I was 15 years old when Proclamation 1081 was declared by former President Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972. I was skeptical . My parents seemed overjoyed by the news. The administration did a great job brainwashing the old folks that the country was in turmoil. I recall images of riots on TV and I remember my parents saying yes, Martial Law needed to be declared.
Alarmed that any house could be raided for “subversive materials”, I made sure none of my reading materials might be deemed “subversive” in the eyes of the military. Dad was wise. He started buying books and magazines that were pro-Marcos. Soon after Marcos declared martial law, one American high-ranking official described the Philippines as a country composed “of 40 million cowards and one son of a bitch” otherwise, he reasoned they should have risen against the destroyer of their freedom.
A youth during Martial Law
I spent most of my teenage years under the veil of martial law. Dad and Mom warned me that the moment my sister and I joined rallies and demonstrations in UP Diliman, it was back to Cebu. They didn’t know it then but my sister and I joined lightning rallies. Student issues centered on Marcos, the dictator, Academic Freedom and the role of Iskolar ng Bayan in the midst of Martial Law.
I remember my first rally was in Luneta Park on May 1, 1976. I forgot who organized it now. All I remember was holding hands with my pretend-boyfriend in Luneta Park. If you know Rico J. Puno’s version of “The Way We Were“, the pretend situation brought me to stitches. Raising our fists, stomping our feet around Luneta and chanting Marcos, Hitler, diktador, tuta around ten times, we dispersed amidst the growing crowd. Makibaka, huwag matakot! Makibaka, huwag matakot! It was an exhilarating experience and I could feel the adrenalin rush as we ran towards the Quiapo side streets. The police were just behind our back. Too close for comfort.
Marcos dictatorship institutionalized Extrajudicial killings
Though I never got detained or tortured , my heart broke every time I heard news of my friends in detention. It angered me that the moles, the traitors were around us waiting to report subversives to the military. My brother was once detained for taking photos of policemen taking down streamers of the activists. Imagine that happening to us right now. I tell these stories to my children so they value their freedom, remember the horrors of martial law and to never let it happen again. The youth born after the People Power revolution need to know about the human rights violation, the muzzling of the press and the curtailment of freedom during the Martial Law era.
The youth need to know how Ferdinand Marcos “fooled the Filipino people into believing that Martial Law was needed in the whole country, even if the troubles were only of political nature. The biggest loser was Press Freedom. Newspapers, TV and radio outlets were shut down and eventually turned over to be owned and operated by Marcos cronies.”
44 years after Martial law , we have come full circle. Sometimes I feel Martial Law never really left us, as if it is ingrained in our culture. There are extra-judicial killings (EJK) that are left unresolved under President Duterte and the previous administrations . The current count of 3,000 drug war-related killings continue to increase every day. It was reported that 3,257 people were alleged to have been killed by the military during President Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, specifically over the ten-year period from 1975 to 1985. Duterte has only been around for 90 days and the drug war-related deaths have reached the same proportion during martial law . The drug war against crime should only involve the real crooks, not collateral damage. Teddy Casiño nailed it when he cites “the fascist Marcos dictatorship that institutionalized EJKs and other human rights violations as a means to silence the political opposition, including activists and members of the revolutionary underground.”
44 years after Martial law , we have come full circle. The same “old people are still in power, a lot of government officials still usurp power to enrich themselves, and the Filipino is still where he was .. maybe even worse.” Nothing has really changed for the better since democracy was restored in 1986.
Martial Law was indeed a dark part of our history but we have to be reminded of it only because we need to honor those who fought and fell to restore democracy then and now. If we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.We need to let the evils of Martial law out of our system. Are we going to allow ourselves to be called a nation of 95 million cowards, this time around?
44 years after Martial law , I continue to be vigilant. I continue to remind the youth to value their freedoms. I continue to speak out against unacceptable governance strategies. I continue to call out the government to start arresting, prosecuting and convicting the killers of EJK.
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)