Karapatan salutes Luis Teodoro, staunch human rights defender and press freedom fighter

Karapatan sends its deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of veteran journalist, human rights defender and staunch press freedom fighter Prof. Luis Teodoro, who died of a heart attack on March 13 at the age of 81.

The human rights community has lost one of the most ardent human rights defenders in Prof. Luis Teodoro.

As an activist and a martial law survivor, he wrote incisive articles warning against the consequences to the Filipino people of a Malacanang comeback for the Marcoses.

Back in September 2015, a coalition like the Campaign Against the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA) was already being contemplated, as it was becoming imminent that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would be gunning for the vice presidency. Prof. Teodoro wrote in his weekly BusinessWorld column Vantage Point that “If indeed history is any guide, no one in his right mind should even be thinking of putting another Marcos in Malacañang — or even another Marcos within a heartbeat of the Presidency.”

What prompted Professor Teodoro’s column was a Marcos Jr. interview where the latter refused to acknowledge, let alone apologize, for his family’s crimes. The outraged Teodoro wrote, “By demonstrating a total absence of feeling for the dead, the injured, the tortured, the families separated, and the disappeared, and refusing to acknowledge regime responsibility for them, Marcos Jr. has once again established that he is, indeed, his father’s son.”

It is this same outrage at Marcos Jr.’s defense of the indefensible that drove Professor Teodoro to write more columns deconstructing the Marcoses. Commenting on Marcos Jr.’s inaugural speech, Professor Teodoro noted that despite the Marcoses’ favorite line of “moving on” and dwelling instead on the “agenda for the future,” the Marcos scion, being cut from the same cloth, nonetheless alluded to his father’s supposed achievements at least three times.

This, coupled with Marcos Jr.’s telling failure, or refusal, to say anything at all on the restoration of the rule of law and respect for human rights, nothing at all about press freedom, free expression and the imperative of respecting both, or anything about stopping the use of State violence against government critics and dissenters, led Professor Teodoro to conclude that the Marcos Jr. presidency is nothing about “moving on” but all about “moving back” to the days of dictatorship.

Fast forward to March 2023, Professor Teodoro, in one of his last columns, chastised visiting parliamentarians from the European Union for saying that the human rights situation in the Philippines has “improved.” To trounce their patently wrong reading of the status of human rights in the Philippines, Professor Teodoro goes on to list a litany of human rights violations in the first two months of 2023, ranging from, among others, the death threats against playwright and political activist Bonifacio Ilagan, to the filing of trumped-up rebellion charges against seven Northern Luzon activists and the unjust designation of a community doctor as a “terrorist individual.”

He noted instances of red-tagging in the first months of the Marcos regime, including the threats hurled against a Manila Regional Trial Court judge for denying a government petition proscribing the CPP-NPA-NDF as terrorist organizations.

“But apart from red-tagging and attacks against freedom of expression,” wrote Professor Teodoro, “other human rights violations have continued under the Marcos administration—among them the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of dissenters, and the “drug war” killings.”

He ended with a grim but very astute prediction: “As favorably as the current regime’s human rights record may seem compared to that of its predecessor’s, everyone should keep in mind that it is still only in its seventh month. That means it could yet equal, if not surpass, the Duterte record in the five years and five months left of its six-year term.”

It is a statement that could only come from someone so conversant with the harsh realities of the Philippines’ authoritarian past, and so committed not only to exposing the grave dangers of history being repeated, but to exacting justice and accountability for our wronged people.

Salute to Prof. Luis Teodoro!