University University Feature

Undying voices of the veterans of Martial Law

Napakadilim ng era ng Martial Law; hindi siya Golden Era.”

(The era of Martial Law was steeped in darkness; it was not a Golden Era.)

This was how human rights lawyer Atty. Neri Colmenares described the years of military rule in a speech delivered in front of massed crowds at Luneta Park on September 20. With him were other figures who lived through the era who, in one way or another, became witnesses themselves to the turbulence of the decade.

Despite 47 years passing since former President Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law proclamation, the veterans of those stormy days are still far from retiring into their tranquil years. From nuns to lawyers, The LaSallian listens to stories of sacrifices made, and sacrifices yet to come.

Moral obligations

Decades after facing armored vehicles herself at EDSA, Sr. Mary John Mananzan continues to march with rallyists, bringing together fellow activists, veterans and amateurs, in commemoration of the ‘dark era’. A Benedictine nun known for her outspoken dissent against perceived injustices and unrelenting support for progressive causes, Mananzan believes that it is the duty of the Church to point out and oppose faults in society and government.

The religious sector also languished under dictatorial rule. Mananzan recalls the harrowing fates experienced by her colleagues during the authoritarian regime, including the imprisonment of Task Force Detainees founder Sr. Mariani Dimaranan, who participated in peaceful protests, “[There] was also a threat to our life and our freedom. We are lucky na lang that some of us escaped.”

For Mananzan, the rule of the separation of Church and state does not equate to religious apathy to national affairs, saying, “That is a wrong notion, that is a very wrong notion.’’

Mananzan instead champions the opposite, imploring religious leaders to campaign against abuse and injustices in society. “The Church has the obligation—not only the right—to make moral condemnation of what they are seeing in society, whether it is done by the administration or anybody else,” she declares.

The struggle is far from over for the sister, believing that much still needs to be done in defending democracy, “I’m a veteran of Martial Law, and I have to tell you, young people of our experiences, and [to] hand on to you our legacy of really fighting against dictatorship.”

A vibrant youth

Undeterred by his loss in the 2019 midterm elections, Colmenares delivered an impassioned speech recalling his days as a youth activist opposing the Marcos regime.

Napakalaking bagay, napakahalaga sa atin na kilalanin natin ang mga lumaban noon, kasama ang libu-libong kabataang estudyante na lumaban sa panahon ni Marcos at nagdusa para ipaglaban ang sambayanang Pilipino,” he emphasizes.

(It is very important, it is very crucial that we remember all those who struggled before, alongside the thousands of young students who fought and suffered for the Filipino people during the time of Marcos.)

Talking with The LaSallian behind the stage, the former Bayan Muna representative expresses his belief that the youth are a vibrant part of the struggle against oppression. He recounts that during Martial Law, the youth inspired the nation with their tenacity. “You see, the youth and students during Martial Law, they were an inspiration to their elders, they were an inspiration to the entire Filipino people. Because at a very young age, the youth and the students during the time of Martial Law really fought hard,“ Colmenares narrates.

However, he notes that even him, as a student during the Martial Law era, took a while to fully awaken to the injustices of his time and take the proper action. “Struggling against dictatorship is not easy. You have to contend with a regime that is intolerant of dissent,” he explains.

He rebuffs criticism blasting rallies as ineffective in promoting social change. Colmenares asserts the contrary, claiming that time and time again rallies have become instrumental in bringing change. “EDSA One, was it a rally? Yes, it was a rally. EDSA Two, was it a rally? Yes, it was a rally. How did we stop [Charter change]? How did we stop the cha-cha of all the presidents? Rallies ‘yon,” he declares.

But Colmenares also dismisses the notion that rallies are quick fixes to society’s ills. He emphasizes, “Ngayon, kung ang tingin ng iba na kung mag-rally ka ngayon, bukas maso-solve na, aba! Talagang hindi magyayari yan.”

(Now, if others think that if you rally today, by tomorrow society’s problems will be solved, it definitely will not happen.)

In the face of adversity

Far from the gentle demeanor he presented during the electoral trail, an indignant Chel Diokno appeared onstage delivering a fiery oratory, belittling sedition raps brought against him in July, “Kung akala nila na kami ay matatakot, kung akala nila kami ay aatras, kung akala nila kami ay tatahimik, baka mamatay sila sa maling akala dahil hindi kami aatras, hindi kami matatakot, at hindi kami matatahimik.

(If they think that we will cower in fear, if they think that we will turn tail, if they think that we will keep silent, they might die from a wrong guess because we will not back off, we will not be intimidated into fear, and we will not be silenced.)

The College of Law founding Dean, whose father became a detainee during the early years of Martial Law, instead calls it an “honor” to be among those accused of sedition, which included Vice President Leni Robredo and De La Salle Philippines President Br. Armin Luistro FSC.

Speaking from the sidelines, former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno contends that it is important to recall how all sectors fought back against Marcos’ proclamation. “Even in the Judiciary—the Judiciary condemned Marcos’ Martial Law,” she declares.

Sereno has only one message—to prevent the return of authoritarianism, “And so I am here to remind people that never again should we tolerate Martial Law, and that we, all of us who are not young, must do everything we can to widen the democratic space for the young, so that [the youth] will have a bright future.”

*With reports from Glenielle Nanglihan & Sabrina Go

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