By Alfred McCoy, 20 September 1999
Al McCoy, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and one of the foremost researchers/analysts of developments in the Philippines, recently gave a paper on torture in the Philippines during the Marcos regime that has really touched a nerve in that society. What most people do not know is that none of the torturers—nor many of the regime’s allies—have every been punished for their activities under the dictator. In fact, Fidel Ramos, who commanded the Philippine Constabulary during the dictatorship—under which was located a couple of key torture units—was elected President and served from 1992-1998.
However, while focused on the Philippines, McCoy draws out some implications that go far beyond that individual country, and that is why I am posting this so widely. Certainly, it will have implications for Indonesia, and every other country where torture has been practiced—including the United States. Despite the unsavory topic, I encourage everyone to read his notes for the talk, which are below. I encourage you to forward them on to relevant people around the world.
In response to my request, Professor McCoy has agreed that I can post these notes. This talk is extracted from his forthcoming book, “Closer Than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy” (New Haven: Yale University Press), which will be out in January 2000.
I have read much of McCoy’s published work over the years, and have found it top-flight. If his name sounds familiar, he was the writer who published “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia” in the early 1970s, detailing CIA complicity with drug lords in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia. [The CIA transported the product of opium poppy to labs in Bangkok, where it was processed into heroin, and then transported to Saigon and other countries around the world. It ended up in the arms of a considerable number of US soldiers and sailors in the region as well.] He has continued writing on the drug networks, as well as on the Philippines, since then.
DARK LEGACY: HUMAN RIGHTS UNDER THE MARCOS REGIME
Alfred W. McCoy, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Conference: “Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship”
Ateneo de Manila University
20 September 1999
1.) Marcos Regime: Looking back on the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, the Marcos government appears, by any standard, exceptional for both the quantity and quality of its violence.
a.) Films such as “Missing” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” lend an aura of ruthlessness to Latin American dictatorships that seems to overshadow the Philippines.
b.) But statistics tell another story.
1.) The Marcos regime’s tally of 3,257 extra-judicial killings is far lower than Argentina’s 8,000 missing.
2.) But it still exceeds the 2,115 extra-judicial deaths under General Pinochet in Chile, and the 266 dead during the Brazilian junta.
3.) Under Marcos, moreover, military murder was the apex of a pyramid of terror—3,257 killed, 35,000 tortured, and 70,000 incarcerated.
4.) In striking contrast to Argentina, only 737 Filipinos “disappeared” between 1975 and 1985.
5.) But nearly four times that number, some 2,520, or 77 percent of all victims, were “salvaged”—that is, tortured, mutilated, and dumped on a roadside for public display.
c.) Seeing these mutilated remains, passers-by could read in a glance a complete transcript of what had transpired in Marcos’s safe houses, spreading a sense of fear.
1.) Instead of an invisible machine like the Argentine military that crushed all resistance, Marcos’s regime intimidated by random displays of its torture victims —becoming thereby a theater state of terror.
d.) This terror had a profound impact upon the Philippine military and its wider society.
2.) Martial Law: Under martial law from 1972 to 1986, the Philippine military was the fist of Ferdinand Marcos’s authoritarian rule. Its elite torture units became his instruments of terror.
1.) On 22 September 1972, Marcos, weighing his words with a lawyer’s care, issued Proclamation 1081 imposing a state of martial law that would last a decade. Let us mark his words. Let us note their nuance:
a.) “By virtue of the power vested upon me by…the Constitution I do hereby command the Armed Forces of the Philippines to maintain law and order…and to enforce obedience to all laws and decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by me personally.” 2.) The president, armed with these extraordinary powers, involved the military in every aspect of authoritarian rule—media censorship, corporate management, mass incarceration, and provincial administration.
a.) Backed by his generals, Marcos wiped out warlord armies, closed Congress, and confiscated the corporations of political enemies.
4.) Even at its peak, however, the Marcos state, reflecting the underlying poverty of Philippine society, lacked the skilled manpower and information systems to effect a blanket repression.
a.) As a lawyer, moreover, Marcos, at first maintained a facade of legality and spoke with pride of his “constitutional authoritarianism.”
b.) But as the gap between legal fiction and coercive reality widened, the regime mediated this contradiction by releasing its political prisoners and shifting to extra-judicial execution or “salvaging.”
II. TORTURE & TRAUMA:
1.) Elite Torture Units: During 14 years of martial law, the elite anti-subversion units came to personify the regime’s violent capacities:
a.) Under the command of Marcos’s close cousin General Fidel Ramos, the Philippine Constabulary housed the 5th Constabulary Security Unit (CSU) and the Metrocom Intelligence and Security Group (MISG).
b.) Officers in these elite units were the embodiment of an otherwise invisible terror.
