Hijacking Democracy: The Mood Before the Declaration of Martial Law

It was the year 1972. President Ferdinand Marcos had everything planned out for the full implementation of a nationwide Martial Law. He was just looking for the timing.

Most of the media, with the exception of the Manila Chronicle and the Philippines Free Press, did not believe that Marcos had the audacity to implement Martial Law. Even opposition leaders, like Senator Ninoy Aquino didn’t. But perhaps, this element of surprise played out in Marcos’ favor as we would see.

1971 Constitutional Convention
Former President Diosdado Macapagal heads the Constitutional Convention at Quezon City Hall, sometime in 1971. | National Library of the Philippines.

As the Constitutional Convention (ConCon) was happening in the Quezon City Hall to amend the 1935 Constitution, rumors of Malacañang’s hand in influencing the delegates to vote for a parliamentary system of government slowly made it to the news. 

Editorial Cartoon 1972
Free Press editorial cartoon on the Constitutional Convention, 1972, by E.Z. Izon. | Presidential Museum and Library.

Free Press editorial dated January 22, 1972 noted:

Marcos, if he were not disqualified from running for a third term by the new Constitution and should run, would get the political licking of his life. As a presidential candidate Marcos would be a sure loser. But if the parliamentary system were adopted, then Marcos could run for Parliament in Ilocos Norte, win—and be elected Premier through bribery of the members of Parliament, who would be no better than congressmen, or out of a sense of gratitude on the part of those whose election he had financed with private funds and, as President still in 1973, with government funds. As the richest member of Parliament, Marcos would be sure of election as Premier by a corrupt or corruptible majority of that body, which may be expected to rise to no higher moral level than the present House of “Representathieves.”

The parliamentary system, if adopted by the Constitutional Convention, would mean Marcos in Malacañang till hell freezes over. Unless he, not to mention Mrs. Marcos, is disqualified from being elected to the Premiership by the new charter.

As quiet as many people would have wanted 1972 to be, and with the shadow of the Plaza Miranda bombing looming over everyone’s heads, the nation once again would be wrought with another bombing, this time in the Arca Building in Pasay on the night of March 15. Witnesses claimed to have seen the bombers as two men riding in tandem using motorcycles.

This was followed by another explosion, on April 23. A bomb in the boardroom of the Filipinas Orient Airways detonated. As days and months passed, the bombings would become more frequent and more devastating.

Marcos Meeting with Military 1972
President Ferdinand Marcos meets the top brass of the military, sometime in 1972. | Presidential Museum and Library.

On May 8th, according to an entry in the Marcos Diary, Marcos met with key military leaders “to update the contingency plans and the list of target personalities in the event of the use of emergency powers.” The dreaded list of people to be arrested had already been drafted.

“I directed Sec. Ponce Enrile to finalize all documentation for the contingency plans, including the orders and implementation.”

ConCon Payola

Meanwhile, on May 29th in the ConCon, in one of the most shocking reveals yet that confirmed Marcos’ hand in the Convention, Delegate Eduardo Quintero of Leyte revealed to the Convention floor that on January 7th, 39 ConCon delegates were invited to a dinner in Malacañan Palace, after which, Delegate Casimiro Madarang of Cebu announced:

“The envelopes are ready. They will be distributed in a couple of days.”

ConCon Delegate with Bribe Money
ConCon Delegate Eduardo Quintero reveals the envelope containing bribe money, allegedly given away to 39 ConCon delegates by Malacañang, August 1972. | Presidential Museum and Library.

Quintero confessed that the envelope contained P1,000.00 in 50-peso bills, as bribery for them to vote in favor of parliamentary form of government. On that same day of the exposé which had already made waves in the media, President Marcos vehemently denied the allegation saying Quintero’s statement was “as vicious as it is false.”

Quintero Exposé Editorial Cartoon
Philippines Free Press editorial cartoon of the alleged Quintero exposé, pointing to the January 6 dinner of 39 ConCon delegates at Malacañang. | Presidential Museum and Library.

As a result of such allegations, by June, an interesting development took place in the ConCon. Several delegates forwarded a proposal in the new constitution barring any former President, his wife, and relatives by affinity and consanguinity within the fourth civil degree, from seeking the post of Prime Minister.

It was nicknamed the “Ban Marcos” resolution, with which Sen. Arturo Tolentino called on Marcos to support. It would have been the first detailed anti-dynasty provision within a Philippine constitution, designed perfectly for Philippine politics that had always been plagued with political dynasties, one of the culprits of corruption.

