One nearly forgotten chapter of Martial Law history was revived with the recent death of a controversial figure of the time: Steve Psinakis, one of the leaders of a terrorist group called the Light-A-Fire Movement. It was a group of upper class people who decided that violence was the solution against Martial Law abuse, and they perpetrated a lot of terrorist acts, including a bombing of the prestigious mall Rustan’s Makati, leading to around 70 people injured and one American death.
Some articles looking at the history of this group tend to lionize the members are “freedom fighters” or “heroes,” simply because they were anti-Marcos. It’s based on the logic that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and that “the enemy of a villain is always a hero.” It’s twisted logic that leads to questionable alliances and impunity.
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Simply put, the guys were terrorists. Even the articles that call them “freedom fighters” admit that that they operated in a way similar to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups: the buying of weapons and explosives, training in terrorist methods, and risking innocent people’s lives just to destabilize a regime. American investigators found evidence of these activities. To use a commenter’s words, they were fighting evil with evil.
Some people would say, Martial Law was abusive, so there is a reason for violence. Fight fire with fire (perhaps similar to the politicially correct rationale of Weather Underground in the 1960s). However, this is where the end does not justify the means. The use of bombings is terrorism, and even if not intended to kill people, what if an innocent suddenly gets caught in the blast? And indeed, one American innocent was claimed and others hurt. So Light-A-Fire has blood on its hands.
It also becomes clear why my alma mater, Ateneo, engaged in a transfixed anti-Marcos agenda. Several of the Light-A-Fire members were Jesuits, and one member is the mother of Apo Hiking Society stalwart and eminent GRP antagonist Jim Paredes. Alfonso Yuchengco, owner of the recently money laundering-embroiled RCBC, was also a member. And Psinakis was married to a Lopez. Connect the dots.
This is also another example of history being written by the victors. After Marcos was ousted in 1986, some members of the group became government officials, such as Heherson Alvarez (who I wrote about before as chasing a silly case against the Filipino chocolate product in Spain). Sadly, the charges to be pressed against the Light-A-Fire group were not pursued, despite knowledge being so openly common about their terrorist activities. Anyway, when you wonder why the Aquino regime today is so willing to cooperate with terrorists (BBL), perhaps it’s because some of them were themselves, or were associated with, terrorists.
People would complain about impunity and lack of responsibility and accountability among Filipinos, and that in Philippine society, the wrongdoers are rewarded instead of punished. The Light-A-Fire Movement seems to fit this. They apparently never paid for the American life they took or the people they injured. One hopes though that charges against them could again be pursued to set the record straight, at least for the family of the man who was killed in the Rustan’s bombing. But that would be unlikely. All we could offer is something like this write-up with the goal of informing people.
It’s also a chance where we can undo the twisting of the concept of heroes. Some would say, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. But when your methodology is to put at risk uninvolved civilians, you’re just a terrorist. Just because you hate someone, doing violence against that someone is “heroic.” Perhaps that is why in the 1970s, many action movies made with criminals as the “heroes.” This could either be an influence or a sign that Filipinos were losing faith in authority and discipline, but were also making it into an excuse to become me-first assholes. If we wonder why Filipinos became so bad-habited and uncaring about public space, we could probably see the process underway at that time. This mindset in Filipinos today needs to be turned around.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.