1.) The MISG’s commander for twelve years, Colonel Rolando Abadilla (PMA ’65), in the words of his obituary, “towered over other heavies in that closed, tight-knit, psychotic club of martial-law enforcers.”
2.) Only his former understudy, then Lieutenant , now Congressman, Rodolfo Aguinaldo (PMA ’72) of the 5th CSU, could rival his psychopathic interrogations.
c.) Instead of a simple physical brutality, these units practiced a distinctive form of psychological torture with wider implications for the military and its society.
1.) Let us talk a bit about torture.
d.) Starting in 1950, the US Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, funded several decades of academic research into “the relative usefulness of drugs, electroshock, violence, and other coercive techniques” to discover a new method of psychological torture—perhaps the most significant revolution in this cruel science during the past four centuries.
1.) Instead of the soldier’s natural inclination to physical brutality, the CIA’s thousand-page torture manual, distributed to military regimes in Latin America for over 20 years, teaches psychological tactics to break down what the Agency called a victim’s “capacity to resist”.
2.) Through “persistent manipulation of time,” the interrogator can break a victim’s will, driving the victim, in the CIA’s words, “deeper and deeper into himself, until he is no longer able to control his responses in an adult fashion.”
3.) Significantly, the Agency did warn that physical torture weakens the “moral caliber of the [security] organization and corrupts those that rely on it.”
4.) But the CIA missed an important point that would emerge from the Philippine experience: psychological torture is far more corrupting than its physical variant. e.) These CIA techniques are so similar to Philippine practices that we must ask: did the CIA train these Filipino interrogators?
1.) In 1978, a human rights newsletter reported that the Marcos regime’s top torturer, Lieutenant-Colonel Abadilla, was studying at Fort Leavenworth.
2.) A year later, his understudy, Lieutenant Aguinaldo, was reportedly going to the United States “for…training under the Central Intelligence Agency.”
f.) Were these officers given CIA training in either tactical interrogation or torture?
1.) Definitive answers must await further release of classified documents. At present, we will have to content ourselves with comparison.
2.) Reading the victim’s recollections, the methods of Filipino interrogators, particularly the theatricality of the future RAM officers, seems strikingly similar to the counter-intuitive techniques of the CIA manual.
g.) Torture and its terror, designed to inculcate mass compliance through fear, left a lasting legacy for the post-Marcos Philippines—a politicized military and a traumatized polity.
2.) AFP & Torture:
a.) The Marcos’s regime’s spectacle of terror opens us to a wider understanding of the political dimension of torture—one that is ignored in the literature on both the human rights and human psychology.
b.) Instead of studying how torture harms its victims, we must, if we are to understand the legacy of martial law, ask what impact torture has upon the torturers.
3.) Theory of Torture:
a.) We are only now coming to an understanding of torture.
b.) In the past quarter century, psychologists have discovered that torture victims suffer lasting psychological damage out of any proportion to the actual physical harm.
c.) A study by Otto Doerr-Zegers of Chileans tortured by General Pinochet’s regime found the victim “does not only react to torture with a tiredness of days, weeks, or months, but remains a tired human being.”
1.) These Chilean researchers tried to explain torture’s devastating impact by probing the peculiar “phenomenology of the torture situation.”
2.) These researchers seem to be saying that torture, as done in Chile, was a kind of total theater, a constructed unreality of lies and inversion.
d.) If torture somehow leaves the victim in a lasting state of weakness, might it not have the opposite impact upon the perpetrators?
e.) In the Philippines, Marcos’ elite interrogation units practiced a distinctive form of theatrical torture that I call “the drama of social inversion”—a variant that relies more on psychological humiliation than simple physical pain.
1.) Through psychological manipulation and sexual torture, these young Filipino officers broke their social superiors, priest and professors, gaining a superman sense that they could remake the social order at will.
f.) The Philippine experience teaches us that torture has a transactional dynamic—just as the torture victim is made powerless, so the torturer is empowered.
4.) Torture & Class ’71:
a.) We can best see the impact of torture on the Armed Forces by examining the experience of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1971.
b.) Only 18 months after their graduation, Marcos declared martial making these young lieutenants the fist of his repression.
c.) Whether war, peace, or military dictatorship, generals keep to their tents, while lieutenants serve on the line and suffer its fate.
d.) From the time of its founding in 1936, the Philippine state’s primary defense against coups has been the socialization of its officers into subordination at the PMA.
1.) For Filipino officers, the first years of active duty are a second, critical phase in this process of military socialization.
e.) Whether they became Marcos loyalists or RAM rebels, officers assigned to these elite anti-subversive units that regularly tortured suspects seem transformed by the experience.
1.) Many members of Class ’71, served as officers fighting the dirty war against Muslim rebels in Mindanao before transfer to civil control operations in Manila.
