Nonviolence, Peace

Martial law and People Power

by Pierre Thompson

During the recent consultation with member organisations of Pax Christi International’s Asia-Pacific region, consultation participants visited Bantayog ng mga Bayani, a museum commemorating the struggle against martial law in the Philippines. When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, our docent, Susan Macabuag, had been a student at the University of the Philippines. At the time, students were the most vocal opponents of martial law because they foresaw the danger it posed to democracy. Under military rule, it was illegal to hold gatherings of three or more, or to express political dissent. Liliosa Hilao, a 23-year old student activist, was the first person to die in detention under martial law. Many others were disappeared or tortured. Perhaps the most shocking death would take place thirteen years later when government forces assassinated the opposition leader Ninoy Aquino upon his return to Manila.

The extended period of martial law became an opportunity for the Marcos family to plunder the wealth of the Philippines, turning it into one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. The Presidential Commission on Good Government estimated that Marcos stole as much as 10 billion USD from public coffers, which is still mostly unaccounted for. Marcos used the money to buy off his cronies in the military and the police. Martial law also benefited the capitalists because workers could not collectively organize, and guaranteed that U.S. military bases could remain in the Philippines. Perhaps martial law would not have lasted as long without foreign backers of the regime.

The museum invited reflection on the legacy of colonialism and how it created the type of society in which martial law could take hold. Spanish and American colonialism, both political and economic in nature, created a feudal system where the majority did not own land or resources, while a small minority had access to education. During the Second World War, Japanese occupation brought about massive urban destruction. The language of imperialism continues to shape public discourse on the West Philippine Sea, and even used to deflect human rights criticism from the international community. Our visit was well timed: the following day, November 30, was a national holiday commemorating Andres Bonifacio, who sparked the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1896.

In 1986, it was nonviolent resistance that toppled the Marcos regime. The Catholic Church played a significant role in providing the civic space and coordination for the diverse opposition movement. The opposition movement included workers, professors, teachers, students, farmers, public servants, businessmen, professionals, artists, journalists, and religious. One notable woman religious was Sr. Mary “Christine” Tan, provincial of the Religious of the Good Shepherd. In a vocation story published after her death, Sr. Christine confessed that the institutional Church had vigorously opposed her political activism. A Cardinal had summoned her to Rome only to threaten her with excommunication if she did not cooperate with the Marcos regime; she disobeyed the order. Sr. Christine would go on to help write the new Philippine Constitution and found the Pax Christi section in the Philippines.

After paying our respects to the martyrs and heroes inscribed in the Wall of Remembrance, we visited the EDSA Shrine and People Power Monument. Both commemorate the historic thoroughfare upon which half a million Filipinos descended to signal their nonviolent opposition to the Marcos regime. In doing so, the people created a great tension; the military chose to defect from the Marcos regime rather than fire upon civilians. Although it had been used to suppress the people during martial law, the military has since undergone a transformation and is now widely respected as a professional institution. However, some question whether the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, which has lasted more than six months, is a portent of further challenges to civil-military relations. The only thing we can be sure of is the revolutionary power of nonviolence.

Inspired to Action

In her vocation story, Sr. Christine Tan, RGS, wrote: “There was perennial search in all waves of my life – the search to find God, the search to be authentic, the search for justice within and outside the Church, the search for true freedom, the search of my people for a taste of a life that is human.” In their continuing search for these ideals, the Filipino people serve as an indefatigable witness to Christianity in Asia and a paragon of Gospel nonviolence. This exposure trip refreshed the Pax Christi members with a measure of hope, linking this experience to the work that we have been doing for peace and justice. It influenced our final statement of the Asia Pacific regional consultation, which can be read here.

Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

My experience of nonviolence in the Philippine People Power Revolt of 1986

by Loreta Castro
Pax Christi Pilipinas

The Context

In 1972, then President Marcos declared martial law in the country and became a dictator, vesting himself with both executive and legislative powers through presidential decrees. He had been President for 8 years (2 terms) and could no longer be re-elected according to the constitution. It was a time of turmoil. All basic freedoms (esp. freedom of expression and assembly) were curtailed. All those perceived by Marcos and the military as belonging to the opposition groups were subjected to warrantless arrests. Thousands were tortured and others simply disappeared and were never heard from anymore. As to be expected so many lost hope and decided to join the underground, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), and waged an armed struggle against the dictatorship. I was a young teacher then and was struggling with what was happening in the country. I wanted the situation to change and yet the option of joining the armed struggle to overthrow the government was an option that I could not consider because killing or harming anyone was something I knew I could not do. In the rallies that I joined prior to the martial law declaration, I could not even mouth the chants that I felt degraded the humanity of another. Many among my colleagues were in a similar quandary and had the same question: what could we do to resist nonviolently?

The Opportunities

What catalyzed the people’s nonviolent resistance against the Marcos dictatorship was the murder of opposition leader former Senator Ninoy Aquino when he returned to the Philippines from his exile, on Aug. 21, 1983. The August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM) was organized and soon began an almost-daily mobilization of protest rallies. Soon, other groups followed.

The option of Active Nonviolence or ANV was embraced by those who believed that this was a path of resistance that we could take instead of violence. The Catholic Church took a leading role in this movement. An organization called Aksyon Para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan (AKKAPKA) was organized and was led by a Jesuit, Fr. Jose Blanco. Many ANV trainings involving various sectors of society were held and I can say that the success of the so-called People Power Revolt of 1986 can be attributed to this ANV movement. The ANV philosophy convinced us that counter-violence and passivity were not the ethical and effective responses to the violence of the Marcos regime. The ANV movement also operationalized an important insight about the nature of political power: that the power of the leaders rests upon the obedience and cooperation of the people. Hence, when the regime committed massive fraud during the snap presidential elections (called by Marcos in 1985 to prove to the world that the people would still vote for him if elections were held at that time), Cory Aquino who ran against Marcos called for a civil disobedience campaign. We boycotted products of a crony company, a crony bank and a crony newspaper. These were owned by Marcos’ cronies or friends who continued to prop up the Marcos regime and in return benefited from it.

During a military mutiny led by a general and the Defense Minister on February 22, 1986, Cardinal Jaime Sin called on the people, via the Church-owned Radio Veritas, to protect and support the military personnel who have withdrawn their support from Marcos. The Cardinal asked the people to go to a camp where the said military personnel had set up their headquarters and had expected a bloody confrontation with the loyalist military.

In the few days that followed, more and more people poured into the area surrounding the camp, in a massive nonviolent demonstration against the Marcos’ dictatorship and involved about 2 million people. It was amazing to experience the nonviolent actions that were taken by the people who were there: we were giving food and flowers to the loyalist soldiers instead of throwing stones at them; we were praying and singing, and carried with us symbols of our Faith. We all disobeyed the curfew that was imposed by Marcos so that the people would be off the streets. There were those who made their bodies the barricade to stop the loyalist tanks from proceeding to the camp to attack those who were holed up there. There was nonviolent persuasion as demonstrators shouted these messages to the loyalist military personnel who were advancing to the camp, (translated into English from Filipino): “Join us, let us not fight each other, we are all Filipinos…” On February 25, Marcos and his family left the Philippines.

Towards a Deeper and Wider Practice within the Catholic Community

As a peace educator, I believe that we have to invest more energy and resources in educating about nonviolence beginning with our Catholic schools and the formation programs for the Catholic religious and laypeople. There is much that we still have to do in this area. We need more workers in this NV vineyard. Catholic organizations have to reach out more, too, to other kindred organizations that may be secular or faith-based to promote the spirituality and practice of nonviolence.

I sincerely hope that our Catholic Church would take the leadership in this. I have long felt that in the last decades of my own existence that globally we have not really strongly spoken about the nonviolence of Jesus. The whole tone and spirit of his life was that of nonviolence and love, and yet so-called Christians have accepted killing whether through the state-sponsored death penalty or through war.

Finally, I believe that we as Catholics have to speak more strongly about delegitimizing war as a means of resolving conflicts. War is an inhumane and immoral institution and needs to be abolished along with the tools that go with war such as more and more destructive armaments, including nuclear weapons.