MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/26 February) – The term revisionism has been largely used to refer to perceived deviations from the fundamental tenets and principles of Marxism. It is a pejorative term, and essentially regarded as downright abandonment of Marxist theory of state and revolution in favor of a reformist line.
Gradually, its meaning and usage has expanded to include subjects not related to the question of Marxism and revolutionary praxis, e.g. movements or advocacies that assert a different interpretation of historical events. Even the Holocaust – the mass killing of at least six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II – has not been spared by attempts of revisionists to call it a myth and an exaggeration of facts despite overwhelming evidence that it did occur.
The Philippines has had its own brushes with revisionism. No, I’m not talking about the local communist movement and the rift that split it into myriad groups in the early 1990s, with the one led by Jose Maria Sison emerging as the mainstream underground Left. (The other factions eventually settled for open, parliamentary struggle for reasons that they themselves can best explain.)
Revisionism has a new face, a new name: police general Lina Castillo Sarmiento, who now serves as chair of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, the body tasked to process reparations for the victims of the Martial Law regime. Sarmiento, like many other high ranking police officials, are holdovers of the defunct Philippine Constabulary, the service arm of the armed forces that accounted for the most number of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship.
Citing her “experience” and “physical ability,” President Benigno S. Aquino III said Sarmiento could “fend off those who would want to sabotage what this law intends to do.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to understand what the law (Human Rights Victims’ Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013) is all about. No question about [her] physical ability. But experience? That’s one thing that should have made the President think twice before signing her papers.
Put her in the claims board – as its head to boot – and tell me facing her, or simply catching a glimpse of her shadow, won’t make the victims feel like they’re reliving the torture and other indignities they suffered more than 30 years ago.
The issue is not whether Sarmiento was personally guilty of human rights violations during those dark years, but that she came from an institution that symbolized the brazen use of military might to protect a tyrant. Let’s presume for the sake of argument she doesn’t have blood in her hands, but her boots thumped the same halls where thugs in uniform dragged their victims to dark cells and unmarked graves. She saw the victims’ bludgeoned faces, she heard their cries of pain and for mercy, and said nothing about it.
Above all, this isn’t just about Sarmiento as much as this isn’t just about the monetary compensation for the victims. It’s all about how the victims made personal sacrifices – some of them were killed (“salvaged” in the parlance of those days) – so something like EDSA could one day grow from the seeds that they sowed. Indeed, those four glorious days in February 1986 were not a gift from Juan Ponce Enrile and his cabal of coup plotters who merely wanted to wrest power for themselves. EDSA happened because years before that, there was the First Quarter Storm, the Escalante Massacre and cumulative acts of defiance that inspired the people and gave them courage to face the tanks.
But call it amnesia or dementia, President Benigno S. Aquino III himself has stood pat on his appointment of Sarmiento. Yes, Aquino III, the son of arguably the most enduring symbol of repression during Martial Law. Joining him in defending the appointment is Commission on Human Rights Chair Etta Rosales. Yes, Rosales, a victim of torture while in military detention.
You have high officials like Aquino III and Rosales defending an appointment like Sarmiento’s, and you’d get an idea why history has become a source of confusion instead of inspiration in this country. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)