During five years of martial law, the government of President Ferdinand Marcos has arrested 60,000 people and systematically repressed political opposition, especially leaders of the Catholic Church, according to a report by jurists in Geneva.
The report, entitled "The Decline of Democracy in the Philippines," was prepared by the International Commission of Jurists and was made possible by a grant from the National Council of Churches.
The commission of jurists noted that the most effective opposition to martial law came from sections of the Catholic Church, which has been subjected to government attack.
In November, 1976, the report said, a high-level decision was made to silence the voice of the church and to impose restraints on religious association. This followed earlier government closings of church publications and radio stations that had been critical of the Marcos regime, the report said. The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country.
The 1976 government offensive took what the commission called "a sinister and bizarre form." There was released a list of 155 names of people charged with being officers or associates of the Communist Party. On this list were 126 Catholic clerics and lay workers, including four bishops. This document was circulated in Manila around December, 1976.
Although the authorities did not arrest those on the list, government opposition to the church hardened, the report said. The government then issued an order for the arrest of 208 Catholics, including 11 members of religious orders and many lay leaders, charging them with rebellion and inciting sedition. Of those charged, about 75 were arrested and detained. The rest received summonses to appear for a hearing before a military commission to be held on a tennis court.
"The idea seemed to be to give a public impression that the Catholic Church as a whole was engaged in a conspiracy with the Communist Party to bring disrepute on the Marcos regime," the report stated.
The report said that charges are pending against these defendants. The commission concludes that these actions amount to an "unwarranted harassment and unjustified restraint on the freedom of members of the Catholic clergy and its lay workers and faithful to associate with each other in the common cause of their ministry."
It also concludes that martial law, in force since 1972, is being continued in order to perpetuate the personal power of President Marcos and his followers.
The report was based on the finding of three missions on the Philippines since May, 1975. The inquiries were conducted by William J. Butler of New York, chairman of the ICJ's Executive Committee; Prof. John P. Humphrey of McGill University in Montreal and former director fo the Human Rights Division of the United Nations, and G. E. Bisson, chairman of the ICJ's New Zealand section.