Editorial: No to martial law!

ATOM rally in front of Winnipeg city hall. The sign 'shames' the mayor for having a Winnipeg-Manila Sister Agreement. (Ted Alcuitas files)

Posted August 21, 2016

Remembering Ninoy Aquino

By Ted Alcuitas

August 21, 1983

This day in history would have been just another day to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of the late Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. We remember “Ninoy” who died on August 21, 1983 as he returned to the Philippines after a three-year self-imposed exile in the U.S.

But today it is significant because we have a new president – Rodrigo Duterte, whose decision to bury the remains of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani has sparked widespread opposition.

Filipinos believe, and rightly so, that it was Marcos who masterminded the assassination of Aquino leading to the People Power Revolution that toppled his reign in February 22, 1986.

Today, it is right that we reflect and look back.

While a sustained opposition was carried in the Philippines opposing the dictatorship, the Filipino diaspora aboard also reacted to the regime.

Marcos’ tentacles did not spare its wrath to the domestic opposition but spread across the ocean to intimidate, harass and even murder those who spoke out.

In the U.S.

Leading the fight in the U.S. was the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship (CAMD) formed by former Philippine activists that settled in the U.S.

Among Marcos’ fiercest critics was the San Francisco-based Philippine News, whose editor and publisher, Alex Exclamado was subjected to a vigorous campaign of harassment by the regime. The campaign to silence critics abroad included Steve Psinakis, son-in-law of former Vice-President Eugenio Lopez, Sr.

Marcos’ cronies successfully ‘silenced’ two of their critics. Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo, officers of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union Local 37 were gunned down at their union office in Seattle, Washington, on June 1, 1981.

In 1989, a US federal court determined that the murders were a product of a conspiracy hatched at the highest levels of the Marcos regime and carried out by US-based supporters of the regime who paid criminal elements in the Filipino community in Seattle to kill the two union officers.

The murderers were sentenced to life in prison but Marcos himself like the Aquino assassination, never got charged.

Canada

In Canada, Filipino activists led by the late Fely Villasin formed a chapter of CAMD in Toronto in the 70s and early 80s. CAMD was at the forefront leading the anti-Marcos rallies in Toronto and in Vancouver.

Just after the Ninoy Aquino assassination on August 21, 1983, Winnipeg’s August 21 Movement (ATOM) was formed by a group that became radicalized and politicized by the brutality of the deed. The  group included Arthur & Purita Dizon, Al & Monina Relano, Paul & Rose Jajalla and Dinah Penaflorida, I reluctantly accepted to led the group.

Prior to the assassination, Winnipeg’s Filipino community did not have an organized group although a small group, the Philippine Solidarity Network (PSG) participated in church-led initiatives against the regime.

It was through the efforts of ATOM that the late brother of Ninoy, Agapito ‘Butz’ Aquino visited Winnipeg in 1984. The visit raised the profile of the anti-Marcos opposition and the public’s understanding of the brutality of the regime.

Paying the price

Our opposition to the dictator had a price. His minions in Winnipeg tried to sow fear in the community not to participate in our events otherwise their relatives in the Philippines would be harmed.

When my article appeared in the Winnipeg
Sun, the Philippine consul at the time called the editor to complain. The editor warned me to have my telephone unlisted for my safety.

They tried to harass me and my family including tactics like leaving a message on our home phone. On one occasion, my 10-year old daughter picked up the phone and the caller (who did not identify himself) told her in no uncertain terms that I would be dead if I continue my work against Marcos.

They also sent an anonymous letter to me but addressed to the St. Edward’s Parish Catholic
Church who’s pastor, Fr. Samuel Argenziano, was a strong supporter of ATOM.

There was no content in the envelope except the crudely words: “R.I.P. – Ted Alcuitas”.

I reported all these to the Winnipeg Police including submitting the letter and a tape recording of the calls to my house. Nothing came out of my complaint and police even ‘lost’ my evidence.

So that people will know

I have never written about these events before except for a few interviews.

But now, as my homeland  faces an eminent danger of going back to martial law given the current actions of the new government and its leader, I am compelled to write this so that people will realize what they will face under a dictatorship.

Too many lives, many of them young, have been sacrificed in the fight against the dictator while countless others were forever ruined.

NEVER AGAIN!

( Factual errors ? Please email Ted Alcuitas at tedalcuitas@shaw.ca)