1970s Bomb Scare Editorial Cartoon
Philippines Free Press editorial cartoon of the bomb scare that spread throughout the country, August 1972. | Presidential Museum and Library.

Blaming Insurgency?

In the streets, the bombings continued. Bombs were detonated at the South Vietnam Embassy, the Court of Industrial Relations, Philippine Trust Company in Cubao, Philam Life Building in UN Avenue Manila, from June to July. The government blamed all on the communist insurgency. This was supplemented by police reports.

On June 18, for example, at Barrio Taringsing, Cordon, Isabela, an alleged copy of the document entitled “Regional Program of Action 1972” was said to have been captured by the Constabulary. The document allegedly revealed the overall plan of the CPP to “foment discontent and precipitate the tide of nationwide mass revolution.”

Whether true or false, we cannot determine the validity of the document, but in Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law, this was cited as one of the reasons for it. In fact, this became Marcos’ “proof” that communists were behind the bombings.

Reports also came on the illegal entry of a substantial quantity of weapons and ammunition, brought to the country by the Communist Party of the Philippines via an unidentified U-boat, with some 200 passengers.

According to a report by Col. Rosendo Cruz, it landed at Digoyo Point, Palanan, Isabela. The newly appointed chief of the Philippine Constabulary, Fidel Ramos, went to Palanan to investigate on June 30, only to find out that it was “without basis.”

By July 5, after midnight, MV Karagatan, unloaded cargo at Digoyo Point. The cargo consisted of state-of-the-art military weaponry, and other supplies. Police reports indicated that as the Philippine Constabulary unloaded the cargo, elements of the New People’s Army attacked them, but were fired upon.

NPA guerrillas retreated in disarray. Primitivo Mijares, Marcos’ former pressman, would reveal that these “NPAs” were actually members of the Presidential Guard Battalion charged with “planting” ammunitions in Palanan to frame the Communists.

Intensified Bombings

As the bomb scare spread throughout Metro Manila, an undetonated bomb was found hidden in the Senate Publications Division in the Legislative Building on July 18, causing the congressional sessions to be suspended for the day until the place was snooped clean. Nobody knew if the bomb was intended to explode or to just intimidate, but it was clear that not just the building but Congress as an institution itself was under attack.

Free Press Frontpage Editorial Cartoon
Front page cover editorial cartoon of the Philippines Free Press, July 1972, by E.Z. Izon. It is one of the few media outlets that warned the public of the possibility of Martial Law.

In one of the most insightful articles predicting how Marcos would implement Martial Law, the Philippines Free Press released an editorial entitled “Military rule next?” dated July 22, 1972. It reads:

Marcos could remain in Malacañang as President–after the suspension of elections under martial law–only if he turned bandit and if the Armed Forces of the Philippines should join him in banditry. He could remain in power only by violating the Constitution under which he declared martial law and if the military supported him in his criminal act […] Martial law should not be declared at all in the first place, not under present conditions, if the purpose were not to junk the Constitution–after invoking it to justify the declaration of martial law–establish a dictatorship. There is no good and sensible reason for the declaration of martial law, whatever, the Supreme Court may say to the contrary, but that does not mean that martial law will not be declared. Then it will be goodbye Constitution, hail dictatorship.

A week later, at night, unidentified men on a jeepney tossed bombs at the Tabacalera Cigar & Cigarette Factory at Marquez de Comillas, Manila. This was followed by the PLDT Exchange bombing at East Avenue, and Philippine Sugar Institute at North Avenue, Quezon City, both on August 15.

As the bombings intensified, Marcos secretly met with Defense Secretary Enrile and the top brass of the military, where he told them that he planned to declare Martial Law within the next two months.

The fact that they discussed the tentative dates to implement it, meant that the declaration was not at all in reaction to or dependent on premeditated threats to the State, but rather predetermined in its execution.

Due to President Marcos’ knack for numerology, the tentative dates chosen were either in sevens or numbers divisible by seven. President Marcos took a liking of the date, September 21.

In the afternoon of August 18, a portion of the Department of Social Welfare building in Sampaloc, Manila was destroyed by explosives.

Two days after, the water main on Aurora Boulevard and Madison Avenue was destroyed by a plastic bomb. Witnesses saw suspected bombers escaping via a bantam car.

On the 30th, for the second time, Philam Life Building was bombed, and 15 minutes after, at several buildings lined up in the Railroad St., Port Area, Manila.

