I am deeply honored to have been chosen as the awardee for the 2019 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. This is a vindication of my lifelong vocation to defend and promote democracy and human rights. It is ironic that while the repressive Philippine Duterte regime labels human rights activists such as myself as terrorists, prestigious foreign institutions such as the May 18 Memorial Foundation recognizes my human rights activism as honorable.
I truly identify with the spirit of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising of 1980, and take note of the parallelisms between South Korea and the Philippines as we struggled against dictatorships.
Today, as we remember the 4369 victims of martial law’s brutality when the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising was militarily suppressed, let us also remember the 70,000 people imprisoned, 34,000 tortured, and 3,240 killed during the martial law period in the Philippines under the dictator Marcos from 1972 to 1986. I am counted among those victims of martial law. My human rights were violated, having been tortured and illegally detained from 1974 to 1976.
Human rights make us human. With every violation of human rights, our humanity is diminished. The human spirit can take only so much oppression, however, before resistance develops. Repression breeds resistance. To stand up for human rights, to resist tyranny, and to rebel against an oppressive system is justified. But we have to prepare ourselves for sacrifice and even death in the struggle against tyrants for people’s democracy and a better world. It is honorable to stand up for democracy and to defend human rights, especially for the less fortunate and downtrodden.
At the start, when military rule temporarily silences dissent, activist human rights defenders show the way. They persist in education and organizing for people’s empowerment. They inspire people with their courage and sacrifice. They motivate others to assert their democratic rights and to defy a repressive order. More and more people get involved in the struggle until a broad united front against military rule and dictatorship expands to reach critical mass that is able to make history.
The 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising ultimately resulted in the democratization movement which toppled a dictator and led to the return of civilian rule in South Korea. The 1986 People Power uprising in the Philippines likewise demolished a dictator and put an end to martial law. It would seem that these are clear judgments of history from the people’s point of view.
From my study of the program for the 2019 Gwangju Asia Forum which follows this awarding ceremony, it appears that the May 18 Memorial Foundation would still like to pursue full accountability for the Gwangju Massacre. Which brings us to the issue of historical revisionism.
The Philippines today is a repressive authoritarian State ruled by a despotic president who has declared martial law in Mindanao and filled up numerous civilian positions with retired generals so as to make the situation in the whole country de facto martial law. He has sought to silence all criticism and democratic dissent. He has jailed an opposition senator and threatened to jail another. He has caused the removal of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. He has filed trumped up charges against activists (myself among them), imprisoned many, and caused the political killings of human rights defenders, environmentalists and progressives. His military and police have extra-judicially killed thousands of defenseless poor people with impunity in their war against drugs. His vulgar misogyny and verbal attacks against the Church have disgusted so many women and Christians.
In addition, in total disregard for the historical judgment of the 1986 People Power Uprising, the present dictator has now collaborated with the former dictator’s family to rehabilitate the Marcoses in the public view, especially for the younger generations that have had no concrete experience of the horrors of martial law. They have employed hundreds of trolls and used social media to portray the dictator positively. Their super-majority in Congress has allowed the burial of the dictator in the Cemetery for Heroes (Libingan ng mga Bayani). Worse, the former dictator’s family have been allowed to use their stolen wealth from the Filipino people’s resources to buy their way back into power, with a view to returning to Malacañang, the presidential palace. The former Defense Minister of Marcos, later turned Senate President, even had the nerve to say that there were no political prisoners and no one was tortured or killed under martial law!
This present-day historical revisionism of Duterte and the Marcoses tries to re-write history from their point of view, the rulers’ point of view, as opposed to the people’s point of view. This is in total contradiction to the judgment of a Court in Hawaii that ruled favorably for the victims of martial law in the class suit filed by my organization, SELDA, against the Marcos estate. This is in total contradiction, in fact, to the Human Rights Victims Recognition and Reparation Act of 2014, which recognized the victims of Marcos martial law, and further recognized that since it was the State that had violated our rights, we should be indemnified by the State.
In the face of historical revisionism, and the resurgence of tyranny and dictatorship, let us hold on to the lessons of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising and the 1986 People Power in the Philippines. We should always remember, we should never forget. The people, united, shall never be defeated! Never again to martial law!
I would like to share this prestigious award with my organizations, the Cordillera People’s Alliance, SELDA the organization of former political prisoners, and SANDUGO the national Alliance of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination.
In closing, allow me to extend my deepest gratitude to the May 18 Memorial Foundation for this unique honor. Maraming salamat po. Mabuhay!