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(Delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the opening of the Freedom Memorial Museum Gallery, 23 February 2024)

The greatest challenge in dealing with the past is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Today, we open the Freedom Memorial Museum Gallery to the consciousness not only of those who were yet unborn during the dark years of the dictatorship; but to those who choose to forget the horrific period and those who unconscionably label the catastrophic time as a “golden age”.

The gallery will not only refresh our memory. More importantly, it will as well spur us to recognize that the struggle for freedom, justice and democracy toward prosperity interconnects the past, the present, and the future.

The gallery will open our eyes to the searing truth that as long as the triad of authoritarianism, repression, and injustice persists, resistance exists and shall prevail.

No matter how harsh and hurtful, the truth has to be confronted. It should never be distorted much more hidden.

It is for this reason that RA No. 10368 or the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013” was enacted to memorialize the sacrifice and heroism of Human Rights Violations Victims and preserve the memory of a wanton era.

Marcos Sr used his perceived growing communist insurgency, which he insisted was a huge threat to peace and order, to justify the declaration of martial law. It was a malevolent excuse to perpetuate himself in power.

From September 1972 to February 1986, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) painstakingly monitored and documented 5,531 torture victims; 2,537 summary executions which include disappeared detainees who were later found dead; 783 enforced disappearances; and 92,607 victims of arbitrary arrest and detention, including public order violation arrests. My younger brother, Atty. Hermon Lagman, was the first lawyer desaperacido.

The following unreputable data denies the claim that the Marcos Sr regime was the country’s “golden age”.

Let us review the numbers.

In terms of real GDP per capita, the Philippines was number four in Asia in 1965, number seven in 1975, and number 12 in 1985.

Recent surveys reveal inflation to be the number one economic concern of Filipino families. Since the post-war period, the highest annual inflation rate was recorded in 1984 at 50%. The second highest was in 1974, also a Marcos Sr year.

At the start of the Marcos Sr regime in 1965, Philippine external debt was below USD 600 million. It ballooned more than 40 times to USD 26.25 billion in 1985, many consisted of behest and corrupted loans.

The required principal and interest payments weigh down on generations of Filipinos and crowd out of the national budget precious funds for the prompt delivery of critical social and economic services.

In 1972 when martial law was declared, the unemployment rate was 6.3%. It escalated to 32.9% in 1984.  

Other economic indicators set back the Philippine economy with the country’s grade sunk to below “0”.

To those who maintain that the Marcos Sr regime was our “golden age”, the kindest remark we can give is that they have a good sense of humor.

As the gallery speaks volumes of the assault on the economy, democracy, the rule of law and human dignity during the dark period in our history, it is now the bounden duty of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission to make the gallery a potent and dynamic integral part in rebuilding what the dictatorship shattered with impunity.

This is a tall order in the absence of a holistic transitional justice mechanism which should have prevented, or at least minimized, the systematic and unrelenting historical distortion. Bear in mind, however, that we have government agencies and institutions including those in civil society that have the necessary mandates for effective collaboration in this urgent and challenging task.

In rectifying the wrongs of the past, accountability of those responsible goes hand in hand with the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation. Additionally, measures to prevent repetition of the violations must be strictly enforced and institutionalized.

It is well to remember that while the EDSA people power uprising has been lauded for being peaceful and nonviolent, the road to EDSA had been indisputably paved with the blood and sweat of heroes and martyrs and countless victims of gross human rights violations many of whom remain unnamed and unrecognized.

The four-day uprising might have ended with the ouster of the dictator on February 25, 1986, but the people’s struggle for enduring transformative change continues.

As we commemorate the 38th anniversary of the EDSA people power revolution of February 22 to 25, 1986, we must underscore the following:

  1. The EDSA Revolution was not a brilliant spark of a spontaneous moment. It was the culmination of an emboldening momentum spanning fourteen (14) long years of struggle and sacrifices of Filipino patriots who steadfastly and courageously opposed and rejected the atrocity, repression, and profligacy of the Marcos Sr. martial law regime.

  2. It was not a revolt of the elite but a popular peaceful revolution of the masses and the middle class which terminated the despotism of a strongman.

  3. It was the ouster of a dictator, not through the force of arms, but impelled by the collective determination and irrevocable resolve of Filipinos to regain freedom and democracy.

  4. It is an enduring legacy which Filipinos must cherish, defend, and uphold against the malevolence of historical distortion and revisionism, and the importuning of those who would attempt the repetition of  an inordinate aberration.

No matter how seemingly insurmountable the roadblocks are, with unwavering commitment and solidarity, we shall ultimately prevail.

Mabuhay tayong lahat!