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(Speech delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the Forum on Public Expression and Censorship during Martial Law at the UP Law Center on 24 September 2019)


We commemorate the declaration of martial law not to celebrate a national tragedy but to remind ourselves not to forget the atrocities and plunder it spawned.

And also to guard and be vigilant against its recurrence.

It is inordinately shameful that as we mark the 47th anniversary of Marcos’ martial rule, we have a thrice-extended martial law in the entire of Mindanao, even as we continue to experience the repression of press freedom and the persecution of human rights defenders, among other victims, reminiscent of the martial law years.

We also commemorate martial law to counter revisionist attempts to deodorize the odious regime and to highlight pseudo Marcos achievements even as the sins of the Marcoses are sanitized and hidden under the ugly rug of historical perfidy.

In order to foreclose the abuses of a martial law regime, the 1987 Constitution prescribes at least 10 mandatory limitations and safeguards on the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

Among others, the constitutional restrictions include the following:

  1. The factual basis for the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus  is limited to “invasion or rebellion, when public safety requires it”. The alternative ground of “imminent danger of rebellion or invasion” in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions has been obliterated.

  2. The effectivity of martial law is limited to “a period of not exceeding sixty days” unless extended upon the initiative of the President with the concurrence of the absolute majority of the Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, voting jointly, with the reasonable intent to likewise delimit any extension.

  3. Congress, voting jointly by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members can revoke such proclamation or suspension, which “revocation shall not be set aside by the President.”

  4. The Supreme Court may review in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen the sufficiency of the factual basis of such proclamation or suspension.

  5. The state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies not authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function, nor automatically suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Unfortunately, these restraints appear to have been disregarded by the political branches of the government when martial law was declared by President Duterte in Mindanao and extended up to now, even as the majority of the Supreme Court relied on the other departments’ tainted and self-serving findings in validating the declaration of Martial Law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

I learned about the declaration of martial law in the wee hours of the morning of September 23, 1972, two days after Proclamation No. 1081 was secretly signed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, from my younger brother, Atty. Hermon Lagman, who was subsequently forcibly disappeared on May 11, 1977, never to be seen again. He steadfastly and courageously challenged aboveground the martial law regime and its disastrous consequences on civil liberties and the national economy.

Hermon, also a UP law graduate, likewise told me that our other brother, Filemon “Ka Popoy” Lagman, was still safe underground. “Ka Popoy” was a UP student when he dropped out to join the forces against Martial Law. He survived the darkest years of military rule when he escaped from incarceration, and continued his crusade for the Filipino workingman. He was assassinated by unknown hired killers at the steps of UP Bahay ng Alumni on February 6, 2001, or 18 years ago.

Marcos padlocked the Congress and arrogated unto himself the role of sole legislator, and in the process negated popular representation in the enactment of laws and adoption of national policies.

To further stifle dissent, he incarcerated titans in the political opposition like human rights advocate Senator Jose W. Diokno, the venerable nationalist Lorenzo Tañada, the staunch oppositionist Senator Benigno Aquino, who was perceived as a presidential contender, the great libertarian Senator Jovito Salonga and the then promising Senator Ramon Mitra, Jr.

He forcibly closed media outlets and detained Joaquin “Chino” Roces, the founder of Manila Times and the Associated Broadcasting Company, and other journalists. He suppressed the freedom of expression and of the press. He closed 292 radio stations all over the country;  66  community newspapers;  11  English weekly magazines;  7  major English dailies;  7  television stations;  4  Chinese dailies;  3  Filipino dailies; 1 English-Filipino daily; and 1 Spanish daily.

My heart tells me not to be a masochist by sharing the harrowing and painful experience of my family during Martial Law. But my mind asserts that I should speak out and disseminate the truth for silence kills. It kills the truth. It kills freedom of expression. It kills the right to dissent. It kills democracy.

Many were forced to keep quiet by the might and terror of Martial Law. But not a few refused to be cowed to submission and be muzzled, notwithstanding the threat to their life, liberty and security.

My two younger brothers, Hermon and Filemon or Ka Popoy, whose minds were both molded in UP Diliman, were among these courageous dissenters and resistance leaders.

My personal narrative on Martial Law is inevitably interwoven with the collective experience and shared oppression of the Filipino people under the various Martial Law executive edicts, policies and practices.

