September 23, 1972, Midnight.
It began at night, as all crimes are done. That is, Philippine democracy died in the cover of darkness.
As the entire country slept soundly, President Ferdinand Marcos had sent out the military to round up the media, the opposition statesmen, activist leaders, writers, artists, all of whom have expressed a dissenting opinion or a scathing criticism on the administration, numbering to approximately 8,000 citizens. All of them would be taken by force to Camp Crame.
The first on the list of personalities to be arrested, called the “order of battle,” was reserved for none other than the face of the opposition, Sen. Ninoy Aquino.
Minutes before midnight Sen. Arturo Tolentino, who was with the few senators that were in the Manila Hilton (now Manila Pavilion) witnessed it as it happened. They were at Room 1701. The phone had been ringing, warning the senators of the arrests. The phone rang for the last time.
It was close to midnight when the telephone rang, and the clerk who answered it called for Senator Aquino.
Ninoy: “Yes… Who is this?… Oh, compadre…When?”
(Ninoy listened for sometime at the other end of the line)
Ninoy: “Ok, I will wait for you here.”
Ninoy returned to his chair after hanging up the phone and he said:
“Gentlemen, Martial Law has been declared and I am being arrested. Colonel Gatan is coming up to get me. He says he knows how many of my men are here, but he has a truckload of soldiers, so to spare lives of innocent people in the hotel he asked me not to make any move.”
At 12:10 p.m., Primitivo Mijares, Marcos’ pressman and a victim of forced disappearance wrote in his book the tensed mood inside the room.
[Ninoy said] “A dark chapter is inserting itself once more into our troubled history. I hope and pray that the dark night descending upon our beloved country would come to an early end. It’s been nice being with you, gentlemen.”
Col. Gatan entered the suite and handed Aquino a brown envelope, which contains a xerox copy of an “arrest and detain” order signed by Enrile.
Aquino then demanded the original document before he would come with Col. Gatan, the PC commander—with his gun holster noticeably unhooked—declared that he had personal orders from President Marcos to arrest the Senator.
Ninoy quickly shouted to his bodyguards: “Tahimik lang kayo mga bata!” then asked Col. Gatan: “Do I have any choice?”
Col. Gatan answers: “Not any more, Sir. I am sorry, Sir.”
Aquino shook the hand of his colleagues as he went out peacefully.
As Senator Aquino was taken into the military truck by an entire military garrison, at 12:15 a.m. all radio transmission have ceased. In an age before the internet, this was synonymous to being cut off from the rest of the world.
By 12:30 a.m., the 51st Army Engineering Brigade under General Amado Santiago took over MERALCO, announcing to company employees that they’re protecting the utility company from sabotage.
Minutes after, PLDT was taken over. All long distance calls coming and going out of the country were shut down. Only domestic calls were working.
By 12:55 a.m. alarmed with all the arrests, Sen. Jovito Salonga called Letty Shahani on the phone to confirm if Martial Law had indeed been declared. She is PC Chief Gen. Fidel Ramos’ younger sister. Shahani replied, “Yes… Martial Law has been declared but you are not on the list.”
Meanwhile, another senator was arrested. Sen. Jose Diokno was in his residence along Roxas Boulevard, Manila when the military came knocking heavily on his door at approximately 1:00 am (some accounts say 3:00 a.m.).
Around the same time, military troops led by Army Captain Rolando Abadilla, arrived at ABS-CBN at Mother Ignacia Street, Quezon City to raid it and shut it down. It won’t be live again for the next 14 years.
An hour later, the Metrocom came and shut down the DZHP radio station.
On another part of the city, at the same time, Luis Mauricio of Graphic was arrested. There were more fortunate ones, like Journalist Tony Zumel, who was forewarned by his brother in the Presidential Guard Battalion. He evaded arrest by jumping into the Pasig River from the National Press Club when the military arrived. Activists like Satur Ocampo also escaped before the military came for them.
At 2:30 a.m. Journalist Hernando Abaya was forcefully taken in by the military. His daughter tried to call a lawyer, but the military cut off their phone line.
By 3:00 am, some newswires were able to get the story out abroad that Martial Law was on, as another Senator, Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo was arrested at his residence in New Manila. It was around this time that Judy Araneta Roxas called on Senator Salonga to inform him of these arrests on the senators. He was told that Senator Gerry Roxas would go to Camp Crame to reason with the military.
In Port Area, Manila, company of troops in full battle gear surrounded the building of The Manila Times Publishing Corporation, as the newspaper was subsequently shut down.
