Thousands of Filipino activists launched a nationwide protest Friday to mark the 46th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos declaring martial law and compared him to President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-declared fan whose crackdown on drugs had left thousands dead.
In Manila, protesters paraded a huge poster of Duterte and Marcos to the city’s main park, where students, activists and members of the politically influential Catholic Church joined opposition politicians.
They hoisted banners that read “Never Again,” “Fight Dictatorship,” and “No To Martial Law” while chanting anti-Marcos slogans.
“We were there in the darkest days. We struggled and survived. At the sunset of our lives, we will not bow down to another rising tyranny and dictatorship,” said Trinidad Herrera-Rapuno, leader of Selda, a group of former activists jailed during Marcos’ reign as president from 1965 to 1986.
“The Filipino people have already witnessed how we toppled a tyrant. There is no doubt that we can do it again,” she said.
Herrera-Rapuno, who was an urban poor leader in Manila at the height of military rule in the 1970s, survived extreme torture. The dictator’s henchmen had brutalized her, electrocuting her fingers and breasts.
Many of Selda’s members cannot participate in long marches so they waited for the crowd to converge at the Luneta park.
“We want to show our fellow people, especially the younger ones, that our warm bodies are testament that martial law is and never will be good,” she said. “It will always be used to suppress and oppress the people, who, in the first place, have all the reasons to rise up and protest.”
She called on the public to protest the current government’s war on drugs, launched by Duterte when he took office in 2016.
More than 4,400 suspected drug addicts and pushers have been slain in police operations over the past two years, data from the Philippine National Police show. This is on top of the 4,800 “deaths under investigation” including those blamed on pro-government vigilantes who cardboard signs on their victims.
Human rights groups claim thousands more have been killed.
Contrast this to the figures during Marcos’ martial law – more than 3,200 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 cases of torture and about 70,000 activists jailed.
Since taking office, Duterte has placed the entire southern region of Mindanao under martial law, which he used to defeat Islamic State-linked militants after they occupied Marawi city last year. But critics claim that it should have been lifted in October 2017, when the government declared victory.
Critics fear Duterte could expand military rule in the whole of the Philippines as he moves to stifle political dissent. Already, a senator who has been a leading critic of his drug war has been jailed on alleged drug charges.
Duterte also ordered the military to bring in a former navy officer turned senator who has emerged as his staunchest opponent.
Leftist Sen. Risa Hontiveros challenged police on Friday for raising widespread fears of alleged bomb plots to disrupt the day’s protest.
“Undeniably, President Duterte is the real destabilizer. He has destabilized our country's democracy, economy, peace and institutions of governance,” she said, adding that the country needed a “reliable leader” and not one who was fear mongering.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque stressed that Duterte, who was democratically elected, does not plan to follow Marcos’ lead.
“This martial law in Mindanao was asked by the people in Mindanao,” Roque said. “This is not like martial law in the past that was used to suppress human rights.”