2.) Others were assigned directly to intelligence units that regularly tortured suspected subversives.
a.) Then Lieutenant, now General, Panfilo Lacson, for example, joined the MISG right after graduation and spent the next 15 years in this elite torture unit, rising to deputy command under his mentor Colonel Abadilla.
f.) What was the impact of torture upon the young officers?
1.) When torture becomes duty and officers spend years in a daily routine of terror, the experience becomes central to their socialization.
2.) Such experiences broke down their socialization into subordination, transforming them from servants of the state into its would-be masters.
3.) Judging from RAM’s later coups, these experiences also seemed to foster a theory of social action founded on an inflated belief in the efficacy of violence.
g.) Group torture built lasting bonds that sustained these officers in their rise to power.
a.) At the 5th CSU, Lt. Aguinaldo (PMA ’72) worked with his classmate Billy Bibit and Vic Batac (’71), beating victims together and forging bonds that later knitted into the RAM.
b.) Similarly, at the rival MISG, Colonel Abadilla and two comrades, Robert Ortega and Panfilo Lacson , tortured together for over a decade, forming a tight faction that would rise together within the police after Marcos’s downfall.
5.) Emergence of RAM:
a.) In retrospect, the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, or RAM, seems the most visible manifestation of Marcos’s impact upon the military
b.) Led by middle-ranking regulars largely from PMA’s Class of 1971, RAM plotted a coup d’tat against the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
6.) Torture & RAM’s Coup Tactics:
a.) After a decade as understudies in Marcos’s theater of terror, the RAM colonels emerged on the national stage in the late 1980s emboldened by the sense of mastery to launch six coup attempts.
b.) Not only did torture inspire their many coups, it induced an illusory sense of personal power that made them inept tacticians and incompetent coup commanders.
c.) No other military in the world launched so many coups with so little success. 7.) Impunity: After five more failed coup attempts between 1986 and 1990, surrender remained the only option for RAM’s leaders.
a.) Facing charges for crimes of murder and rebellion, the RAM colonels were determined to lay down arms in ways that would guarantee immunity.
b.)Through a mix of bluff and violence, they not only won an absolute amnesty but they had also placed their leader in the Senate—launching him on a path to the presidency of the Philippine Republic.
8.) RAM: In October 1995, the rebels of the RAM, or the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, and government representatives met at Camp Aguinaldo to sign a peace agreement ending the group’s seven-year revolt.
1.) Under the terms of the accord, RAM agreed to a “permanent cessation of hostilities” and promised to “commit itself to democratic processes.”
2.) In exchange, the government would reinstate all rebel soldiers into the armed forces and grant “a general and unconditional amnesty for all offenses committed in pursuit of their political beliefs.”
3.) After years of maneuvering to escape prosecution, RAM had finally won impunity for crimes of rebellion, murder, and torture.
9.) Police: Though RAM and its spectacular coups have now faded, the legacy of martial law lives on in the Philippine National Police (PNP).
a.) Whether rebels or loyalists, members of Class ’71 in the PNP have continued to their relentless rise to power, though often guilty of serious human rights abuses.
b.) In 1991, then Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos merged the Constabulary with local police to form the new Philippine National Police (PNP).
1.) Since there was no investigation of past human rights abuses, torture and salvaging have continued inside the PNP.
2.) In 1997, the last full year of the Ramos presidency, the AFP recorded only 81 human rights violations, while the PNP were responsible for 1,074—43 percent of the nation’s total.
3.) Today, the daily press carries regular reports of police torture, salvaging, and human rights abuses.
c.) Under President Estrada, Class ’71 has continued its rise to power within the PNP.
1.) In the first months of his administration, President Estrada began appointing members of Class ’71 to key regional and national commands, making them the most powerful cohort in the PNP.
2.) Among the many promoted were three classmates who personify the successive stages of Class ’71’s descent into violence.
a.) The new PNP regional commander for Northern Mindanao, Ruben Cabagnot, was responsible for the hazing death of a plebe at the PMA.
b.) The PNP commander for Central Mindanao, Tiburcio Fusilero, did 40 assassinations for Marcos and led RAM’s 1989 coup in Cebu.
c.) The commander of the powerful Presidential Task Force on Organized Crime, Panfilo Lacson, was deputy director of the notorious MISG and was indicted in 1995 for the brutal massacre of 11 suspects in his custody.
3.) Other members of Class ’71 with questionable records were also promoted the PNP—notably General Victor Batac, a Marcos-era torturer and the chief strategist of RAM’s revolt.
III. IMPUNITY & CIVIL SOCIETY:
1.) The Philippine military has thus, like its counterparts in Argentina and Chile, achieved “impunity” for its crimes and coups.
a.) As a recent phenomenon, impunity is a little understood process with far-reaching ramifications.
b.) At the VI International Symposium on Torture at Buenos Aires in 1993, delegates defined impunity as “the fact that, even in countries where dictatorship has given way to democratic rule, many torturers and other violators of human rights go unpunished.”
c.) In some nations, the military wins impunity directly by negotiation and in others, such as the Philippines, indirectly by forcing a political stalemate.
