Media: ‘Better irresponsible and noisy than suppressed’By Jose Santino S. Bunachita
Cebu Daily News
Have Filipinos forgotten about the dark era of Martial Law?
“There is a great danger that we will forget the horrors and atrocities of martial law,” said lawyer Democrito Barcenas, a former detainee, in yesterday’s forum commemorating the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.
Despite the downfall of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 when he was ousted by people power, Philippine society remains burdened by serious problems.
“There are still misgivings about our judicial system. It’s really difficult. We’re living in an imperfect world with imperfect justice,” said Barcenas, who was detained in a police camp for weeks soon after Martial Law was declared in Sept. 21, 1972.
He also cited rising incidence of poverty as worrying.
In line with Cebu Press Freedom Week, Barcenas compared the media scene then and today.
“Unlike in Marcos’ time where the media was suppressed and controlled, we now have a noisy media. Sometimes they say it’s irresponsible. But we prefer a noisy and even an irresponsible media than a curtailed or suppressed media because that is necessary in a democracy,” said Barcenas.
In 1972,radio stations and newspaper offices were shut down. A crony press and government agencies would only report good things about the administration.
In terms of military power, lawyer Ronald Baquiano commends the Aquino administration for engaging civil society in drafting security policies of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
With the thrust of “democratization of the armed forces, there is very low possibility that the armed forces will be used as a tool for political repression,” said Baquiano.
But he pointed out that if a new leader with the same mindset as Marcos will lead the country, then “it will be very bad for us.”
Baquiano also cited the quick response of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the mauling of a Papua New Guinea student in Cebu City during a violent arrest by the police the other week.
He said this incident shows an an improvement in the human rights priorities of the present administration.
Baquiano recalled how summary execution, torture and illegal detention of martial law activists were considered “normal” in the 1970s and 1980s.
CHR-7 Regional Director Alejandro Alonso said vestiges of the martial law era still exist.
“For me, the chilling effects of martial law are still felt. Human rights violations during martial law like involuntary disappearances, extra judicial killings and torture still continue today,” Alonso said.
Alonso cited unsolved cases of involuntary disappearance.
He mentioned the cases of Fr. Rudy Romano in 1985; Jonas Burgos in 2007; and UP students Karen Empeño and Shyrlyn Cadapan two years ago.
One of the suspects in the UP students’ disappearance, retired general Jovito Palparan remains at large and carries a P2-million bounty on his head.
“There are still many persons whose names I cannot remember now,” Alonso said.
The forum also heard stories from four former political detainees during the martial law.
Regional Trial Court Judge Meinrado Paredes, Sun.Star opinion editor Bong Wenceslao, Dr. Rhodora Bucoy and Barcenas talked about youth activism in the 70s and 80s, women and teachers, and law and politics during the martial law era.
The forum was mounted by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter and the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu Political Science Program at the IBP Social Hall in Cebu City.