that the Philippines has improved from a ranking of 134th in 2010 to 85th in 2014. This puts the country in median range globally.

 In a recent SWS survey among business managers, the result was the lowest number of managers affirming personal knowledge of corruption in the history of the Philippines. During the Marcos years, crony capitalism and behest loans were the rule rather than the exception.

On the eve of martial law, Marcos already sent soldiers to close down all media outlets except those owned by his cronies. Freedom of the press and assembly were immediately abolished. Today, Philippine media is one of the least restricted in this part of the world even compared to countries like Malaysia, Singapore and certainly Thailand. In fact, there are accusations that our press is “too free” if that is at all possible.

These were some of the truths about martial law – a bankrupt economy; a business sector dominated by crony capitalism; a culture of corruption; absolutely no freedom of the press or assembly; and a government that considered itself above the rule of law.

Sadly, we now see many attempts to rewrite the truths of martial law.  There are those who want us to believe that the Filipino people do not deserve democracy and human rights is an obstacle to effective crime prevention.

There are those who have the resources and are trying to rewrite history. They are trying to change the truths about the martial law regime. In one of Ninoy’s manuscripts, which were smuggled out when he was in prison, he wrote:

“It is a melancholy time in our history – a time when truth is heresy and heresy truth. The truth is mauled, twisted, and bent in the pit of tyranny, – and the people told they are on the way to a ‘greater freedom’ accept it mutely and find themselves deeper into slavery.

But how else can they take it?

Martial rule assaults the senses, numbs the mind, drives a sense of overpowering doom into those who would disagree. Fear is the key instrument as Mr. Marcos has said so cynically – and the people do fear. “

An economic historian Jan Luiten van Zanden studied the economies of 55 dictatorships and concluded: “ The longer a dictator is in power, the worse the economic performance.”

There are those who still believe that a strong man without any opposition – a dictator – need not make concessions. He can, therefore, push through whatever is so-called” best for the economy of the country.” Van Zandem wrote: “With the passage of time, the balance shifts from the country’s interests to private interests and that is disastrous for the economy. The quality of governance declines, the clique surrounding the Great Leader is corrupt and loots the treasury. What’s more, as everything goes downhill they start to print money with the result that inflation rockets.”

The truth is that in an ideal society, the rule of law must prevail. The goal is that the rule of law must be institutionalized. History tells us that only in a democratic system can the rule of law be institutionalized.

The alternative to the rule of law is the rule of one man or mob rule. In a dictatorship, one man’s orders  is the substitute for a constitution and all the institutions of authority in a country. In a dictatorship, the command of one man automatically becomes the law of the land. It is in this environment that the old maxim rings true: “Absolute power corrupt and corrupts absolutely.”

In a society where the rule of law prevails, it is important that citizens understand that they must learn to accept laws and decisions even if they do not agree. However, these laws must be within the framework of a constitution that protects basic freedoms and human rights. The system for choosing the lawmakers must also be democratic and not left to one man.

In the United States, the Supreme Court passed a controversial decision allowing same sex marriage. A county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for same sex marriages, based on her religious beliefs, was placed in jail. In the Philippines, the Supreme Court recently voted to approve the bail petition of alleged pork barrel plunderer Juan Ponce Enrile. Although there was much public outcry and accusations of a sell-out, Enrile was released as part of the due process of law.

We must never forget the lessons that we learn from the history of our country. In Germany, there are many museums and memorials dedicated to the Holocaust so that the German people will never forget their darkest days during Nazi Germany.  Both Japan and Germany have apologized and paid reparations for the evils they inflicted on the world more than seventy years ago. Who will apologize to the Filipino people for the sufferings during the dark days of marcosian martial rule? Who will pay reparations for the economic and social damage that martial law inflicted on this country?

 The Filipino people must never forget the real truths about Martial Law so that this national tragedy will never happen again.

Where the Write Things Are’s  Classes for Kids and Teens

Write Away! Weekend: Getting started on your comic book on September 26 (1-4pm) with popular cartoonist and writer Manix Abrera at the Canadian American School Alphaland Makati Place.

Young Writers’ Hangout on October 3 (1:30-3pm)at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street.

For registration and fee details contact 0917-6240196 / [email protected].

 Email: [email protected]

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