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Ricky Lee, martial law detainee, on historical revisionism: ‘Para akong binubura’

Speaking up against historical revisionism, award-winning Filipino writer Ricky Lee revealed that he was among those who was imprisoned without any evidence nor charges during the Martial law era.

In an exclusive interview on “The Howie Severino Podcast,” Lee narrated that he was in his 20s taking up a degree in English at the University of the Philippines when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law.

When Martial law was put in place, Lee said that his books were confiscated, and since he was an activist who joined rallies, he had to drop out of school and never finished schooling.

Lee, a recipient of the UP Gawad Plaridel and whose screenplays have won him more than 70 awards, said that he never held a gun nor knew how to use one, even until now. When his own house was raided, the officials carried armalites with them.

“Tinatanong, ‘Nasaan ang baril?’ Sabi ko, ‘Hindi ako marunong humawak ng baril, bakit ako magkakaroon ng baril?’” Lee said.

[They asked, ‘Where’s your gun?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to hold a gun, why would I have a gun?]

Despite not having any charges against him, Lee was taken against his will and imprisoned.

“They found reason na hindi naman legitimate na reason because 'pag hinuhuli ka noon, ang tawag nila sa 'yo detainee, hindi prisoner. Wala naman talagang charges. Hindi mo alam kung bakit. Dine-detain ka lang nila para hindi ka na makakilos, hindi ka na maging aktibista. So dine-detain kayo, walang hearing, walang charges at hindi mo alam kung kailan ka makakalabas kasi detainee kayo,” Lee said.

[They would find reason even if it was not legitimate because when they captured you, they would call you detainees, not prisoners. There were no charges. You don’t know why. They would just detain you so you can’t move, you can’t be an activist. They’d detain you without any hearing, no charges, and you have no idea when you’d ever get out because you’re a detainee.]

Experiencing firsthand the abuses of what Martial law and the late dictator did to the Filipino people, Lee expressed his disbelief when Marcos would deny the existence of such abuses.

Lee said, “there was a time nu'ng nasa loob kami ng detention sa Fort Bonifacio at sa TV in-interview si President Marcos noon at sinasabi niyang ‘There are no political prisoners in this country.’ Nagtinginan kaming lahat, ‘So ano tayo?’”

[There was a time when we were in detention in Fort Santiago and then-President Marcos was being interviewed on television and he said, ‘There are no political prisoners in this country.’ We all looked at each other, ‘So what are we then?’]

On attempt to change history

Lee revealed that he would feel bad whenever he would see people refusing to believe the harrowing and painful events that happened during the late dictator’s era.

“Feeling ko parang ako 'yung binubura, parang binubura ako,” Lee said. “At maski papaano I think may naibigay ako, may na-contribute ako sa kung anuman ang nangyayari sa atin ngayon. So parang nabubura lahat 'yun. So siyempre you feel totally wiped out 'pag may nababasa akong ganu'n. So it hurts.”

[I feel like I’m the one being erased, that they’re erasing me. I think I was able to give something, to contribute something to what we have now, so it feels like they’re erasing all of those. So of course you feel totally wiped out when I read stuff like that. It hurts.]

He also expressed his frustration when people believed in the lies, especially when there was so much evidence that proved how abusive and painful Martial law was to the Filipinos.

“At ang daming mga ebidensya at ang daming mga existing na mga documents, mga tao sa palibot na ang daling kausapin, napakadaling basahin para malaman 'yung totoong nangyari. In short, ang thinking ko, ang dali-daling makita 'yung totoo, bakit hindi nila nakikita 'yung totoo? So may kaunting frustration doon sa level na 'yun,” he said.

[There’s so much evidence and many existing documents, people around that are so easy to talk to, so many things that are easy to read to know what really happened. In short, I think it’s easy to see the truth. Why can’t they see the truth? So I feel somewhat frustrated at that level.]

However, despite feeling disregarded, Lee said that he couldn’t blame the people since there were so many forces standing in the way for people to see what truly happened.

“Ang daming mga puwersa sa palibot na hindi kasalanan ng mga hindi nakauunawa at nakakakita, e. So I am not blaming them pero sana makita nila because totoo ang nangyari noon pa,” Lee said.

[There are so many forces around us that it’s not the people’s fault for being blinded. So I am not blaming them but I hope they see the truth because those things really happened back then.]

On the need to remember

“Unang-una, dapat hindi tayo nakakalimot, e,” Lee said.

[First of all, we should never forget.]

As a writer, Lee shared that it's his duty to help people see clearly after being blinded, but it is also everyone’s duty to study history in order to become true citizens at the present time.

Nowadays, Lee said that people’s attempt to hide the truth has differed and become much more successful.

“Naging mas tuso, nagiging mas maabilidad, mas maparaan at in a way, naging mas successful. So kung minsan I get frustrated din sa mga ibang kababayan na "Bakit hindi natin nakikita na ganito 'yung pandemic and all that? Bakit hindi natin nakikita? It's obvious nasa harap natin,’” he said.

[It’s much more cunning, more able, more strategic, and in a way, became more successful. Sometimes, I’d get frustrated with other countrymen, like, ‘Why can’t we see that this is what’s happening with the pandemic and all that? Why can’t we see? It’s obviously in front of us.]

He added, “But I don't want to blame them, e. Bilang writer, trabaho kong tumulong na makita. Pero we should not blame people for being blind. It's not the blind people that we should blame, it's the people who blind them that we should blame.”

[But I don't want to blame them. As a writer, it’s my job to help them see. Pero we should not blame people for being blind. It's not the blind people that we should blame, it's the people who blind them that we should blame.]

Marcos enforced Martial law in 1972. He was officially named with a Guinness World Record for the “greatest robbery of a government.” The Guinness entry, recorded in April 1986, stated that Marcos and his wife, Imelda, took away over $860.8 million (£569.5 million). The total national loss from November 1965, the organization said, was believed to be $5–$10 billion.

According to GMA News Research, late Senators Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno, Francisco Rodrigo, several businesspersons, lawyers, journalists and teachers were imprisoned during Marcos’ regime.

The book "Dark Legacy: Human Rights Under the Marcos Regime" by Alfred McCoy and reports by Amnesty International recorded 3,200 victims of extrajudicial killings, 77,000 political detainees, 3,500 torture victims, and more than 700 disappearances from 1975 to 1985.

READ: Fact-checking Enrile's claims on Martial Law

Seventy-seven percent of the victims of extrajudicial killings were summarily executed.

The law “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013" was even signed as a way to recognize victims of abuse during Martial Law. – Kaela Malig/RC, GMA News