By September, the bombings became more and more frequent. Joe’s Department Store in Carriedo, the Manila City Hall, San Miguel Corporation in Makati, and San Juan water mains, were the casualties.

Meanwhile, an undetonated homemade explosive was found at the escalator on the ground floor of the Good Earth Emporium, near Joe’s in Carriedo. The bomb was a small bar of soap with a timer, 3 matchsticks, and a blasting cap.

‘Ban Marcos’ Reso

In the ConCon, the “Ban Marcos” resolution gained a fever-pitched momentum.

Delegate Augusto Espiritu suggested to Convention President Diosdado Macapagal to either “freeze the ball” and slow down the Convention proceedings so as to move the Constitutional plebiscite further back after the expiration of Marcos’ term, effectively banning him to join the Parliament, or “declare a recess until January 1974.”

Delegate Espiritu wrote on his diary:

For some delegates, the point is, the ban-dynasty provision has already failed anyway; Marcos would surely win. Therefore, we might just as well postpone the election and hold over the positions of elective officials. The bonus is that we, the delegates, would be there in the first parliament.

Unknown to Espiritu and the delegates in favor of the anti-dynasty provision in the draft Constitution, Marcos was already a few steps ahead of them. Marcos had many people within the convention who would resist the delaying tactic of the opposing delegates. And even if the delays work, Marcos never planned to wait for the Convention to adjourn.

Under martial law, whether by intimidation or coercion, the delegates would give in to Malacañang’s pressure, and the plebiscite would follow suit.

On the night of September 11, 1972, President Marcos’s birthday, there was a massive blackout in Metro Manila, caused by the bombing of three undocumented power company substations.

Interestingly, this was one bombing incident that would not be cited in Marcos’s proclamation of Martial Law.

Having planned the philosophical bedrock (“Bagong Lipunan”) of Martial Law to rally the people to support it by means of cultural influence, and having finished all its legal papers lest Martial Law be challenged in the Supreme Court, Marcos sat comfortably in his study room in the Palace that night, and wrote on his diary:

“It is now my birthday. I am 55. And I feel more physically and mentally robust than in the past decade and have acquired valuable experience to boot.

Energy and wisdom, ‘the philosopher’s heaven.”

Ever a Narcissus in his own eyes, the Philippine president beamed proudly at his accomplishment.

Ferdinand Marcos Desk
President Ferdinand Marcos’s desk as displayed now in the Presidential Museum and Library.

Bonner, Raymond. Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy. New York: Times Books, 1987.

De Quiros, Conrado. Dead Aim: How Marcos Ambushed Philippine Democracy. Pasig City: Foundation for Worldwide People’s Power, Inc., 1997.

Editorial,  “Constitutional Convention or Malacañang Kennel?” Philippines Free Press, January 30, 1971, link.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “September 7, 1972”, Philippine Diary Project, link.

G.R. No. L-35149, June 23, 1988, Eduardo Quintero vs. The National Bureau of Investigation.

Martinez, Manuel. The Grand Collision: Aquino vs. Marcos. Quezon City: M. F. Martinez, 1987.

Mijares, Primitivo. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976.

Rempel, William. Delusions of a Dictator: The Mind of Marcos as Revealed in His Secret Diaries. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1993.

Tolentino, Arturo M. Voice of Dissent. Quezon City: Phoenix Press, Inc., 1990.

Editor’s note: This 15-part series called the Road to Martial Law first appeared on the author’s Tumbler page. It documents the unprecedented rise of a Filipino dictator and the sudden death of Philippine democracy with the declaration of a nationwide Martial Law via live television on September 23, 1972. Minor edits have been made by SubSelfie.com editors.

Part 1: It Takes a Village to Raise a Dictator: The Philippines before Martial Law
Part 4: The Turbulent ’60s and Marcos’ Ascent to Power
Part 6: First Quarter Storm of 1970: Philippines on the Brink
Part 7: Plan for Endgame: Plots, Protests, Scandals and Assassinations
Part 8: Plaza Miranda Bombing: Prelude to Marcos’ Endgame
Part 9: Hijacking Democracy: The Mood Before the Declaration of Martial Law
Part 10: September 21, 1972: When Martial Law Had to Wait for One More Day
Part 11: Like a Thief in the Night: Martial Law Implemented
Part 12: The Long Night Begins: Martial Law Announced on Live TV
Part 13: A Mere Scrap of Paper: The Constitutional Convention Hijacked under Martial Law
(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.

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