Charter change could bring back dictatorship, intensify rights abuses — survivor

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat


MANILA – For Medy De Jesus, 74, a martial law survivor and member of human rights group Hustisya, the impending charter change (cha-cha) could bring back another dictatorship and more human rights violations.

Notably, the 1987 Philippine Constitution was made to prevent another dictatorship, preceding the dark days of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s martial law. Article VII, Section 18 of the Constitution states the limits of martial law and the powers of the branches of the government, and how martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution.

“In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law,” the section reads.

It also states that the President shall submit a report to Congress. The Congress will vote, by at least a majority of its Members, to revoke the proclamation or also extend such proclamation for a period to be determined by Congress.

Now in power, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is pushing for Cha-cha, preferring a referendum to be conducted alongside the May 2025 midterm polls. He said that he was primarily doing it for economic provisions, but did not close his doors for political provisions.

However, progressive lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc said that the economic provisions could be a bait, and a term limit extension could follow.

Read: Why people’s initiative to amend Philippine Constitution reeks of ‘Marcosian tactics’

“They propose that the current charter change would only tap economic changes in basic education, advertising, and public utilities. But in reality, like what we have experienced in the past, once the charter change passes, we will see both political and economic changes that will not do any good for the people,” De Jesus said in Filipino.

De Jesus was formerly a religious sister in the St. Scholastica – Order of St. Benedict. She entered the convent in 1971, a year before the martial law declaration. During this time, she experienced illegal detention for participating in a labor protest.

“We have witnessed the horrors that torture victims, political prisoners, and desaparecidos suffer. Those were the moments that conscienticized me on why we have to continue fighting back,” De Jesus added.

In terms of the human rights situation, she saw no difference between the past Marcos administration with the new Marcos administration. “This is why I joined the organization of Hustisya – we call for justice of all victims of extrajudicial killings, political imprisonment, and other human rights abuses.”

Current data from the human rights group Karapatan show that there are 799 political prisoners, 87 extrajudicial killings, and 12 enforced disappearances, among others. Meanwhile, Dahas reported 571 drug-related extrajudicial killings as of March 7.

“Recently, we are exposing the potential human rights violation in the case of slain [lawyer and revolutionary] Hannah Cesista and other revolutionaries of Bilar 5,” De Jesus said.

Law enforcers claimed that Cesista and four other individuals, namely Domingo Compoc, Perlito Historia, Marlon Omosura, and Alberta Sancho (Bilar 5) were killed in an encounter last February 23). However, the National Union of People’s Lawyers received a contradicting report that the members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were captured, tortured, and summarily executed.

In times of armed conflict, torture of captured NPA members is considered a violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). Bilar 5 is considered “hors de combat,” which means that they were incapacitated to fight. Soldiers and guerrillas alike are not allowed to be attacked or harmed under this condition.

“Why were they killed if they are already considered hors de combat? They were inhumanely killed. They were stabbed in front of the village people? For what? To monger fear?” De Jesus said.

As of now, NUPL and other rights groups are calling for an independent investigation to unearth the facts and circumstances of the fallen NPA fighters.

“In these conversations on charter change, there was no regard for how political prisoners could be freed, how justice could be served for the victims of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations,” said De Jesus. (RTS, RVO) (

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