Philippines marks Marcos’ 50th martial law anniversary, with son at UN to charm world
MANILA: The Philippines commemorated on Wednesday the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake son of the late dictator, gathered with other world leaders at the UN in New York.
The elder Marcos had ruled the Southeast Asian country with an iron fist for two decades, more than half of it under martial law that was declared on Sept. 21, 1972. He was ousted in a 1986 popular revolt known as People Power, after an era marred by widespread corruption and human rights abuses.
Marcos Jr., 64, who won the presidential election with a landslide victory and took office in June, is setting the tone of the Philippines’ foreign policy under his leadership as part of his first visit to the US, the country where the Marcos family fled in the aftermath of the popular uprising 36 years ago.
“The future beckons and we can embark upon that journey as single nations or as a world in harmony. I say let the challenges of one people be the challenges for all nations. And in that way the success of one will be a success for us all,” Marcos Jr. said during his inaugural speech at the UN General Assembly.
“If we stand together, we can only succeed. Let us dream, let us work for those successes for all our nations, united!”
Activists are chanting “never again” to commemorate the martial law anniversary across the Philippines, the imposition of which Marcos had defended only last week, saying his father made the declaration not to stay in power but because “the government had to defend itself.”
The new president stepped onto the international stage this week in what analysts said is an attempt to distance himself from his late father, as well as his predecessor, President Rodrigo Duterte, who has also been accused of human rights abuses.
Victor Andres Manhit, president of Manila-based Stratbase ADR Institute, said the trip will help Marcos’ administration, as he needs support from the international community for “real investments that will create jobs” and “generate sustained economic growth.”
“So very important to project how a Marcos Jr. administration is totally different from a Marcos Sr. administration. And really one that is more open,” Manhit told Arab News. “One that has plans for the Philippines in the next six years, one that will value basic democratic values which is very important to the West.”
His father’s brutal legacy will bear “no impact” for the president at the UN, Manhit said, though a more pressing issue for Marcos Jr. is how to deal with the “economic consequences of six years of Duterte,” who left the country the highest debt in its history, of 12.79 trillion Philippine pesos ($221.1 billion).
“He needs this international event to project that the Philippines would be very much, is very much, open for investment that can lead to growth, that can lead to job creation,” Manhit said.
When compared to Duterte, Marcos might be seen as a “big improvement (in) the eyes of the world leaders,” he added.
Marcos’ trip will likely serve as a signal for both the international community and Filipinos that he “will not follow (in) the footsteps” of Duterte, according to Renato De Castro, foreign policy analyst and professor of international studies at De La Salle University.
The Marcos administration will project themselves as “more active, more cosmopolitan, more sophisticated when it comes to foreign policy,” which will be in contrast to “the crass, vulgar approach of the previous administration.”
De Castro also said the martial law legacy will not become an issue with other world leaders because he had won the election.
“So what’s the problem? He’s now the president,” De Castro told Arab News, adding that this similarly applied within the Philippines.
“Who can remember martial law?” he said. “Many Filipinos have forgotten all about it. They voted for him. Although I did not vote for him because I could still remember what the family did … So what can we do? Power makes a difference.”
Many Filipinos doubt there will be justice for the victims of martial law under Marcos Jr., Carlos Conde, senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch told Arab News.
“He has not even acknowledged, let alone apologized, for the human rights violations under his father. The Marcoses have likewise launched a massive disinformation campaign to revise their sordid history. So we cannot blame people for not feeling optimistic about accountability under Marcos,” Conde said.
The international community, he added, “needs to uphold its own human rights standards by not ignoring the human rights realities on the ground in the Philippines,” including by ensuring that accountability mechanisms within the UN system work.
On Wednesday, some survivors of the elder Marcos’ brutal regime vowed to remain steadfast in their pursuit of justice.
“Fifty years after military rule swept through the country, our fists remain clenched and raised, our voices cry out for justice, our hearts burst with grief and anger recalling the atrocities committed against the people under the guise of ‘keeping the peace,’” the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law said in a statement.
“Never again, never forget!” it stated.