They were tortured under the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos Snr. Now they fear their stories will be erased | CNN



When Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. met US President Joe Biden in New York last week, there was an uneasy feeling of deja vu for some older Filipinos.

But it wasn’t so much that the visit was 40 years after Marcos’ father and namesake was welcomed in Washington by President Ronald Reagan.

It was that it also came 50 years – almost the day itself – after Marcos Snr. placed his country under martial law, beginning an infamous 14-year period in which thousands of people were killed, tortured and imprisoned.

Like Marcos Jr. went on a six-day charm offensive, attended the United Nations General Assembly and met the World Bank and business groups, back in the Southeast Asian island nation, thousands of people gathered to commemorate the victims who had suffered under his father’s watch. They held exhibitions, documentaries and seminars to tell the stories of abuse that took place after martial law was imposed on September 21, 1972 and were announced to the public two days later.

Their main hope was to ensure that these atrocities will never be forgotten or repeated, but many fear that Marcos Jr. that his dictator father is being swept under the rug, but that more recent abuses are also ignored.

Loretta Ann Rosales, a history teacher and human rights activist, recalls being tortured by the police and military during martial law.

She was arrested twice in the 1970s for participating in street protests after some of her students informed authorities that she had criticized the regime of Marcos Snr.

Human rights activist Loretta Ann Rosales is behind a grainy military photo taken of her after she was arrested in 1976.

Her captors poured burning candle wax down her arms, partially suffocated her with a belt, and subjected her to waterboarding for hours.

In her worst experience, her executioners cut wires on her arms and feet and gave her electric shocks that made her body convulse.

Now at the age of 83, she considers herself lucky to have survived, and has devoted her life to human rights activism and ensuring that such atrocities never happen again.

The Philippines has officially recognized that 11,103 people were tortured and ill-treated during martial law. There were also 2,326 murders and disappearances between 1972 and 1986, before Marcos Sr. was ousted in a popular uprising. They are commemorated by the publicly funded Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

But the actual number of victims could be much higher. According to Amnesty International, at least 50,000 people were arrested and held under martial law from 1972 to 1975 alone, including church officials, human rights activists, legal aid lawyers, union leaders and journalists.

What Rosales and other survivors fear is that the lessons from that time are in danger of being forgotten.

Marcos Jr., who was democratically elected by a huge majority in May, has defended his father and refused to apologize for his actions. He has said it is wrong to call his father a dictator and during his campaign for president, he praised Marcos Snr. as a ‘political genius’.

“The fight for human rights in the Philippines started 50 years ago and continues to this day,” Rosales said.

“What we are fighting against is historical distortion, not to be silenced, not to be forgotten,” she added.

Survivors fear that not only the past will be distorted, but also the present.

The predecessor of Marcos Jr. as president, Rodrigo Duterte has been widely criticized by human rights authorities for his war on drugs, in which Philippine police have allegedly committed 6,235 extrajudicial killings since 2016, according to a government report.

Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the International Criminal Court in 2018, weeks after the prosecutor said it planned to investigate the drug war murders. Marcos Jr. — whose vice president is Duterte’s daughter, Sara — has refused to go back to court.

Meanwhile, human rights groups say activists and independent journalists continue to be targets of violence and threats in the country.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  arrives at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 20, 2022.

Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, warned the United Nations General Assembly to ignore the “misleading portrayal of human rights in the Philippines” Marcos Jr. unbelieveable. had put forward since winning the presidential election.

“UN members must resist swallowing the sugar-coated banalities about human rights,” Robertson said.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines remains poor, and so far Marcos has shown no inclination to change it substantially,” he said.

When Marcos Sr. visited Reagan in 1982, there were protests against his human rights record — but they fell on deaf ears. It was the height of the Cold War, when Washington saw the Philippines, home to US military bases, as a key ally in Asia.

Forty years later, when Marcos Jr. Arriving last week to attend the United Nations General Assembly, protests erupted again, with activists chanting “Marcos, never again” outside the New York Stock Exchange and UN Headquarters in New York.

Relations between the US and the Philippines remain strong. And as China challenges US military dominance in Asia, the importance of that relationship has become more important in recent years.

The reading of the meeting by the White House spoke of Biden expressing the “castle” commitment of the US to the defense of the Philippines and of Biden and Marcos Jr. reconfirmed. discussing the South China Sea – where Beijing is accused of encroaching on the territory of the Philippines and the maritime territory of other Southeast Asian countries.

Given the strategic importance of the relationship, activists have little hope that the US will put pressure on Manila to end the violence and economic looting during the reign of Marcos Snr.

They point out that it was to Hawaii where Marcos Snr. and family fled after being ousted in the People Power Revolution (after the death of Marcos Snr. in 1989, other members of the family were allowed to return to the Philippines).

Former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Snr.  and his wife Imelda, in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 28, 1986, after the dictator was overthrown and fled into exile.

At their September 22 meeting, Biden referred to Marcos Jr.’s overwhelming election victory. as “a great victory” and spoke of the “critical importance” of the US-Philippine alliance.

A White House readout of the meeting also said the couple had discussed “the importance of respecting human rights,” but Rosales was unimpressed.

“(Marcos) never mentioned martial law and the atrocities of the military against the people… let alone the murders of innocent people suspected of peddling drugs. Those are the concrete realities on the ground,” Rosales said.

What Rosales and others would like to see is an acknowledgment from Marcos Jr. of the injustice that happened under his father’s watch – and an assurance that it won’t happen again.

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