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#NeverAgain? Martial Law Never Really Left

It hid, it grew, it's creeping back up.
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Martial Law was born six months before I was. So if we were both students, in that proverbial hypothetical world, we would probably have ended up as batchmates. However, as much as I would like to think I know who I am now, I doubt that Martial Law so long ago would recognize what it has become today, to have persisted beyond anyone's wildest expectations, including its own.

The trouble with Martial Law is that although it has only one true father, Ferdinand Marcos, it has many godparents, in the form of those who conspired to set it in motion, and later, those who kept it growing stronger and more terrible, encouraging it with hubris and entitlement, and letting it gorge on the bodies of the innocent and victimizing thousands more with torture, rape, and trauma.

The trouble with Martial Law is that although it has only one true father, Ferdinand Marcos, it has many godparents, in the form of those who conspired to set it in motion 

And amidst the silence and fear of the ordinary Filipino, Martial Law became a weapon of abuse against the weak, an opportunity for self-enrichment for the greedy, and a channel of disinformation for those who wished to keep their crimes hidden.

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But even when Martial Law nominally ended in 1981—and more properly dismantled in 1986—it has never quite left our midst. It is hard to speak of the exile of the monster, much less the slaying of the ghost, when the unpunished architects still remain in our midst, and the unremorseful beneficiaries continue to live off the the wealth that never rightly belonged to them.

In fact, over the last thirty years the children and grandchildren of Martial Law like to encourage lies about their father's history, inventing new lies, recreating and rewriting narratives that never existed, yet easily swallowed by the gullible, or by those desperate to forget what really happened.

This is why we beg the question if Martial Law ever truly left, or remains lurking in our midst, not just the boogeyman told to frighten children, but a true beast waiting to be summoned by its followers and high priests, to once more prey on the unwary, and if we are all not careful, devour us all for good.

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The tragedy facing us today is that we never understood what Martial Law really did to us 31 years ago, because we were too afraid to face the beast. Perhaps this is so because we did not want to see the beast among us and within us.

The tragedy facing us today is that we never understood what Martial Law really did to us 31 years ago, because we were too afraid to face the beast.

Perhaps we were too afraid to remember, and in so doing, if we are not careful, allow it to creep back, in new subtle forms, taking out one-by-one those who could prevent its return, while convincing the majority that it had never brought harm before, but only the facade of law and order, and the good, the true, and the beautiful.

What I fear the most, in an increasing climate of uncertainty fostered by this administration, and THE anniversary has come upon us once more, is that if Martial Law were to be unleashed upon us once more, we will all be to blame the second time around.

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For we refused to listen to the lost cries of those vanished long ago, refused to learn from the stories that needed to be told today, refused to remember the story of us, the nightmare that was Martial Law, that hopefully will not return in our tomorrow.

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Jo-Ed K. Tirol
Jo-Ed K. Tirol, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the Department of History of the Ateneo de Manila University.
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