Activist state

50 years apart: a Filipino activist fights a dictator then his son

Human rights activist Loretta Rosales shows a book about martial law in the Philippines and a photo, a grainy military photo of her taken after her arrest in 1976, at her home in Manila, the Philippines, February 23, 2022. Memories of

Human rights activist Loretta Rosales shows a book about martial law in the Philippines and a photo, a grainy military photo of her taken after her arrest in 1976, at her home in Manila, the Philippines, February 23, 2022. Memories of the ‘People Power Revolt’ by millions of Filipinos who helped overthrow Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos 36 years ago is bittersweet for Rosales, who opposed him as an activist and was arrested and tortured by his forces before his downfall. His battle, however, has come full circle. The euphoria over this triumph of democracy in Asia has faded over the years and now looks upset with the son and namesake of the late dictator, leading candidate in presidential election on May 9. (AP Photo/Joeal Calupitan)

PA

Memories of the ‘People Power’ revolt by millions of Filipinos who helped overthrow Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos 36 years ago are bittersweet for Loretta Rosales, who opposed him as an activist and was arrested and tortured by her forces before her fall.

His fight has come full circle.

The euphoria over this triumph of democracy in Asia has faded over the years and now seems upset with the son and namesake of the late dictator, the main candidate in the presidential election on May 9. The rise of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. loomed large as the Southeast Asian nation Friday marked the anniversary of the military-backed uprising that toppled Marcos and became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes around the world.

“It baffles and dismays me,” said Rosales, who remains an 82-year-old pro-democracy activist and is now sounding the alarm about Marcos Jr. She expressed fear that he would take after her father and does not seek to conceal its crimes and its failures.

Rosales was among human rights victims who petitioned the Election Commission to disqualify Marcos Jr. from the presidential race because of a prior tax conviction which they said showed ‘moral turpitude’ that should the prevented from exercising a public function.

The commission rejected his request and five others. All are now on appeal, and one remains pending but will likely be dismissed as well.

“It’s history repeating itself,” Rosales said in an interview. “It’s the second round.”

Marcos Jr., 64, who has served as a governor, congressman and senator, is leading the popularity polls by far in the presidential race despite his family history. He has called the allegations against his father “lies” and his campaign is resolutely focused on calling for unity while staying away from past controversies.

The four-day revolt that forced the elder Marcos from power in 1986 unfolded when then-defense chief Juan Ponce Enrile and his forces withdrew their support after their conspiracy against the sick leader. Later joined by a high-ranking general, Fidel Ramos, they barricaded themselves in two military camps along the main EDSA highway in the capital, where a Roman Catholic leader summoned Filipinos to bring food and support the mutinous troops.

A gigantic crowd showed up and acted as a human shield for the defectors. Nuns, priests and civilians holding rosaries knelt before them and stopped tanks deployed to crush the largely peaceful uprising.

The eldest Marcos died in 1989 while in exile in Hawaii without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he, his family and cronies amassed between $5 billion and $10 billion while he was in power. A Hawaiian court later found him responsible for human rights abuses and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos led by Rosales who had sued him for torture, extrajudicial executions, imprisonment and disappearances.

After the Marcos family returned from exile in the early 1990s, Marcos Jr. decided to run for Congress to protect his family from being politically hounded, he told reporter Korina Sanchez-Roxas in a recent interview.

In the suburban Manila home of Rosales, a wall is filled with memories of a life of activism, including serving as a member of the House of Representatives for nine years and then as head of the Human Rights Commission. the man until 2015. The only reminder of the worst times is a grainy military photo showing her with a strained smile and wearing a nameplate with the date scribbled on August 4, 76. That’s when she and five other anti-Marcos activists were arrested by military agents as they met at a restaurant four years after Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law in 1972.

“I was smiling, it was before the torture,” Rosales said.

For about two days in a military hideout, her captors blindfolded her and cut wires on her fingers and toes and ran currents of electricity that caused her body to convulse wildly, she said. . Her mouth was gagged so she couldn’t scream. At other times, she said she was subjected to Russian roulette, during which an abductor pointed a gun to her head and pulled the trigger multiple times to force her to report other activists. “There were sexual assaults,” said Rosales, who was eventually released.

Nearly four decades after democracy was restored, the Philippines remains mired in poverty, corruption, inequality, long-running Communist and Muslim insurgencies, and political divisions. Pre-pandemic economic growth mostly benefited wealthier families and failed to lift millions out of despair. At the height of the pandemic, unemployment and hunger reached record levels.

“Ordinary Filipinos look at these realities and wonder if this is really what they want,” said Manila-based scholar and analyst Richard Heydarian, adding that disenchantment with the failures of reformist liberal politics in the he post-dictatorship era has continued to grow. “That’s where Marcos came in and said we were the ultimate alternative.”

Many Filipinos remember relative peace and tranquility under martial law in the 1970s as well as lavish infrastructure projects, and Marcos Jr. promised increased prosperity and peace.

Its current strong popularity did not appear overnight. As a running mate in 2016, he won over 14 million votes, losing to Leni Robredo by just 263,000 votes.

Robredo, the leading liberal opposition candidate in the presidential race, ranks second in most popularity polls but trails Marcos Jr. three months before the vote.

In a measure of how history has changed, Enrile, now 98, endorsed the candidacy of Marcos Jr. Former Army Col. Gregorio Honasan, a key leader in the plot against the elder Marcos , was adopted by Marcos Jr. in his senatorial list. Honasan, 73, said he had not decided who to support among the presidential candidates but that the people’s choice should be respected.

“If the Filipino people decide to have collective national amnesia and say, ‘let’s give another Marcos a chance,’ who are we to question that?” Honasan said in an interview.

Rosales, who supports Robredo, remains hopeful and pointed to the large number of volunteers campaigning for the current vice president on social media and across the country due to the frustration over corrupt and incompetent politicians.

“This volunteering is a new kind of resistance,” Rosales said. “It’s the power of the people.”

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Associated Press reporter Kiko Rosario contributed to this report.