I remember the political and social landscape of the time all too well.
The previous months saw an increasingly restless activism take on line after line of riot police in an attempt to warn the public of a looming dictatorship. The engagements had been fierce. Protests had spread to nearby cities in the wake of the arrests of student leaders.
The desaparecidos had become a reality in our country, and nowhere was this more pronounced than in Marcos’ regime of violence.
Picket lines denouncing crony capitalism broke and crumbled under the weight of police truncheons. Our streets had become a bloody battlefield. Smoke from burning cars and tires grew thick and black with each passing day. The poor had had enough of Marcos’ lies. They had had enough of being the victim.
On the evening of Sept. 23, 1972, sometime past seven in the evening, television sets blared the announcement of the President: “My countrymen, as of the 21st of this month, I signed Proclamation No. 1081, placing the entire Philippines under martial law. This proclamation was to be implemented upon my clearance. And clearance was granted at nine o’clock in the evening of the 22nd, last night.”
With the proclamation also came its justifications: that it was a mandate of the Constitution and that it was not a military takeover.
To hide his true intentions, Marcos built the ‘cult’ of Sept. 21 by proclaiming it as ‘National Thanksgiving Day’ by virtue, according to the Official Gazette, of Proclamation No. 1081 s. 1973 ‘to memorialize the date as the foundation day of his New Society.’
The Official Gazette is composed of entries made under every administration. In this case, the entry on Martial Law was made sometime in 2015 under the administration of former Pres. Benigno Aquino.
According to the Official Gazette: “The propaganda effort was so successful that up to the present, many Filipinos—particularly those who did not live through the events of September 23, 1972—labor under the misapprehension that martial law was proclaimed on September 21, 1972. It was not.’”
What began as a long period of preparation to install Marcos as ruler for life had finally come to fruition. As early as May 17, 1969, Marcos had hinted of his desire to proclaim martial law in a speech given to the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association:
Quoting from the Official Gazette, Marcos said, “One of my favorite mental exercises, which others may find useful, is to foresee possible problems one may have to face in the future and to determine what solutions can possibly be made to meet these problems.
“For instance, if I were suddenly ask, to pose a given situation, to decide in five minutes when and where to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, I have decided that there should be at least five questions that I would ask, and depending on the answers to these five questions, I would know when and where to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
“The same thing is true with the declaration of martial law […] It is a useful mental exercise to meet a problem before it happens.”
In his diary entry dated Sept. 14, 1972, just days before the actual proclamation, Marcos wrote that he had already informed the military of his plans to proceed with the declaration.
In Raymond Bonner’s Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy (New York: Times Books, 1987, p. 3), it was said that the U.S. Embassy had known of Marcos’ plans as early as Sept. 17 of that year.
As far back as 1969, Marcos had instructed several officials of government to study the powers of the President under the 1935 Constitution, particularly then Justice Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile; as for how martial law was implemented in other countries, Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor and Jose Almonte took the responsibility.
As posted by the Official Gazette, “On August 1, 1972, Marcos met with Enrile and a few of his most trusted military commanders to discuss tentative dates for the declaration of Martial Law—to fall within the next two months. All of the dates they considered either ended in seven or were divisible by seven, as Marcos considered seven his lucky number.”
How Marcos held on to that particular superstition was revealed in Bonner’s book.
Just hours after the declaration, a nationwide clampdown on media entities began. Flights out of the country were canceled, foreign calls disallowed, curfew announced and implemented. Anyone caught outdoors a few minutes past midnight was arrested.
By General Order No. 1 s. 1972, all powers of the State was transferred to Marcos “who would rule by presidential decree”.
Fast-forward to 2018. Two years into Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency saw hint after hint of his plans to declare a nationwide martial law. With the hints came illegal arrests, intimidation, harassment against activists, farmers, student leaders, killings by the thousands of suspected addicts, and a growing police state.
Question: aren’t we there yet?
Th recent assault on the NutriAsia picket line is just one example that, yes, it feels very much like 1972 again. The only exception is that martial law has not been formally declared and, for what it’s worth, there is social media to expose the shenanigans of government.
I can’t help but think that all this comprises an open provocation: for the public to stage a protest worthy, at least in the mind of this administration, of a declaration of countrywide martial law. It is apparent that Duterte is desperate to install his ‘revolutionary government’ so he can kickstart his race toward constitutional change and Federalism.
After all’s said and done on serious issues like the widespread murders, the impunity, the selling of our lands and sovereignty, the timidity this administration has displayed in the face of China’s intrusions, the violent crackdown on activists, farmers, and other groups, and now the illegal arrests, the rock-bottom issue is changing the Constitution to suit his claims to power.
What better way to provoke an already enraged populace than to have them, for the most part, killed or arrested for the flimsiest and stupidest of reasons.
No dictator lasts forever. And if there’s anyone who knows this for a fact, it is Duterte. And as we wake up each day under the shadow of a creeping police state, we should ask ourselves: will it take us another 20 years to solve this? G