News & Updates 9 May 2022

The Philippines: In the Dawn of the New Leadership, Transitional Justice Remains A Challenge

“Then one of the guys (military) told everyone to leave. So, I was left alone with him in that room. And when I was there, what was he going to do? He raped me”

Hilda Narciso, a survivor of the Martial Law-period  human rights violations

More than three decades have passed since the brutal era of martial law that started seven years into the former president Ferdinand Marcos’ 1965-1986 rule. During the era, thousands of Marcos’ alleged oppositions were arrested, many tortured, sexually abused, and killed. The “People Power” Revolution in the Philippines in 1986 ousted the dictator and brought euphoria to a nation besieged with much suffering. Such suffering could have been the foundation for confronting the past and building a lasting peace, but fast forward to 2022, in the country’s latest presidential election, talks of past atrocities might have been shunned, and issues of transitional justice are not in the spotlight.

Two long-running insurgencies in the Philippines also took root during these repressive years – one by the communist movement and one by the Bangsamoro. Many innocent civilians and communities were caught in the middle of the clashes between state forces and the insurgencies. Serious neglect by the state, systematic violence, and a nationwide culture of impunity were preconditions for the long-standing historical injustice and armed conflict. 

The Marcos estate has neither apologised for, nor properly addressed events of the past – a fact compounded by the government’s lack of sensitivity to the martial law human rights victims. While Congress has established the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board in 2013 to provide reparations to victims of the Marcos-era violations (with 96% applications adjudicated of the 75,730 received), the opportunity to systematically reform the institution was missed since not a single criminal court case of human rights violations against the architects of martial law has been won. You may watch the interview with Hilda Narciso, one of the survivors, here.

Many victims and survivors fear the horrors of Marcos’ rule would be diminished when the state needs to acknowledge the rights of the victims and its own obligations as a means to transform conflict are not taken into account – especially in a vital moment like the presidential election. Given the past violent legacy of Marcos’ dictatorship, the government has no lustration policy or vetting process and no clear framework for electoral reforms (where political dynasties take hold of powerful positions).  A case study, written by AJAR and Alternative Law Groups Philippines – The Transitional Justice: the Philippines Case Study – notes that a meaningful transitional justice process should include an inclusive approach that involves all affected parties and communities, relevant conflict actors, and wider post-conflict society. 

The election moment caught our attention since AJAR and Alternative Law Groups have years of programmes that discuss the foundations of transitional justice (TJ), current initiatives and prospects of TJ in the Philippines. Initiatives and prospects discussed include Bangsamoro and Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, WB-IOM recommendations on Bangsamoro land issues, Martial Law and the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB), the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) discourse on the peace tables, as well as the current internal situation of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

In the dawn of the new leadership, transitional justice remains a challenge for the Phillippines – an undertaking the country’s next leader should commit to. Given the conflict has also affected women to a greater extent, there’s a need to join efforts and incorporate a gender perspective in the field of truth-seeking, criminal accountability, reparations, and institutional reform on a national level, accompanied by reconciliation initiatives by various sectors of civil society at regional and local levels. While in general conflicts are being managed and resolved through the various processes, the new president should oversee initiatives that fully address the root causes and effects that continually ignite their repetition. Justice and reparation, and acknowledgement of the past atrocities and abuses, should be focused on the victims and survivors –  and ensure its inclusivity for all parties to participate in.