On January 30, 1970, the “insolence” of Edgar Jopson, the Atenean student leader of the moderate National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) whose family had a grocery business, was what President Ferdinand Marcos couldn’t take.
Sensing the spirit of “revolution” after the January 26 riot triggered by his State of the Nation Address (SONA), Marcos wanted to placate the people by inviting the student leaders and university faculty into Malacañang to have them express their grievances.
On January 29, Marcos called on the president of the University of the Philippines, Salvador P. Lopez, for a conversation, in line with many of the UP faculty holding a street demonstration in Agrifina Circle.
Journalist Pete Lacaba described Marcos as reprimanding Lopez, quoting him as saying, “You yourselves are vague and confused about the issues you have raised against the government.” This was followed by a challenge to any Communist to debate.
This was corroborated by what Marcos said in his diary:
I had said that I was disappointed in the faculty of my alma mater; that the UP was charged as the spawning ground of communism and that the manifesto was full of ambiguous generalities that had a familiar ring to them.
Hence, it was this same intent that Marcos extended his invitation to Jopson, recognizing NUSP as one of the largest youth groups in the country.
So Jopson went to Malacañang with Portia Ilagan of the National Students League (NSL) and a host of other student leaders from different campuses.
No one knows what went on in those few hours of conversation, but Lacaba described it in a few words:
“The President had told them he was not interested in a third term. Jopson had demanded: ‘Put that down in writing,’ and Mr. Marcos, piqued by the boy’s insolence, had lashed back at Jopson by calling him the ‘son of a grocer.’”
Jopson, a Moderate, would soon be disillusioned by government impunity and corruption that he would go underground with the Communist Party after the declaration of Martial Law, and eventually get killed in 1982.
Battle of Mendiola
As Jopson, Ilagan, and other student leaders made their way out of the Palace past 6pm,
Malacañang was already under siege by violent protesters. Known as the Battle of Mendiola, it was a new level of fierce anger, the most violent demonstration yet, unleashed by the rallyists against the government, as the people captured a fire truck to ram it against Gate 4 of Malacañang.
Upon entry in the Palace grounds, a government car was burned and stones were thrown on palace windows. Several buildings were also burned. The Presidential Guard Battalion, the Constabulary, the Metrocom, and the Special Forces all united to break the siege of the Palace. Students fled as tear gas filled the streets of Mendiola, and conflict spread around the streets of Aguila, Legarda and Recto.
The violence was eventually quelled after the long night, and papers the next day revealed the casualties: 4 deaths and 300 arrested and detained in Camp Crame.
Amidst the brouhaha of the moment, with Marcos announcing on live television that the riot was an attempt by Communists to overthrow his government, Marcos was preoccupied with fleshing out his plans to put the unrest at bay, and maybe use it to legitimize his extending of executive power.
He was being, quite frankly, paranoid.
Marcos was thinking of a myriad of possibilities. Four days after his inaugural, for example, Marcos wrote in his diary:
They [Lopezes and Montelibanos] are the worst oligarchs in the country. I must stop them from using the government for their own purposes.
Marcos was already plotting on unseating his Vice President Fernando Lopez this early. Clearly, the choosing of his running mate was only made out of political expediency.
This journal entry was followed by another one, indicating that Marcos had long suspected the ROTC Hunter’s Guerrillas, led by World War II hero Eleuterio Adevoso, of planning a coup against him.
This was corroborated by Primitivo Mijares’ account, who wrote in his book that Marcos believed Adevoso and Sergio Osmeña Jr. were conspiring against him.
House of Cards
And then there was also Marcos’ plans to depose House Speaker Jose B. Laurel. For Marcos, according to his diary entry on January 5, 1970, Laurel was implementing “socialist and communist policies” under “the guise of nationalism.”
While that may be Marcos’ perspective, it must also be noted that the Speaker was the one strategically positioned in the House of Representatives to oppose the President.
Of course, as history would tell us, the lower chamber was and has always been easily swayed or pressured by the incumbent President.
Then there was also the United States. As Marcos would write in the same diary, he met with U.S. Ambassador Henry Byroade, confronting the ambassador of rumors being spread allegedly by the Liberal Party that a coup was on its initial planning and it was backed up by the United States. The ambassador was said to have denied this, and gave assurances that the Americans would cooperate, to Marcos’ relief.
In another account by journalist Raymond Bonner, however, Byroade, probably sensing this alarmist stance of Marcos, warned him that if ever Philippine democracy was toppled, the US would react negatively against the Marcos’ administration. The American ambassador probably sensed Marcos’ plans for the imposition of Martial rule.
The next day, on January 31, Juan Ponce Enrile’s feasibility study on Martial Law was finally submitted to Marcos. Marcos then, met with the Defense Secretary, Chief of Staff and other military service and staff and divulged to them the eventuality of suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus (citizens could be detained without trial or fair hearing).
He would also write in his diary possible opposition to this in the media, identifying Chino Roces of The Manila Times and Teodoro Locsin Sr. of the Philippines Free Press.
Marcos wasted no time. On February 7, he reshuffled his Cabinet, appointing then Justice Secretary Enrile as his new Defense Secretary on the 8th.
He also proceeded with the reshuffling of the top brass of the Armed Forces. Thus began the “Ilocanization” of the Philippine military, as many Ilocanos were promoted to higher ranking positions, ignoring merit or seniority, ensuring the military’s loyalty to Marcos.
On the 12th, a massive rally of 50,000 people assembled at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, sponsored by an unheard-of group, the Movement for a Democratic Philippines, a coalition of progressive groups.
It held a massive “teach-in” assembly, teaching the protesters the meaning of the terms imperialism, feudalism and fascism, all of which, the protesters believed, were espoused and epitomized by Marcos.
