Flexing muscles

Sept. 21, 2017 marked the 45th year since former President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law covering the whole country. The years of dictatorship were among the darkest in the country’s history. Tens of thousands of activists disappeared, many were tortured in unimaginable ways, thousands never surfaced again, killed.

Many groups belonging to different ideological backgrounds did community organizing, mass education, and in their own ways, fought against the dictatorship. Organizations of those belonging to the marginalized sectors of society were formed but because all Marcos oppositors were considered communists, they operated underground or UG.

The two biggest political formations belonged to two dems—natdems and socdems. The first stood (and continue to stand) for ‘national democrats.’ These are the groups associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front, and New People’s Army. Some of the groups operate openly, while the others, remain underground.

The ‘socdems’ refer to social democrats whose ideological foundation is inspired by parties and governments belonging to the Socialist International. During the dictatorship years, the socdems were led by the Partido Demokratiko-Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (Philippine Democratic Socialist Party or PDSP.) The group first started as an underground movement and evolved as a party.

Opposition to martial law was essentially carried out as ‘guerilla operations’ on a per organization or even collective level. Alliance building was carefully done clandestinely and mostly on a person-to-person basis. Leaders of opposition groups were hunted down which led to the self-exile of a number of underground groups’ leaders to other countries. They orchestrated moves from wherever they are.

Yes, there were protests especially by student groups. Thus the ‘First Quarter Storm or FQS’. It took many years before the dictatorship was brought down and it took the life of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. as the catalyst before a good number of citizens woke up and took action. The murder of Ninoy also emboldened non-Communist underground groups.

During the campaign period for the snap elections called by an ailing Marcos against Corazon Aquino, underground organizations took part. When Marcos claimed victory over Cory in an obviously rigged elections, more citizens took the streets, then General Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile defected, and Edsa people power revolt happened. Edsa saw the various ideological groups openly protesting Marcos.

Then there was democratic space. More ‘dems’ surfaced like the liberal democrats (libdems), and popular democrats (popdems). Likewise, many underground movements surfaced, and many more sectoral, people’s, women’s, youth, human rights, and all sorts of non-government organizations proliferated.

Freedom of expression and assembly were fully practiced and political movements multiplied. Democracy, at least formal democracy was restored in the country.

Fast forward to Sept. 21, 2017. This date happened in the context of the Duterte administration whose ‘war on drugs’ has so far murdered more than 13,000 suspected drug users and peddlers, almost all, poor, and a big majority killed by elements of the Philippine National Police; an ongoing war in Marawi against Isis-wannabe Maute gang which devastated the city and displaced more than 300,000 residents; a P6.4-billion shabu smuggling scandal in the Bureau of Customs allegedly involving no less than the president’s son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte; the trampling of people’s human rights; burying the late dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani; the witch-hunt against perceived political opposition; the almost inaction on the West Philippine Sea issue that involves the country’s territorial sovereignty; the move to change the form of government that will most probably result in extending Duterte’s presidency; and the repeated threats of nationwide declaration of Martial Law.

More and more people are coming out against this administration with some even saying that this administration’s impunity is even worse than that of Marcos.

No wonder, this year’s ML declaration anniversary was marred with the most number of protest actions so far against Duterte. I went to both the mass at the University of the Philippines (UP), and the unveiling of the Ka Pepe Diokno at the Commission of Human Rights. The bigger mobilization was in Luneta.

Flags of various organizations again surfaced. Familiar faces from past protest actions, now visibly older, were again seen. For many of us, it was a reunion of sorts. I personally have not seen many of them for a good number of years as our paths were separated by political decisions we made.

One thing is sure though. Passion for the country’s wellbeing does not go away. It may fade for sometime, but when one is called to action, you go. No ifs or buts about it. You rest for sometime but when it’s time to act, you act. This is what happened last Sept. 21. We knew we had to go. We knew we would see old familiar faces but we also welcomed the many more, much younger faces we saw in the crowd. New blood, young blood.

We knew flags of various organizations (of friends and not-quite friends) would again surface on the streets together with banners of new ones. That there are more groups going out in defense of our people’s rights and welfare was a sight to behold.

I have heard a few criticize the separate rallies against a repeat of Martial Law. They said it would have been stronger if everyone banded together. I disagree. This exercise of freedoms of expression and assembly begin with kindred organizations. This us just the start. This is flexing muscles.

And just like before, it is just a matter of time before the various groups will come together against a common enemy. Before, it was Marcos. This time, it could be Duterte.

[email protected] @bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebookww

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