DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 August) –The antidote to disinformation, as it was under Marcos’ martial law, and as it is under President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, is “none other than truth-telling,” Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar said.
The 72-year old Gaspar, twice detained by the Marcos military, acknowledged that even as human rights violations nationwide “are at par if not more than the Marcos years, it is hard to imagine that we can repeat the magic of People Power to end martial law in Mindanao and to end the mass killings of all sorts” under Duterte’s “tyrannical rule. “
Speaking on ‘Martial Law in Mindanao and the Challenges to Truth-Telling” at the Civil Society Conversations on Democracy and Information held at the Ateneo de Davao University last Friday, Gaspar said his generation has experienced martial law twice in their lifetime – from 1972 to 1986 under then President Ferdinand Marcos and since May 23, 2017 in Mindanao, under the first Mindanawon President.
The multi-awarded Gaspar, Mindanao’s most prolific book author, professor at the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City, Anthropology professor at the ADDU, and one of the recipients last year of the city’s highest award, Datu Bago, was Valedictorian of the high school batch of Cor Jesu College in Digos City, that included Duterte and Jesus Dureza.
Gaspar noted how some friends who fought the Marcos dictatorship would now, under Duterte, “claim that we should just sit back and allow him to run our lives the way he sees fit,” as there are allegedly no massive human rights violations in the country today unlike the time of Marcos.
“We seem to have failed in our basic arithmetic course as we cannot see the huge difference between those who perished during the Marcos regime — roughly estimated at close to 4,000 killed with an estimated 35,000 tortured, and some 70,000 arrested taking place across 14 long years,” he said, adding that comparing it with three years of Duterte’s rule, “depending on who is counting – between 5,000 to 25,000 killed in both his drug war and counter insurgency campaigns.”
“Collective battered wife”
Duterte continues to have high popularity ratings nationwide, especially in Mindanao and here in the city he ruled for 22 years as mayor.
Gaspar said several political and social scientists have come up with all kinds of theories to explain the Duterte phenomenon but “my hunch is that one reason is to appropriate the metaphor of us Filipinos as a collective battered wife.”
“We know that a battered wife – once she internalizes the oppression – will be the first to justify the violence of her abusive husband. Just because he makes her laugh with his corny jokes, she will not mind the battering. Just because she is provided financial and other kinds of security, she will endure the beating even if she ends up in the hospital. Because her husband is now idolized by tens of thousands, she is willing to forgive and forget for she believes that the spotlight also shines on her,” he said.
“But another hunch tells us that perhaps one of the other reason is the problem of truth-telling in our day and age. And this is ironic. If one compares how truth managed to not just be broadcasted but given a lot of credence between the Marcos years and today, one can only shake one’s head at the supreme irony of it all!”
He recalled how, under Marcos’ martial law, mass media was heavily censored and the State’s mouthpieces “desperately tried their best to manipulate the truth” but a few feisty newspapers and what had come to be known as the ‘mosquito press’ dared to speak truth to power.
He spoke of the Filipinos’ creativity to ensure the truth reached as many people at that time when the internet was still unheard of. “Even as some of the reports were very much delayed and copies of the alternative media were severely limited, somehow in those years of the Marcos dictatorship, information reached a wide circulation of readers. And radio-baktas (word-of-mouth) took on an important anthropological role as providing activists with a voice.”
“No matter the whats, the hows, the wheres, and whens”
“I remember the excitement that fueled our courage to dare speak our voices, even if the risk was there of being arrested and possibly even be tortured and disappeared hung above our heads.”
“Out there, just before the crack of dawn in the darkest of nights, some of us painted on the walls screaming red signs defying Marcos and his minions. Some of us braved the long hikes to the uplands to document military abuses against helpless farmers suspected of harboring rebels. Some others through cloak-and-dagger operations mimeographed newsletters and hid them between textbooks. Still others found ways to smuggle them through airports,” Gaspar recalled.
“No matter the whats, the hows, the wheres and whens of truth telling – we explored them all. Eventually a tilting point came when the truth could no longer be hidden. And truly, the truth set us free,” he said.
In the present situation, he quoted reports by Karapatan, the Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and by some in the media on the human rights violations in Mindanao, as well as in other parts of the country, with the threat of martial law being expanded to Negros region.
He cited the challenges faced by human rights defenders at the national front but noted that at the international level “there have been breakthroughs.”
He said the move to restore the Anti-Subversion law will “merely add to this government’s arsenal of repressive laws” and will add “another moniker to the Duterte government’s many labels against critics and activists.”
“All these serve the goal to legitimize repression and box critics into dangerous labels that lay down the pretext for state forces to persecute them,” he warned.
Gaspar described today’s situation as “truly atrocious and we should do everything to once more end this tyrannical rule” but he asked how many of the 104 million Filipinos, 14 million of that in Mindanao, “are convinced that the truth is being manipulated and that there is so much disinformation going on.”
How, he asked, can truth-telling be tackled “to fight against the conscious drive for disinformation, to manipulate the truth, to hide the real facts and to justify the shenanigans of those in power?”
Gaspar said that under Marcos’ martial law — from 1972 until his ouster in February 1986 – “the people’s bodies and minds were held captive by a corrupt, power-hungry dictatorship which used all its weapons and instrumentalities at its disposal to impose a reign of terror” but it “could not hold our hearts and spirit captive for we claimed our right to resist and thus be freed from fear and hopelessness.”
Despite the challenges and the risks then, Gaspar said they believed they had “the power to dismantle this evil dictatorship” but knew it would take a long time and some of them may even die.
“So we did all we can to conscientize our ranks and reach out to the masses. We learned how to KUKANG (Kinsa, Unsa, Kanus-a, Asa, Ngano, Giunsa or the 5Ws and 1H) so we can produce documentations, come up with rural mimeo press and blackboard bulletins. We painted the walls or hung signs made of sako. We sang songs of protest, recited poems of rage and mounted theatrical productions in all spaces available. And we marched the streets, organized Lakbayans and protested with farmers, workers, and the urban poor and Lumad communities, were harassed, truncheoned, sprayed even with red-colored water,” he said.
“All these to speak the truth! To witness to the truth,” Gaspar said, adding they made headways, building up a movement which peaked eventually between 1983 to 1986 “and 33 years ago, the world watched as we finally toppled down an authoritarian regime which sent Marcos, Imelda, their children including Imee who is now a senator, and their minions fleeing like criminals to escape the people’s wrath.”
He said it is “hard to imagine” a repeat of the “magic of People Power” under the present situation because the Filipinos are fragmented and “the force that has continued the legacy of protest and resistance remains not so very influential as this only involves radical elements still mainly operating in the uplands and the underground.“
In the meantime, he said, those in power “ensconced in State bureaucracy and militaristic institutions, backed up by global and national oligarchies, have conspired to maximize all cultural apparatuses and technology to use the latest gadgets, to adopt dirty tactics, to manipulate the truth, to the spread of fake news and half-truths.”
“Today, if we are astute in reading the signs around us, the name of the game is Disinformation and our Democracy has consequently become cancerous and about to metastasize towards the body politic’s total collapse,” Gaspar said.
But, he added, “in this context of a social disease, the antidote is none other than truth-telling.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews