It is ironic that those who denounce the revision of the narrative on the martial law years observe the anniversary of martial law on the day dictated by Ferdinand Marcos himself.
On Monday last week, Sept. 21, Vice-President Leni Robredo said:
“Our task is to push back against these lies at every instant. To tell the stories of Martial Law and dictatorship over and over so that this generation, and the ones that come after, may be bound tighter through remembering. To hold firm to the truth of this painful chapter of our history, and through this, forge the determination to never again let our people fall into such despair. We must do this because, ultimately, our national aspirations can only be as strong as our national memory.”
On the same day, Chel Diokno laid a wreath at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) which honors the martyrs and heroes of the struggle against the martial law regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos. His own father, Senator Jose W. Diokno, was arrested at 1 a.m. of Sept. 23, 1972, at his residence. Chel was at home and 11 years old at the time. He was old enough to remember the date of that life-changing event.
The evening of Monday last week, ABS-CBN re-played in its TV Patrol news program footage of the actual video showing President Marcos announcing the declaration of martial law. As ABS-CBN itself was shut down in the wee hours of Sept. 23, 1972, it was stupid of it to super-impose the date “Sept. 21, 1972” on the video that actually appeared in Kanlaon Broadcasting TV-9 at 7:15 p.m. of Sept. 23, 1972.
But does it really matter if the anniversary of martial law is observed on Sept. 21 or on Sept. 23, many ask. After all, it was President Marcos who signed the proclamation of martial law and who put it into effect just two days later.
However, that President Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 on Sept. 21 is in question. There are conflicting accounts on when the proclamation was actually signed. Some say he signed it as early as Sept. 10, 1972, but many say he did it on the night of Sept. 22, immediately after the staged ambush of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile that justified the imposition of martial law in the first hour of Sept. 23.
Here is the comment of the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines on the different accounts:
“Whether they conflict or not, all accounts indicate that Marcos’ obsession with numerology (particularly the number seven) necessitated that Proclamation No. 1081 be officially signed on a date that was divisible by seven. Thus, Sept. 21, 1972 became the official date that Martial Law was established and the day that the Marcos dictatorship began. This also allowed Marcos to control history on his own terms.”
It should be noted that on Sept. 13, 1972 Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. exposed Oplan Sagittarius, the plan to place the country under martial law. On Sept. 21 he delivered a speech before his fellow senators reminding them of their true role in the event martial law was imposed. In the afternoon of that day, the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties headed by another bitter critic of President Marcos, Senator Diokno, held a huge rally, estimated between 30,000 and 50,000, denouncing the plan of the president.
It is believed by political pundits that Mr. Marcos wanted martial law remembered on Sept. 21 to erase from memory the events involving Senators Aquino and Diokno on that day. For the following year he declared, by virtue of Proclamation No. 1180, Sept. 21 as National Thanksgiving Day to memorialize the date as the foundation day of his New Society.
There is the bone of contention. There are two conflicting views on martial law, one portraying the Marcos martial law regime as the “golden age” of the Philippines and the other as the “darkest chapter in the history of post-colonial Philippines.”
The apologists of the martial law regime point to the improvement of peace and order, reduction of violent urban crime, suppression of the Communist insurgency, neutralization of the Muslim separatist movement, collection of loose firearms, and instilling discipline into citizens.
The regime also gave foreign investors new concessions, including a prohibition on strikes. A land-reform program was launched. According to the World Bank, the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product quadrupled from $8 billion in 1972 to $32.45 billion in 1980. The US-based Heritage Foundation said the Philippines enjoyed its best economic development since 1945 between 1972 and 1980. The economy grew amidst the two severe global oil shocks following the 1973 oil crisis and 1979 energy crisis.
However, the detractors of the regime say that despite the growth in the country’s Gross National Product, workers’ real income dropped, few farmers benefited from land reform, and the sugar industry went into a spin due to the sharp drop of prices in the world market. This coupled with the drop in the price of coconuts and coconut products in the 1980s stunted the growth of the Philippine economy.
But what enrages the survivors of the martial law regime is the omission by the revisionists of the narrative on the martial law years of what University of Wisconsin History Professor Alfred McCoy described as “exceptional for both the quantity and quality of its violence.”
That exceptionally violent regime began in the first hour of Sept. 23, 1972 when President Marcos ordered the arrest of his political opponents and critics. First to be arrested was Senator Aquino, who was having a meeting with other senators at the Manila Hilton. By 1 a.m., Senator Diokno had also been arrested.
Also arrested that night were newspaper editors Amando Doronilla of the Daily Mirror, Luis Mauricio of the Philippine Graphic, Teodoro Locsin, Sr. of the Philippines Free Press, Ernesto Granada of the Manila Chronicle, and columnists Maximo Soliven of the Manila Times and Luis Beltran of the Evening News. Free Press Associate Editor Napoleon Rama and Associated Broadcasting Company TV-5 (the Manila Times TV station) broadcaster Jose Mari Velez, who were Constitutional Convention delegates, were also arrested as were the other outspoken delegates — Heherson Alvarez, Alejandro Lichauco, Voltaire Garcia, and Teofisto Guingona, Jr. By dawn of Sept. 23, 100 individuals were in detention centers.
By then, media establishments, both broadcast and print, had been shut down. In the evening of Sept. 23, Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto’s Kanlaon Broadcasting System TV-9 went on the air to show President Marcos announcing the declaration of martial law. On the following morning, Sept. 24, Mr. Benedicto’s Daily Express headlined the declaration of martial law.
The martial law regime is historically remembered for its record of human rights abuses. Based on the documentation of Amnesty International, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, and other human rights monitoring organizations, the regime was marked by 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 forced disappearances, and 70,000 incarcerations. Some 2,520 of the murder victims were tortured and mutilated and their bodies left in all sorts of places for people to discover — a scheme meant to sow fear among the people.
Martial law also allowed massive and uncontrolled corruption. Plunder was made possible by the creation of government monopolies, awarding of behest loans to cronies, forced takeover of private enterprises, raiding of the public treasury, issuance of Presidential decrees that enabled cronies to amass wealth, kickbacks and commissions from businesses, use of dummy corporations to launder money abroad, skimming of international aid, and hiding of wealth in bank accounts overseas. The World Bank estimated that between $5 billion and $10 billion in public funds was transferred into the Marcos private accounts.
That President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 on Sept. 21, 1972 is a lie that has gone far too long. That is a lie that Madame Robredo, Mr. Diokno, and survivors of the excesses of martial law should push back against by refraining from observing Martial Law Day on Sept. 21 and observing it instead on Sept. 23 when the full impact of martial law was felt by the people.
To observe the anniversary of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21 is to believe that the martial law years constituted the golden age of Philippine history. To remember the imposition of martial law on Sept. 23 is to be revulsed by the thought of a repeat of the darkest chapter in the annals of our country.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.