On September 22, 1972, the day following his signing of Proclamation No. 1081 putting the entire country under Martial Law, Marcos issued General Order No. 5. He alleged that the Order aimed “… to restore tranquility and stability of the nation in the quickest possible manner …” Thus, it prohibited “… rallies, demonstrations, picketing or strikes in certain vital industries, and other forms of group actions …” The order warned that “… any person violating this Order shall forthwith be arrested and taken into custody and held for the duration of the national emergency or until he or she is otherwise ordered released by me (Marcos) or by my designated representative.”

This inordinately suppressive edict that sought to keep “all inhabitants” submissive robots was in no time defied by trade unionists who struck one after the other and later simultaneously in sympathy strikes.

These protest actions were staged by workers at the Gelmart Industrial Philippines, Inc; the Navotas Fish Landing and Market Authority; La Tondeña Distillery, Inc.; Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co.; and Solid Mills, among others.

All these unions had my brother Hermon as their counsel. We were collaborating counsel in the case of the batilyos or fish haulers in Navotas. As their counsel, Mon, as we fondly called him, was no ordinary lawyer. Shortly before Martial Law was declared, we were both working with then Senator Doy Laurel in the Senate Committee on Justice. I was chief legal counsel and head of the technical staff and Mon was one of my hardworking and dedicated associates.

When Martial Law was declared and Marcos shut down Congress, I invited him to join the Romero and Lagman Law Office of which I was managing partner. Mon adamantly refused as he had already decided to serve exclusively labor clients and litigants and would put up his own labor law office. It was in this law firm, hardly three months into Martial Law, that on December 12, 1972 he was taken into custody by elements of the Philippine Constabulary. After undergoing tactical interrogation at Camp Aguinaldo, he was transferred to Fort Bonifacio where he was detained for two months.

My mother would visit Mon in Fort Bonifacio daily. On Sundays, the whole family would bring lunch and eat with Mon and other political detainees. On his 28th birthday on February 12, 1973, my mother refused to leave the Judge Advocate General’s office without Mon. She argued that Mon was not charged with any offense,  and being innocent he must be freed. The Judge Advocate General took pity on her and yielded to her persistence. That night, she and Mon went home together.

Mon’s first detention was typical of many deprivations of liberty during Martial Law – indefinite detention without formal charges. His jailers, however, dismally failed to subdue his militancy. In the words of my sister, Nilda Lagman-Sevilla, “Mon’s courage to resist repression intensified after detention, and his passion to serve the masses was inflamed by incarceration.”

Indeed, Mon was a precursor of alternative law. He did not only serve as counsel to the toiling masses before courts of law. Indeed, he also defended their human rights and fundamental freedoms from abusive public authorities and exploitative capitalists. Most significantly, he taught them how to fight steadfastly and in solidarity among themselves and with other social sectors, particularly the urban poor, the youth and the religious. These, the workers internalized and were indubitably demonstrated in their strikes, most evidently in the historic La Tondeña strike – the most hailed open defiance of the mass action and strike ban during Martial Law, and was a huge success. Four hundred out of 800 contractuals were regularized. Today, the issue of contractualization unfortunately continues to haunt the labor front.

Mon’s nonstop mission on workers’ empowerment was suddenly halted on May 11, 1977. That day, he and Victor Reyes, a labor organizer, were to attend a lawyers’ meeting somewhere in Pasay City. They did not make it to the meeting. They were abducted and forcibly disappeared between Bago Bantay, Quezon City and Pasay City.

Our family learned about Mon’s disappearance three days later. An informant told us that he was seized together with Victor Reyes by military elements. My mother, father and I immediately searched for him daily in various military camps and police stations. He was nowhere to be found. No one in the military and police establishments admitted his abduction and detention.

My mother was a very courageous and resilient woman. But she would cringe and I could feel her anxiety heighten in every denial of Mon’s captivity. When we returned home, weary and exhausted from our failed search, she could not sleep. She could not tame or restrain her boundless imagination that would take her to torture chambers, to cruel, inhuman and degrading inquisitions. Where Hermon was a hapless but defiant victim.

After one month of excruciating between hope and despair and hope, she finally wrote President Ferdinand Marcos:

"June 12, 1977

"Dear Mr. President:

"It took me much courage to write you this letter knowing how busy you are on matters of the state. But after reading your directive on the eventual release and/or transfer to civilian jurisdiction of persons detained by military authorities, I have decided finally to appeal to Your Excellency for assistance regarding my son, ATTY. HERMON C. LAGMAN, whose whereabout is unknown after he was picked up by elements of a military unit on May 11, 1977 between Bago Bantay, Quezon City and Pasay City between 7:00 and 8:00 o’ clock in the morning.

