Death in Manila


First he was stripped naked. Then the soldiers squeezed his testicles with pliers. They poured vinegar with pepper in his eyes. They poured gasoline on his feel and burned them. The butt of an armalite was struck against his body. They forced him to drink two liters of water through his nose. He moved his bowel and vomited blood. In addition, they gave him electric shocks. --affidavit of Virginia del Carmen about the torture of her husband. Rudy del Carmen, a Filipino

RUDY DEL CARMEN was not among the thousands of Filipinos who watched live television coverage of their president's gala visit this past week to the United States. After having been picked up by a unit of the Philippines' armed forces in August 1981, he was tortured for three days, briefly released and subsequently murdered. During the 17-year rule of President Ferdinand Marcos, hundreds of other Filipinos have met similar fates.

Marcos's record of dubious accomplishments includes more than the systematic violation of fundamental human rights. He has overseen the destruction of democracy in his country, coordinated the repression of his people at the hands of the military and brought the Philippines' economy to the brink of collapse. And what reward does Marcos receive for all his achievements? When he arrived in the U.S. a week ago, President Reagan welcomed him warmly and hailed him as "a voice of reason and moderation."

Admittedly Reagan has at least two good reasons to encourage cordial relations between the U.S. and the Philippines. Two important U.S. military bases are located on the Philippines, and, the Philippines is a haven for a wide variety of American business enterprises.

Yet the administration's desire for warm relations with the Philippines should not, and need not, be translated into blanket support for Marcos. There already exists in the Philippines a tradition of democratic rule and a moderate democratic opposition which would probably accept American ties. Thus unlike the dilemma apparently confronting the United States in some other developing nations the situation in the Philippines does not require supporting a right-wing-dictator to avoid a left-wing dictator. The U.S. can and should use its leverage to encourage a transition away from the decade-old pattern of martial law toward a restoration of democracy and human rights safeguards.

WHEN FERDINAND MARCOS first became president of the Philippines in 1965, his country had enjoyed nearly 20 years of independence and democracy. With a constititution and political habits shaped from long association with the U.S., the Philippines had experienced vigorous party politics, free elections and five peaceful changes of national administration. Today, after 17 years of Marcos's rule--eight-and-a-half of those under martial law--the democratic institutions of the Philippines have been drastically undermined, perhaps irrevocably.

Marcos has usurped the legislative powers of the National Assembly through the issuance of presidential decrees. He has destroyed the independence of the civil judiciary and corrupted the national Commission on Elections. The most recent presidential contest, held in July 1981, was so blatantly engineered for a Marcos victory that it was boycotted not only by radical leftist opponents of the regime, but also by the coalition of moderate opposition groups whose primary goal is simply the restoration of democracy. Despite stiff penalties for non-participation in the election, approximately half of the country's voters supported the boycott.

At the same time that Marcos orchestrated the destruction of the Philippines' democratic system, he expanded the power of the Philippines' armed forces. Since Marcos's declaration of martial law in 1972, the regular military forces of the Philippines have more than tripled in size, from 60,000 to at least 200,000. The size of the officers' corps has grown at an even higher rate, and retired military officers have gained numerous positions in the civilian bureaucracy. Cardinal Jaime Sin, the leader of 40 million Filippino Catholics, described the ramifications of this shift of power to the military in a letter that was published in September 1981:

Daily we experience the increasing militarization of our lives: the pervasive surveillance of citizens who express dissent democratically by military intelligence: the lack of mercy and prudence shown by special military units against suspected criminals: the unexplained wealth of many military officers.

The decline of democracy and the aggrandizement of the military have led to increasingly frequent and brutal violations of human rights. Although martial law was technically lifted in January 1981, this development has had little real effect on the political situation in the Philippines. All of the emergency powers assumed by Marcos, including the authority to detain preventively "public order" suspects, have been collected into a National Security Code and reinstated by presidential decree.

A lengthy report compiled by an Amnesty International mission that visited the Philippines in late 1981, made public today, documents widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by the security forces of the Philippines, including arbitrary arrests and killings, incommunicado detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The report concludes that government agents "have systematically engaged in practices which violate fundamental human rights" and that such agents "are rarely held accountable for their actions, even where prima facie evidence of violations is overwhelmingly strong."

When questioned about his authoritarian powers and repressive tactics. Marcos usually tries to minimize their ugliness. But ultimately, he offers a simple justification for his dictatorial rule: it slaves off the threat of Communist rebellion and more important, enables the Philippines to develop its economic potential. As is often the case in such grand cost-benefit analyses, democracy and human rights are sacrificed for economic prosperity.

But far from improving the strength of the Philippines' economy. Marcos has weakened it to the point of collapse. When Marcos came into power, many observers thought the Philippines would probably experience a boom of development and prosperity like that subsequently undergone by Singapore and South Korea. Yet today the Philippines has the lowest growth rate among the five members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

NOT ALL OF THE BLAME for the economic problems of the Philippines can be pinned on Marcos. But the corruption and mismanagement practiced by Marcos and his cronies have certainly caused considerable damage to the economy. The weakness of the Philippines economy enhances the ability of the U.S. to influence him. Increased economic and should be conditioned on improvements in the protection of human rights and on moves toward the reestablishment of democracy. The effective prohibition of torture and the restoration of the integrity of the national Commission on Elections would be significant first steps toward these goals. If the United States fails to pressure Marcos to institute reforms, it may lose its last chance to resuscitate in the Philippines.