Martial law remains one of the darkest episodes in the country’s very recent past. At every last week of September, we always remember its proclamation that shaped much of the Filipino polity for almost forty years now. I wasn’t yet born when it happened but I felt the need for a discussion of Marcos’s dictatorship and its lasting effect on us.
This two-part article aims to clarify some issues and enlighten also contemporaries about this blur topic in our national history. The first part is a narration of how the 14-year dictatorship went while the second part tackles on its effects and legacy.
In 1972, even before the proclamation of martial law, rumor has it that Ferdinand Marcos was planning to extend his rule. Accordingly, he had two plans of achieving his goal.
|Should Ferdinand Marcos be immortalized as a hero or as tyrant?|
On a privilege speech of Senator Ninoy Aquino, he warned the public of the possible establishment of a “garrison state” by President Marcos. And these forewarnings proved to be correct as events started to unravel the grim “Marcos master plan”.
A horde of people (and mostly, militant activists) rushed to the Malacanang Palace to denounce the repressive administration. They were able to penetrate to the Gate 6 of the Palace. The pitched battle lasted for the whole night and was the most violent confrontation between protesters and the Presidential Guard Battalions (PGB). This was called as the “First Quarter Storm” in 1970.
On August 21, 1971, while the opposition party (Liberal Party) was having their miting de avance, two fragmentation grenades exploded. It took 9 lives and left more than 100 people seriously wounded. Some Liberal Party candidates were seriously injured including Jovito Salonga, who nearly died and was visually impaired. Marcos singled out communist forces and subversive elements as the causes of the crisis.
A month of “terrorist bombing” of public facilities (which, strange enough none was hurt) in Manila and Quezon City culminated on September 22 with a mock assassination attempt on Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile. Claiming chaos and lawlessness was near, Marcos declared martial law, thereby suspending the 1935 constitution, dissolving Congress, and assuming total power. Scary.
Six hours after the Enrile ”assassination attempt”, President Ferdinand E. Marcos responded with the imposition of martial law. Proclamation 1081 which imposed martial law was dated 21 September 1972, but it was actually signed on 17 September. The formal announcement of the proclamation was made only at seven-thirty in the evening of 23 September, about twenty-two hours after he had commanded his military collaborators to start arresting his political opponents and close down all media establishments.
All newspapers and radio stations were closed while a few were permitted to reopen following the imposition of strict censorship. Many arrests followed, with several prominent politicians—including Liberal Party members and two provincial governors—caught up in the government sweep.
President Marcos characterized the campaign as an effort to save the country both from Communist insurrection and from criminal and corrupt elements pervading Philippine society. “It was to stop [the country’s] disintegration”, Imelda Marcos, the first lady, says on a TV interview in Batas Militar. This was perceptibly done to simply justify the martial law’s imposition while the truth is, small unit actions were already enough for the various confrontations between the government and some demonstrators.
Later in January the following year, a new constitution was created which gave Marcos absolute power, and elections were indefinitely postponed. Marcos ruled by decree, cloaking his dictatorial decisions in the rhetoric of law. This was definitely not a problem for the 1939 bar exams topnotcher (who got one of the highest rates during his time).
On the whole duration of the military rule, scholars say that 3,000 decrees and orders were issued by Pres. Marcos proving him to be well-versed in legal matters. Marcos even called his brand of leadership as constitutional authoritarian.
The rule was backed up by the Americans. The Nixon administration (yes, the star of the Watergate) – speaking through the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila – hailed the proclamation of martial law and, in particular, expected the growth of foreign investment in the country.
The very first act of Marcos after issuing martial law decrees was to reverse the SC decision on the Quasha case to the applause of his foreign corporate patrons as martial law's chief beneficiaries. And as an U.S. Congress report admitted, the martial law period was “a time for extending imperialist privileges for foreign investment even further”.
For the masterminds of martial law, the fascist clampdown on civil liberties "took care" of the nationalist movement – or so, they thought.
With the nationalist trend on a roll, perpetuating colonial privileges for foreign interests as the Laurel-Langley Agreement and Military Bases Agreement soon to expire were in dire threat. For the “powers-that-be”, it was time to cut short the growth of the anti-imperialist movement responsible for the nationalist mood in the streets and government halls. To contain communism in the Philippines and to protect American businesses and military bases, martial law is a sound solution. Supported by its foreign corporate and U.S. government patrons, the Marcoses was in for a 14-year joyride.
On Martial law’s outset, under the guise of fairness and uprightness, the administration slung out 6,000 government officials from their posts because of corrupt charges.
Another highly-publicized case that time was that of the Chinese national Lim Seng, who was shot to death by firing squad because of illegal drugs.
|He is the real McCoy.|
While many say that 1972-76 was Marcos’s best years of economic growth, the rest of the period was tied in with low export earnings because of the oil price increase.
According to Prof. Winnie Monsod, the government borrowed $10 billion from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund just to pay for loans. And just to remember the good old days, one peso during this time was equal to $0.15.
As mentioned, thousands of Marcos’s enemies were quickly captured and imprisoned. Senator Jose Diokno, together with Sen. Ninoy Aquino, was accused of conspiring with the communists. Ninoy Aquino was accused of subversion, murder, and illegal possession of firearms. They did not try to escape, thus disapproving the accusation that they had conspired with the communists to overthrow the republic.
During the martial law, there was a centralization in the armed forces and the Philippine Constabulary (often called as “PC”; now “PNP”). The mayor’s jurisdiction over the police was eliminated and which then led to a system that lacked checks and balance. General Fidel V. Ramos (now former president) was the head of the PC.
Accused civilians were tried in military courts.The military judges (who aren’t even law practitioners) are apparently one-sided. Thousands of people suffered under the regime: many were imprisoned, tortured, killed, or just magically disappeared.
The previously non-political armed forces became highly politicized, with high-ranking positions being given to Marcos loyalists (mostly his Ilocano kababayans). Marcos appointed his every-loyal cousin Gen. Fabian Ver to head three very important posts: 1) The Presidential Guard Battalion; 2) The Intelligence Service of the AFP; and 3) National Intelligence and Security Authority.
On the other hand, the martial law administrator was Juan Ponce Enrile. He spearheaded the cabinet meetings on his office in Camp Aguinaldo. He was also one of the Marcos’s “Rolex 12”, the twelve loyal group composed of 10 military officials and 2 civilians. Marcos’s wife Imelda was appointed as both the Minister of Human Affairs and the Governor of Metropolitan Manila.
The second decree of the proclamation was on land reform measures. It was half-heartedly implemented where only 4% of farmers finally owned the lands. And the funny thing about its implementation is that, the agricultural reforms were targeted only to those lands owned by his enemies. One of FM’s enemies was the Lopez clan; he closed down ABS-CBN and imprisoned Geny Lopez (with Serge Osmena) for five years.
The Marcoses plundered the Philippine economy through their system of “crony capitalism,” in which they controlled monopolies in industry, communications, and banking. They amassed a huge personal fortune, much of which they hid in foreign bank accounts and investments.
The Marcoses (and Romualdezes) took over the industries and companies all over the country: 48 companies were controlled by the Marcoses plus 11 owned by Imelda’s brother, Kokoy Romualdez. FM’s friend and member of the Rolex 12 Danding Cojuangco, was given the control over some coconut plantations and San Miguel (the country’s biggest corporation).
Marcos’s sense of invulnerability eventually prompted him to lift some of the oppressive rules that stifled political dissent and press freedom. In 1980 Marcos permitted Aquino to go into exile in the United States. He also permitted Radio Veritas, a Catholic-run radio network, to make broadcasts critical of his regime. Also upon US’ instructions of “democratization”, Marcos allowed some small-scale anti-government press to reopen. Marcos called these the trivial “mosquito press” (such as “Malaya” and “Mr. and Ms.”). The Catholic hierarchy, led by Jaime Cardinal Sin, the archbishop of Manila, became vocal in its opposition to Marcos.
On January 17 1981, Pres. Marcos officially lifted martial law, but he still retained sweeping “emergency” powers, in order to validate his power through a sham presidential election. Two years after, on August 23, 1983, Ninoy Aquino, minutes after arriving in the Philippines was shot at the back of his head on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. Public indignation heightened because of the blatant lies and dirty tactics of the government. Two years after, Aquino decided to return to the Philippines, even though he anticipated being rearrested. Aquino was shot at the head and killed minutes after his arrival at Manila International Airport (now Ninoy Aquino International Airport).
Aquino’s death proved to be the galvanizing force in Marcos’s downfall. Many people reacted to the various maneuvers by the administration the continued. Public demonstrations were like fad those days. My father was one of the first six people who first instigated a strike against the MSU-IIT administration for the increase of tuition fees. Thousands of students then followed, and boycotted their classes which then finally pressured the administrators to avert a fifty-peso tuition increase.
Aquino’s widow, Cory Aquino, put the ailing Marcos on the defensive by depicting him as a brutal dictator. In a gamble to regain some political legitimacy and secure continued U.S. support for his regime, Marcos announced that a “snap,” or unscheduled, presidential election would be held in February 1986, a year before his term was to expire.
Marcos fully expected to win the election (duh). But Cardinal Sin arranged an opposition alliance, convincing Corazon Aquino to run for president and Salvador Laurel to run for vice president. With Cory running for the presidency it trounced the Marcos administration and emboldened the demonstrators all over the country.
Pres. Marcos was declared winner by the legislature and Commission on Elections against Cory Aquino because of his election riggings. Seeing enough of the Marcos’s dirty tactics, a mutiny was staged on February 22, 1986 by Juan Ponce Enrile, and Minister of National Defense Fidel V. Ramos. Enrile, after 14 years of silence, finally broke his silence and confessed that the “assassination” attempt that happened in 1972 was a faux set-up.
Millions of bold Filipinos gathered at the EDSA Avenue in Manila to denounce the dirty tricks of the ruthless dictator (which now we refer to as the “EDSA People Power”).
Finally, on the fourth day of the EDSA People Power, the Marcoses left the Philippines and flew to Hawai’i installing Cory Aquino to be the eleventh president of the Philippines ending the 14-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
For "Martial Law in Retrospect", please click here for my second article.