"Although the military officials I approached have been gracious enough to listen to my pleas, until now, after more than one month, nobody could inform me where my son was taken or detained.

"My son is a militant advocate for workers and responsible labor unions since he engaged in the active practice in 1972.

"As a mother, I am proud to say that my son has earned the admiration and respect of both government officials and his peers for his incorruptibility, dedication and zeal in protecting the rights and interests of the workingman.

"Most probably because of his crusading efforts in espousing the cause of the working class, he was unfortunately suspected of being an activist, for which he was detained by military authorities from December 1972 to February 1973 and again picked up in the wee hours of February 14, 1976. But on both instances, he was subsequently released for lack of charges and inculpatory evidence.

"Attached as Annex “A” is a biodata of Atty. Hermon C. Lagman.

"Mr. President, please help me see my son again.

"Thank you very much.

"Very truly yours,

Cecilia C. Lagman"

My mother’s pleas fell on deaf ears. She did not even receive a polite response.

Months turned into years of agonizing search, unanswered questions, endless waiting, and arduous striving for justice.

On November 23, 1985, at the height of the people’s resistance to the Marcos dictatorship, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines helped my mother and representatives of eight other families of the disappeared put up the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) of which she was the founding Chairperson. My sister Nilda concurrently serves as Co-Chairperson of FIND and Secretary General of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). Until now, I am FIND’s Honorary Chairman.

FIND recorded 930 victims of enforced disappearance during Martial Law. The unreported could be much higher. At any rate, this translates into some 6,000 family members – mothers, fathers, siblings, children, wives and partners searching for truth and justice.

About a year before Mon was disappeared, my youngest brother Monching or Ka Popoy in the mass movement, was arrested and detained in Camp Vicente Lim in Laguna. He was then 23 years old. When my mother and I went to the military camp, the moment our eyes met, Popoy shook his head. I readily understood that he invented a sham identity.

We later learned that the military men who apprehended him and several other activists were actually looking for him but were clueless about his identity.

Hours before his captors had succeeded in identifying him and were about to celebrate and look toward a huge reward, Popoy along with journalist Henry Romero, then a correspondent of the Manila Bulletin, successfully escaped from Camp Vicente Lim.

Before their escape, they made sure to run daily near the perimeter fence of the detention center, even regularly climbing and jumping off a mound of earth near the fence to deliberately condition the guards to seeing them do this routine for their morning exercises.

On the day of the escape, they casually, almost nonchalantly, stepped on the mound as what the guards were used to seeing them do. Then when the guards were not looking, they jumped off the mound for the momentum they needed to clear the fence. They rode a public utility jeepney to freedom, but not forever. Henry Romero is now a decaparecido. Popoy has a memorial marker at the UP Bahay ng Alumni on which steps he was assassinated years later.

The heinousness of the summary killing of Popoy reminds me of the equally malevolent death penalty.

I am not here to argue against the death penalty this morning, but I want to share with you a death penalty case I handled as a pro-bono lawyer of the CLASP or the Citizen’s Legal Aid Society of the Philippines from trial to the appeal before the Supreme Court during Martial Law.

The death sentence case I handled involved Renato Ortilla who was accused of throwing a hand grenade in front of the Jefferson Memorial Library that killed his childhood friend Rodolfo Carlos, instead of an alleged intended victim. In acquitting Ortilla who had already languished in the death row for 16 years, the Supreme Court ruled:

“In the absence of direct evidence linking herein appellant in the commission of the crime charged, what remains only are his extrajudicial supposed confessions. However, appellant vehemently maintained his innocence during the trial and claimed that he was forced to sign the same. The fact that after the maltreatment appellant was prevailed upon to sign the extrajudicial confessions, the same became worthless evidence. The result is, there is no sufficient evidence upon which appellant’s conviction may be sustained.

“ACCORDINGLY, the judgment appealed from is reversed and appellant is hereby ACQUITTED …”

What is memorable for me about this case, aside from its being a strong argument against the death penalty due to the grievous error of the trial court, is that this was the first criminal case that I handled as a young lawyer. Unang kasong kriminal, bitay ang hatol. To a fainthearted lawyer, this loss could be discouraging. But I took it as a challenge, not only because the death sentence was handed down by Judge Manuel Pamaran who was then labeled as the “Hanging Judge” for his propensity to impose the death penalty, but also because of my advocacy against capital punishment which began even prior to my handling of the Ortilla case and has already spanned six decades.