At the time, in Quezon City, the security guards of the Iglesia ni Cristo compound at Commonwealth grew frantic with the arrival of the military. The PC-Metrocom was there to shut down Eagle Broadcasting Network. As the military forced their way in, conflict ensued. It had to take the Defense Secretary himself, Enrile, to go there and negotiate with a bullhorn, to explain that Martial Law was already in effect. The guards stood down, but by the time the conflict was over, there were 12 casualties on record.
Meanwhile, Chino Roces, owner of the Manila Times, managed to evade arrest at midnight by going to Highway 54 (now known as EDSA) on his way towards the Diokno residence, but upon learning of Senator Diokno’s arrest, he went back home, packed his bags, and decided to willingly surrender. At around 3:15 a.m. Roces arrived at Camp Crame as he was taken in.
At 4:00 a.m. ConCon Delegate Jose Mari Velez, one of the staunch opposition to Malacañang intrusion in the Constitutional Convention, was arrested.
At 5:00 a.m. the military arrested Philippines Free Press editor-in-chief Teodoro Locsin Sr.
By 6:00 a.m. all those who were arrested waited in vain in a large gym at Camp Crame. Among those arrested were Senators Jose Diokno and Ramon Mitra, Jr., journalists Chino Roces, Cipriano Cid, Luis Mauricio, Delegates Jose Mari Velez and Napoleon Rama, Cavite Governor Lino Bocalan, and other prominent journalists, businessmen, lawyers and politicians.
The oldest detainee in Camp Crame was Baltazar Cuyugan, who is 72 years old. Locsin wrote: “We were fingerprinted [and photographed]…like common criminals.”
By 7:00 a.m. Eugenio Lopez Jr., owner of the Lopez holdings, including ABS-CBN, woke up in Matabungkay, Batangas only to discover that all radio and TV frequencies were in static. He gravely perceived that Martial Law was on.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor arrived by plane in Washington D.C., where he received word from President Marcos that Martial Law was implemented.
It was therefore his task to assure the United States that American interests won’t be affected by the military takeover. He met with Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, John Holdridge of the National Security Council, and some time later, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, and William Fulbright of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Hence, Martial Law had America’s blessing.
Morning in Malacañang
President Marcos wrote on his diary that he was tired and sleepy, but “exultant.” By 9:00 a.m., First Lady Imelda Marcos insisted to Marcos the need to broadcast a live televised message to inform the public, instead of opting for a recorded broadcast.
Marcos assigned Francisco “Kit” Tatad, Secretary of Public Information, and also Marcos’s youngest member in his Cabinet, to read Proclamation No. 1081.
That morning, across the country, there was agitation and panic, as military men patrolled the streets. TV was all static, except for Channel 9 which showed non-stop cartoon reruns. In between the shows were a text that said “important announcement later in the day.” Radio had “muzak” music.
At 10:00 a.m. some independent-minded ConCon delegates phone called each other, and knew that Martial Law was on.
They dreaded this day, for it meant that there was no stopping of Malacañang’s pressure on them to draft a Constitution to Marcos’ liking. Except perhaps if the plebiscite rejects the draft, or it be appealed in the Supreme Court.
By 10:30 a.m., ConCon Delegate Augusto Espiritu, writes on his diary:
“I went to the Convention Hall. The streets were almost deserted. By late morning there were still no newspapers, no radio broadcasts. In Quezon City, I saw two cars of soldiers with one civilian on the front seat in each of the cars—obviously taken into custody.
There were some soldiers at the checkpoint near the Quezon Memorial Circle, but the soldiers didn’t molest anyone.
At the Convention Hall, there was a note of hushed excitement, frustration and resignation. Now the reality is sinking into our consciousness. Martial law has been proclaimed!
Rumors were rife that our most outspoken activist delegates, Voltaire Garcia, Joe Mari Velez, Nap Rama, Ding Lichauco and Sonny Alvarez have been arrested. I met Convention Sec. Pepe Abueva and he informed me that this was what he had also heard.
The whole day, practically, was spent by us tensely waiting for some news. All sorts of rumors were floating around.”
Like a bad cliffhanger, Vero Perfecto, the official radio announcer of the government, announced that an important message would be given by President Marcos on live television by 12 noon.
But 12 noon came, and nothing. Perfecto then announced that the broadcast would be delayed due to “technical difficulties.” An impatient and frustrated public waited. An insider look however, confirmed that the reason for the delay was that Marcos’s speech was not yet ready.
When one doesn’t have news of the outside world or have no idea of what’s going on, confusion and frustration would be the mood. And in that entire afternoon, rumors spread of a military coup, that military men have taken over Malacañang and had Marcos on house arrest in the Palace.
