By Abner Galino
ON September 21, just as a group from the Philippine National Police (PNP) was presenting the mechanics of one of their programs for overseas Filipinos in a building housing the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, a motley group of Filipino Americans demonstrated in front of the same building to denounce the 46th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines.
The demonstrators who could be seen and heard from the window of the Philippine Consulate General on the 5th floor of the building, offered prayers for the victims of human rights violations, particularly those who were tortured and killed during the 20-year rule of President Ferdinand Marcos.
Carrying placards and banners, the protesters fell into two lines on the sidewalk. With their lines facing each other, the protesters chanted slogans denouncing martial law and as well as the current government of President Rodrigo Duterte whom they accused of having anti-democratic tendencies.
“We take this history with us to expose Duterte’s actions that have killed and harmed the lives of thousands of Filipinos, and for repeating this violent history after declaring martial law over the whole island of Mindanao in 2017,” said one of the speakers of the demonstration.
The rallyists also called for the end to the TRAIN Law (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) which was supposedly causing the prices of goods to rise up, making daily survival harder for the poor. They also called on the Duterte government to stop the persecution of known political personalities and to end its attacks on the truth and press freedom.
One of Duterte’s critics, Senator Leila de Lima, has been in jail on supposed trumped up charges. Another government critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes is on the risk of going back to jail after his amnesty was revoked. Protesting alleged corruption in the government and the military, Trillanes, then junior military officer participated in an uprising called the Oakwood Mutiny in 2003.
The speakers also mentioned the International People’s Tribunal (IPT) in Brussels, Belgium which they said was helping raise awareness on the ongoing violations of human rights in the Philippines.
The said demonstration was participated by members of BAYAN-US, Anakbayan, Gabriela and Migrante International.
In a related incident, Filipino Americans composed of faith leaders, students and church members gathered at the First United Methodist Church of Wilmington for an evening of prayer service to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the declaration of martial law in the Philippines.
The mass action was sponsored by the National Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns (NEFFCON) and Malaya, a US movement against killings and dictatorship in the Philippines. It brought together different religious denominations in the South Bay area, particularly the members of First United Methodist Church of Torrance, United Methodist Women, Intervarsity at Cal State Long Beach, and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
“September 21st is not an ordinary day for Filipinos as we mark the declaration of martial law, a decree that spells human rights violations, tyranny, and fascism in the Philippines,” said Fr. Lito Mombay of Iglesia Filipina Independiente and NEFFCON in his welcome remarks.
“Just as we are doing in advance today, Filipinos in the Philippines and all over the world will gather in solidarity for a mass and prayer service to commemorate martial law and say never again to tyranny and never again to dictatorship.”
There were prayers and songs and speakers discussed the historical significance of martial law and the importance of remembering the past.
The group also honored and prayed for the souls of Father “Tito” Paez, Father Mark Ventura, and Father Richmond Nilo — Catholic priests who have all been killed within last year for their respective involvement in activism and social works.
William Lazarte from the First UMC Torrance urged the faithfuls to find hope in the example of prophet Habakkuk and “to trust in God alone, for that is the essence of true faith. A faith that defies circumstances; a faith that uplifts the downtrodden; a faith that speaks for the voiceless; a faith that empower the weak; a faith that stands up to the tyrants and bullies; a faith that exposes the lies and upholds the truth; a faith that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. And finally a faith that steadfastly trusts and believes that God was, is and will always be in control.”
Organizer Janelle Rivera of Anakbayan Long Beach and NEFFCON reflected on the victims of martial law in her prayer, remembering the over 300,000 people in Marawi that were displaced and forced to live in overcrowded evacuation centers after their homes were bombed to rubble.
“All of this suffering,” Rivera said,“is only to advance the interests of big landlords, businessmen, and the military. But God’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom that protects the interests of, not the rich and powerful but, the poor and powerless.”
Those in attendance were reminded that “those in power want us to forget (the past) because they are the ones who benefit when we are silent,” stated Janelle Viray of NEFFCON and one of the organizers of the service.
“Therefore we are called to not stay silent, we must interrupt indifference, we must shed light on our true history and current concrete conditions, we must continue to speak out for justice for the targeted victims of the Marcos regime and each subsequent regime after him. We must not allow the tools of control, power, and oppression to remain in the hands of dictators and fascists,” Viray said.