A road to healing has been paved.
The Agrava Fact-Finding Board. After-operation report and security survey of Naia re: Sen. Aquino Assassination. Reassessment of the communist movement after one year of martial law. Russian vessels. MNLF Terroristic Plan. Batasang Pambansa Election.
These are the titles of some of 70 additional martial law documents that were turned over on Saturday by the Department of National Defense to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in a ceremony marking International Human Rights Day.
Kept by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) under tight security for more than 30 years since dictator Ferdinand Marcos formally lifted martial law in 1981, the documents have been declassified and handed over to the CHR to make them eventually accessible to the public.
At the launch of the files at the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance assembly hall in Quezon City, CHR Chair Loretta Ann Rosales said the collaboration between the agency and the defense department, two institutions that had eyed each other with distrust, was itself a “breakthrough.”
“Historically opposing forces have come together to start a process of healing based on truth, transparency, fairness and justice,” she said.
Rosales said that “in a society where the scars of martial rule have only superficially been healed, the Martial Law Files Project is a transformative tool for achieving transitional justice.”
In her own remarks, Jacqueline Badcock, United Nations resident coordinator in Manila, lauded the declassification and transfer of the files from the Isafp to the CHR.
“[Dec. 10] is a specially momentous occasion. We are also celebrating the declassification of martial law documents, bringing closure to a troubled period where human rights were not guaranteed. It’s through this act of transparency that the Filipino people now have the right to know what happened in the past, and the opportunity to seek truth, to seek reconciliation,” Badcock said.
She said the declassification of the documents was one “huge step” toward realizing the transparency and accountability important in securing the rights of Filipinos. But she added that not all sectors of Philippine society were enjoying these rights.
At the ceremony witnessed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., officials of the UN, military and police, and rights advocates, Rosales opened a parcel from the Isafp chief, Brig. Gen. Cesar Ronnie Ordoyo.
“Guess what is it,” she said, and went on to read the title: “Summary of information gathered by the Isafp regarding Loretta Ann Rosales…”
“There’s a lot of information about me. Wow, I can now write my biography,” she added, drawing laughter from the audience.
Rosales, one of thousands arrested, tortured and thrown into prison during the Marcos dictatorship, said the Martial Law Files Project was both “a legacy and an investment to the next generation upon whose shoulders falls the responsibility of ensuring that human rights in this land will never again reel under the ravages of dictatorial rule.”
This is why not only historians should be interested in the files but also “persons charged with the duty of helping build a society secured by freedom, democracy and human rights,” she said.
Indeed, even President Aquino may be interested to examine the files gathered by the Isafp about his father, the late former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Marcos’ political nemesis who was assassinated on his arrival from the United States on Aug. 21, 1983.
The 70 files, a heap of yellowed, dog-eared documents tied with a string, were actually the second tranche of declassified martial law documents transferred by the Isafp to the CHR. The first tranche was turned over on Sept. 21, the 39th anniversary of the imposition of martial law.
The list of the titles of the 70 files starts with the Agrava Board, which looked into Ninoy Aquino’s killing, and ends with a special report on his remarkable funeral that took almost a day to complete.
Interestingly, the files include a 1981 special report on the claim of one Zenaida Ramos Abdullah about a plot to assassinate Marcos.
Setting record straight
All the documents will be sorted, inventoried, catalogued and conserved in a manner “as to enable general access by the public,” Rosales said.
The Philippine Association of Museums headed by Gina Barte, the De La Salle University library and the University of the Philippines have volunteered to take on the task.
“We anticipated more voluminous documents from the [defense department]. There should be more to come,” said Barte, who described the documents as generally in good condition, and welcomed their transfer to the CHR, which is more accessible than the Isafp.
Rosales said the idea was to make the files available to students, academicians, media, historical institutions, libraries and archives for research; to victims and survivors of rights violations for validating their claim for compensation; to government agencies for legislation and policy reforms; and to security forces for reform policies.
The literature on martial law is expected to set the record straight on the 14 years of Marcos’ one-man rule and its impact on the lives of the people, and spur a dialogue among stakeholders to develop a consensus toward cultivating a human rights environment.
In the long run, the CHR, the defense department and other stakeholders hope to produce a documentary on the heroism of rights activists and defenders, a research study on the evolution of the Marcos Constitution, and a publication of Marcos’ policies and decrees.
They also hope to come up with a memorial on the struggles of Filipinos during martial law, and build a museum featuring films, art pieces, essays, music and literature produced by the people during that period.
But Badcock said the government’s efforts at ensuring respect for people’s rights and transparency in the bureaucracy still left much to be desired.
She said some sectors in Philippine society continued to be denied some of their basic rights: “Still, indigenous peoples continue to lose their lands. Still, women and the poor continue to be denied access to basic public services despite the best efforts of the public service. Still, citizens are denied the right to freedom of information which, if given, would empower them to influence, inform and guide the choices made by their leaders.”
Badcock said everyone “without exception” should be guaranteed human rights.
“Unless we know them, unless we demand they be respected, and unless we defend our rights, and the rights of others to exercise them, they’ll be just words in a decades-old document. That’s why on Human Rights Day, we do more than celebrate the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We acknowledge its enduring relevance to the world and to the Philippines,” she said.
Badcock also said that Filipinos should find inspiration in human rights activists because “it is their often unrecognized bravery and resistance in the face of adversity that changes society, that changes the world.”
Decline in numbers
In an ambush interview, Ochoa sought to downplay claims by activist groups that violations of human rights persisted in the Aquino administration with more impunity.
“That’s not exactly accurate. I just don’t have the exact statistics. As the security cluster head, I got reports that if we were to compare [past and present] human rights violations, there has been a significant decline. Of course we can’t be proud of human rights violations. There are efforts being done by this administration. We’re very serious about it,” he told reporters.
Ochoa said one proof of the government’s respect for human rights was President Aquino’s withdrawal of the criminal complaint against the group of arrested medical workers that has come to be known as “Morong 43.”
He also said that it was not easy to take people to account for rights violations, and that the government would not rush the filing of cases at the expense of “due process.”
“We have to make sure the quantum of proof is really beyond reasonable doubt. That is a difficult task; case buildup alone is difficult,” he said.
First posted 12:26 am | Sunday, December 11th, 2011