Marcos himself was surprised of how peaceful that rally was. He noted on his diary:
For a time I secretly hoped that the demonstrators would attack the palace so that we could employ the total solution. But it would be bloody and messy.
Brewing Martial Rule
On February 19, Marcos announced for the first time publicly a possibility of the imposition of martial law if these rallies continue.
And yet, it only fired up the protests. On February 25, Manila Chronicle writer, Indalecio Soliongco wrote that it was Marcos who should change, and prove to the people that he was not adhering to “imperialism, feudalism and fascism.”
The writer warned that if Marcos continued to deafen his ears to the people’s plight and tighten the noose, his administration would be the “most turbulent in history.”
But the brutality of the police on the protesters only increased. The Communist scare was the prevailing theme in all of Marcos’s actions and speeches. He ordered the arrest and deportation of Rizal and Quintin Yuyitung who managed the Chinese Commercial News.
Marcos accused them of engaging in communist activities. This was followed by an arrest of the president and faculty of Miriam College, all of whom were being accused by Marcos of inciting rebellion.
Nilo Tayag, leader of the militant Kabataang Makabayan, was arrested on June 11, triggering another protest on Independence Day, with large streamers that said, “Expose Fake Independence and Fake Democracy! Finish the Unfinished Revolution!”
And as if validating the discontent and the hatred of protesters on the widespread corruption in all levels of government, two assassination attempts were made that year. One failed and the other succeeded.
Rep. Salipada Pendatun of the Liberal Party was gunned on September 24 by unknown assailants using sophisticated weaponry (armalite rifles and grenade launchers). The assassination failed, but Pendatun’s bodyguard was killed.
Meanwhile, on October 18, Rep. Floro Crisologo (head of the political dynasty whom the Crisologo Street in Vigan is named), was gunned down inside the Vigan Cathedral, and was instantly killed, shocking the nation.
Mijares would later write that Crisologo turned out to be involved in the tobacco monopoly with President Marcos and Colonel Fabian Ver. Crisologo confronted Marcos and threatened him of exposing the entire operation if he didn’t get his share, thereby leading to his assassination. Even the assassins themselves, upon asking for their fee to their superiors, were also murdered to tie loose ends.
All this happened while the campaign for the election of the delegates of the Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) was ongoing, which was another controversial thing in itself. Many of those elected in the Convention tasked to revise the 1935 Constitution were delegates who were easily swayed by Marcos. That was, despite the people’s insistent demand for the Con-Con to be non-partisan.
Hence another conflict would ensue, this time in the premier State University, the University of the Philippines, in Diliman. From February 1 to 9, 1971, UP student activists and faculty, echoing the activists from various schools and universities, private or public, occupied their campus and barricaded its roads for nine straight days in protest of the price hike on oil which was caused by rampant spending and borrowing in government, exacerbated by corruption.
Known as the Diliman Commune, it was the first organized student activist demonstration since the First Quarter Storm. It was a “militant solidarity of the students against military incursions into the campus,” said UP Professor Judy Taguiwalo, former Secretary of Social Welfare and Development of the Duterte administration, and historian Cesar Majul who reportedly joined the protests.
Meanwhile, Senator Eva Kalaw visited the protesters and gave away food. The Philippine Constabulary with the UP Police entered the campus and arrested students and faculty alike, ending the standoff, with a 17-year-old freshman UP student, Pastor Medina of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, getting killed.
Journalist Pete Lacaba, upon realizing that even students from “exclusive schools” have become militant, said:
“What is it about this society and these times that has driven the best minds of my generation to dissipation and despair, or taken them down the road to revolution?… anyone who bothered to listen [to them] intently would have felt a chill in the spine, a shudder in the heart, a thickening in the blood.”
Bonner, Raymond. Waltzing with the Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy. New York: Times Books, 1987.
Doronila, Amando. The State, Economic Transformation, and Political Change in the Philippines, 1946-1972. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Enrile, Juan Ponce. Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir. Quezon City, ABS-CBN Publishing Inc., 2012.
Lacaba, Jose. Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm & Related Events. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2003.
Marcos, Ferdinand E., “January 4, 1970,” Philippine Diary Project, link.
Marcos, Ferdinand E., “January 23, 1970 ,” Philippine Diary Project, link
Marcos, Ferdinand E., “January 27, 1970,” Philippine Diary Project, link.
Marcos, Ferdinand E., “January 31, 1970,” Philippine Diary Project, link.
McCoy, Alfred W. Closer than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
Mijares, Primitivo. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976.
Pimentel Jr., Aquilino. Martial Law in the Philippines: My Story. Mandaluyong City: Cacho Publishing House, 2006.
Robles, Raissa. Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, Student Edition. Quezon City: Filipinos for a Better Philippines, Inc., 2016.
Santos, Vergel. Chino and His Time. Pasig: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2010.
Taguiwalo, Judy, “Notes on the 1971 Diliman Commune,” Diliman Diary, February 24, 2011, link.
Part 5: The GATHERING STORM: BEGINNINGS OF THE COMMUNIST INSURGENCY AND MORO SECESSIONISM IN THE ’60S
(up next) Part 14: The Final Blow: A compromised Supreme Court legitimized Martial Law
(up next) Part 15: Road to Martial Law Redux: A Conclusion to a Series
About the Author
Kristoffer Pasion the resident historian of Team SubSelfie.com. He is a public historian working for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He has been serving in government for almost a decade, having worked as cultural officer for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2011-2013), and as history researcher for the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines (2013-2016).
He runs the blog Indiohistorian, and does active history writing on social media. He is finishing his masteral studies in History at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, pursuing research on the history of government institutions.