The espousal of the death penalty stands out as one similarity between President Marcos and President Duterte. There are now 15 bills in the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate seeking to reimpose the death penalty on various crimes, all at the behest of President Duterte.

Their common recourse to martial law is too glaring to be missed. The declaration of martial law in 1972 amounted to an inordinate expansion of governmental authority and a corresponding diminution or even extinction of personal liberty. Human rights transgressions -- arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions –became commonplace.

On the whole, the oppression was, in the style of Marcos, calibrated, and the imposed. authoritarianism was qualified as constitutional. Constitutional authoritarianism is an oxymoron as it cannot be prescribed by a constitution that is fundamentally designed to limit the exercise of governmental authority. But at least there was an effort to show that acts of the government were within constitutional constraints.

Not so with the current administration. No other President in Philippine political history has expressed disdain for the Constitution. If it is difficult to understand how Marcos’ despotism can be constitutional, it is impossible to imagine Duterte’s despotism to be constitutional.

The difference may be in political style. While Marcos is an acknowledged master of calibration, Duterte appears to rely more on gut feel and impulses. He has periodically flipped flopped on matters of state, including the peace talks with the left for the past three years.

Lack of oscillation, however, has been noted in his attitude towards human rights and human rights defenders. He has been consistently contemptuous of them. He stresses that while human rights defenders are concerned about human rights, his concern is human life, as if the right to life is not the most fundamental human right.

Regardless of difference in political style between Marcos and

Duterte, inalienable human rights which are constitutionally enshrined, have been almost equally and ruthlessly violated.

The defiance by the Duterte administration of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution to probe the human rights situation in the Philippines is based on a flawed invocation of sovereignty even as the present administration has forfeited Philippine genuine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea to China.

The promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights is a global concern which transcends national boundaries, sovereign tenets and parochial biases. This should be the guidepost for the Philippines to submit to the resolution of the UNHRC, after the Philippines, as a member of the UNHRC, waged an aggressive but unsuccessful lobby against the passage of the resolution.

The idolatry of President Duterte of the dictator Marcos reached extreme heights when he virtually ordered the burial of Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani which was sanctified by the Supreme Court.  I appeared before the High Court as lead counsel of the petition opposing such improvident interment.

Today, many believe that we have an undeclared Martial Law in the entire country where the rule of law is flaunted, due process transgressed, human rights derogated and the creeping despotism is alarming.

Unsurprisingly, the repression of press freedom during Martial Law has once again reared its ugly head with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) case against the online news site Rappler.

On January 11, 2018, the SEC revoked Rappler's license for allegedly violating the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law. The SEC contends that Rappler’s foreign investment amounts to prohibited foreign control of a media company. This case is the first of its kind in the country and is a terrible blow to press freedom.

In another brazen attempt to muzzle the media, President Duterte has repeatedly declared that he will object to the renewal of the franchise of the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN Corporation. Duterte has even lambasted the Lopezes for being “magnanakaw” and “estapador”. ABS-CBN’s franchise will expire in 2020.

There also appears to be a furtive directive that the President’s purported major statements and appearances must be simultaneously telecast in television and radio coverage which violates the right and liberty of media outlets to select materials for their programming.

The human rights record of the Duterte administration is further stained by its unabated harassment and even liquidation of human rights defenders (HRDs).

The House of Representatives during the 17th Congress passed on third and final reading House Bill No. 9199 or the Human Rights Defenders Act. The Senate failed to act on the measure because of lack of time. I have re-filed this bill as House Bill No. 15 in the 18th Congress to underscore the urgency of protecting human rights defenders.

Red-tagging, witch-hunting and profiling of activists exacerbate violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Let us resolutely resist the deliberate moves of government to constrict civic space.

We must also not forget the signal injustice that was perpetrated with the summary incarceration of Sen. Leila de Lima on February 24, 2017, less than a year into the Duterte administration.

The only sin of Sen. De Lima is her courage to talk back against the President and criticize the ferocity of his war on drugs.

The trumped-up drug charges against her are lamely supported by the affidavits of felons serving long sentences in the New Bilibid Prison who continue to conduct their drug trade behind bars with the complicity of prison officials.

De Lima’s imprisonment derogates free expression and public discourse just like in the Martial Law years under Marcos.

We should not forget the tragedy of martial law. We should not forgive the perpetrators and beneficiaries of Martial Law. National amnesia must be purged as an abhorrent malaise.