2.) Impunity in the Philippines: More than any other nation, the Philippines provides an example of extreme impunity.
a.) Even in the most difficult of transitions from dictatorship, many of these new, weak democracies have still managed to win concessions to justice.
b.) From remembering to forgetting, from punishment to amnesty, different countries have tried different ways coping with the collective burden of a traumatic past.
1.) South Africa confronted the past with a non-punitive Truth Commission.
2.) South Korea imposed harsh prison terms upon former presidents.
3.) Argentina tried to silence its past until pro-democracy forces forced the formation of a truth commission that produced the famed report “Nunca Mas,” or Never Again.
4.) Even today, Indonesia wavers, painfully, between exploring the excesses of the Suharto era or succumbing to pressures from the old order to forget. 5.) And the Philippines has tried to forget.
6.) None of these alternatives comes without costs. All inflict further trauma upon the victims of authoritarianism.
c.) Philippines: In comparison with other post-authoritarian nations, the Philippines has done very little to punish human rights violators or purge their influence from the military.
1.) Impunity has left what University of the Philippines historian Maris Diokno has called the “entrenched legacy of martial law”—a lingering collective malaise that, subtlety but directly, shapes and distorts the nation’s political process.
d.) Since Marcos’s fall, each succeeding administration has, by action and inaction, allowed impunity to deepen.
e.) During her first months, President Corazon Aquino appointed four human-rights lawyers to her cabinet and seemed strongly committed to the issue.
1.) But battered by repeated coup attempts, she abandoned any attempt to prosecute the military for past crimes of torture and murder.
f.) Her successor, President Fidel Ramos, transformed impunity from a de facto to de jure status.
1.) That is, he bestowed the imprimatur of a lasting legality upon an impunity that had been, under Aquino, a short-term compromise.
2.) Moreover, his administration elevated former torturers to positions of power.
g.) Most recently, President Joseph Estrada is completing this process by offering members of the Marcos regime both symbol and substance of exoneration. 3.) Hawaii Case: Finding the Philippine courts and Human Rights Commission unsympathetic, some 10,000 Filipino torture victims mounted a massive litigation against Marcos in the US federal courts.
1.) As President Ramos moved towards an absolute amnesty for torturers between 1992 and 1995, the US District Court for Hawaii was aggressively pursuing a massive class-action suit against the Marcos estate—providing Filipino victims justice that they were being denied at home.
a.) In September 1992, the US District Court in Honolulu found Marcos guilty of systematic torture and held his estate liable for damages to all 9,541 victims—later awarding nearly $2 Billion in damages, the biggest personal injury verdict in legal history.
b.) In January 1995, President Ramos sparked controversy by announcing that his government would oppose awarding Marcos’s Swiss assets to these torture victims.
c.) In an angry editorial, “The Philippine Daily Inquirer,” blasted the “moral bankruptcy of the Ramos administration’s position.” In a biting, personal attack on the president, the paper reminded him that as commander of the Constabulary under Marcos “it was his men who were conducting the dreaded evening arrests, who were applying the water cure to extract confessions and administered electrical shocks to genitals of political detainees.”
4.) Between the poles of local impunity and global justice, the Philippines emerged from the first decade of the post-Marcos period with signs of a lingering trauma.
a.) The activist ex-priest Edicio de la Torre has sensed, since Marcos’s fall in 1986, a deep need for reconciliation among both victims and perpetrators.
5.) This jarring juxtaposition—between the US granting justice to Filipino victims and their own government’s attempt to deny it—indicates that the trauma of Marcos’s terror remains deeply imbedded within society’s collective memory and institutional fabric.
6.) Freed from judicial review, the torturers of the Marcos era have continued to rise within the police and intelligence bureaucracies, allowing the pervasive brutality of martial law to persist.
7.) Under impunity, culture and politics are recasting the past, turning cronies into statesmen, torturers into legislators, and killers into generals.
8.) Beneath the surface of a restored democracy, the Philippines, through the compromises of impunity, still suffers the legacy of the Marcos era—a collective trauma and an ingrained institutional habit of human rights abuse.
1.) As the Philippines reaches for rapid economic growth, it cannot, I would argue, afford to ignore the issue of human rights.
2.) If the Philippines is to recover its full fund of “social capital” after the trauma of dictatorship, it needs to adopt some means for remembering, recording, and, ultimately, reconciliation.
3.) No nation can develop its full economic potential without a high level of social capital, and social capital cannot, as Robert Putnam teaches us, grow in a society without a sense of justice.