Meanwhile, a hysterical Cecille Guidote told ConCon Delegate Espiritu that she feared that TV star Joseph Estrada, who was supposed to be with her on a show that day, might have been assassinated.
Fears were somehow quelled by 3:30 p.m. when it was announced that that Marcos would deliver an important announcement from around 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. Hence, while most of the kids watched the cartoon reruns, many adults waited in nervous anticipation of the announcement.
Finally, at exactly 7:15 p.m., President Ferdinand Marcos, with a solemn gaze on the camera, went live on television.
He announced that under the powers of the Constitution, he had put the entire country under Martial Law. In the entire announcement, he repeatedly said:
“The proclamation of Martial Law is not a military takeover. It had to be done to protect the Philippines and our democracy… I repeat, this is not a military takeover… the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, which was established by our people in 1946, continues. Again, I repeat. This is the same Government that you and the people established in 1946 under the Constitution of the Philippines.”
The broadcast was followed by Kit Tatad reading the text of the Proclamation No. 1081. Seemingly exhausted, Tatad kept on scratching his leg as he read the text, which earned him the title “Kamot.” ConCon Delegate Espiritu, from the live telecast, described Tatad’s reading a “sinister monotone.”
In the Convention Hall of the ConCon at QC Hall, Espiritu recounted:
“Big Brother is watching us,” exclaimed one of the participants while looking at Tatad’s face which filled the TV frame. But this is not 1984! George Orwell showed up too early in the Philippines.
Tatad was continuously pouring out words that seemed to seal the fate of our people. We sat there and listened in mingled fear and confusion.
Sadly and fearfully, we speculated on the possible fate of our militant friends who had spoken at the ALDEC seminar, yesterday and day before yesterday. They must have been taken into military custody already. Ding Lichauco must surely have been arrested, we conjectured, and Dante Simbulan, likewise. Possibly also Dodong Nemenzo, we thought. The Korean, Moonkyoo, tried to cheer us up. He has a tape of Ding Lichauco’s lecture and he said he would tell everyone that he has the last lecture of Lichauco before he was arrested.
Meanwhile, 11 high-value detainees of the government: Senators Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno, and Ramon Mitra, Chino Roces, Teodoro M. Locsin, Enrique Voltaire Garcia III, Napoleon Rama, Vicente Rafael, former Senator Francisco Rodrigo, Max Soliven, and Jose Mari Velez, were placed on a bus, to be taken to an undisclosed location.
Senator Aquino told Hernando Abaya before leaving, “Magtatagal ito, Hernan, siguro sa Malinta ang tungo ko,” referring to the possibility that he would be shot by a firing squad.
On the bus, the detainees were mum with dread. From Camp Crame, the bus went south of EDSA. Aquino was said to have blurted out, “If we turn right on Buendia… it’s Luneta [execution] for us.” They ended up in Fort Bonifacio. They would be allowed a one-hour daily family visit, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Marcos wrote on his diary about the Martial Law announcement:
“The broadcast turned out rather well and Mons. Gaviola as well as the [illegible] friends liked it. But my most exacting critic, Imelda, found it impressive. I watched the replay at 9:00 PM.
“I have amended curfew from 8-6 to 12-4. Arms bearing outside residence without permit punishable by death.”
Arrests would continue for a few days, as several senators not arrested would try to make an appeal to the Supreme Court questioning the legality of the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. But they would not succeed.
The long night has begun.
Abaya, Hernando. The Making of a Subversive: A Memoir. Quezon City: New Day Publishers.
Enrile, Juan Ponce. Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir. Quezon City, ABS-CBN Publishing Inc., 2012.
Espiritu, Augusto, “September 23, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.
De Quiros, Conrado. Dead Aim: How Marcos Ambushed Philippine Democracy. Pasig City: Foundation for Worldwide People’s Power, Inc., 1997.
Marcos, Ferdinand, “September 23, 1972, 12:20 p.m.” Philippine Diary Project, link.
Mijares, Primitivo. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976.
Rodrigo, Raul. Phoenix: The Saga of the Lopez Family Volume 1: 1800 – 1972. Manila: The Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Inc., 2000.
Salonga, Jovito. A Journey of Struggle and Hope: The Memoir of Jovito R. Salonga. Quezon City: U.P. Center for Leadership, Citizenship and Democracy, 2001.
Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. Dateline Manila. Pasig: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2007.
Santos, Vergel O. Chino and His Time. Pasig: Anvil Publishing House, Inc., 2010.
Tolentino, Arturo. 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 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.