Road to Martial Law Redux: A Conclusion to the Series

Editor’s note: This 15-part series called the Road to Martial Law first appeared on the author’s Tumbler page in 2016. 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 editors.

How apt that I end this series the day before the Supreme Court issues its judgment on whether or not Ferdinand Marcos should be buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani.

One must remember that it was also the Supreme Court (a compromised one) that ended any legal debate on the constitutionality of Martial Law in 1973.

More than four decades after, we are here once again in the precipice. And whatever the verdict of the Supreme Court is, will have reverberations in how succeeding generations of Filipinos would view heroism, the entire depth and breadth of the Marcos years, and will have a lasting impact on the national narrative and ongoing historical discourse. It’s a scary thought.

We never expected that we would arrive at this point in the national discourse, where the very concept of ‘heroism’ would be challenged and reshaped by the prevailing revisionism peddled by the current administration.

Conferring the “hero” status to a dictator who was clearly responsible for much of the country’s economic woes (The debt incurred by the Marcos administration would be paid by the country in full only in the year 2025), corruption in government bureaucracy and perpetrator of human rights violations–it boggles the mind.

The segue that Marcos loyalists insist is that the law does not explicitly prohibit the burying of Marcos at the National Heroes Cemetery. It was clear he was awarded the Medal of Valor, and it’s because of this, alone, disregarding the excesses of his regime, that they say he should be buried, with full military honors.

But it takes a child to point out that this argument selectively blinds itself from the real issue, that one cannot separate the entire being of a president to his Medal of Valor (and his other medals proven to be fake), failures, and grave abuse of power.

Which brings me to the wise interpellation of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen during the oral arguments of the Supreme Court last month, to the Solicitor General who insisted on the same aforementioned Marcos loyalist argument: “Which part of President Marcos is called a hero, and which part isn’t?”

The whole history and the integrity of the overwhelming evidence hangs on us all. As actress Rachel Weisz who portrayed historian Deborah Lipstadt in combating Nazi historical revisionism, in the upcoming film Denial (2016), said: 

“The freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want. What you can’t do is lie and expect not to be accountable for it. Not all opinions are equal.”

Trailer of the movie, “Denial” (2016), portraying historian Deborah Lipstadt who contended with Hitler apologist David Irving in the British court. It is a highly recommended movie for historians who seek to put historical revisionism at bay.

Let me repeat that. Not all opinions are equal. Especially when truth and the validity of evidences where it rests are under attack by notions that these are just allegations without proof. Let me be blunt. That is a lie.

Which is why I have aimed in this blog series to lay out the roots of why such a Marcos came about in the Philippine political scene. As evidences I have presented unfolded, there are nuances to be considered, and an effort for the reader to understand the entire political scene. History is a harsh judge says Gregoria de Jesus, the widow of Andres Bonifacio, especially when that part of history being scrutinized do not even leave any shadow of doubt on what has really transpired.

As we have seen in the rise of Marcos and the snuffing out of democracy on that fateful day of September 23, 1972, the creeping erosion of institutions that safeguarded freedom in a democracy wasn’t done in an instant. It took years of careful strategy, taking advantage of loopholes in the rule of law, bargaining with the political opposition by either sharing power and making them compromise or using the full resources of the state to silence them, positioning key loyal leaders in their respective posts, and manufacturing a crisis (exaggerating Communism, and somehow implementing city bombings and blame it to communists) to give legalistic reason to confer to the President emergency powers. Before martial law, a people free to express their discontent in reaction to widespread corruption was silenced by fear and political retribution during Martial Law. This is not an exaggeration, as historical primary sources can attest.

To echo what journalist Max Soliven wrote in his column, days before Martial Law:

“We must never, of course, underestimate Mr. Marcos. He is no fool. There is always method in what looks like madness. The Apo is a “group dynamics” expert, a practitioner of that science dedicated to the manipulation of people and the cunning exploitation of the basic weaknesses of human nature.”

Marcos was a genius. He anticipated every move of the opposition, took a great gamble on the ‘silent majority,’ framing everything in the context of “reforming society,” and the ever attractive “Bagong Lipunan.” He used cultural propaganda, military use of force, executive pressures on independent government institutions, and his and Imelda’s charisma to a people used to being ruled over.

But while it was Marcos who wielded the final axe that obliterated Philippine democracy, he was but the logical conclusion of a leadership and a generation, who, while building up power for themselves, willingly compromised their principles without hesitation, and chose political ambition over the grueling uphill fight for justice and equality for all.

The real mood of the people was the rage and passion of student activists that swept the country like wildfire, in what would be known as the First Quarter Storm of 1970. When Martial Law came and media was controlled, this pervading sentiment was immediately put under the rug. The rise of Moro separatism and the exponential growth of the Communist movement especially during Martial Law years proved that even when there was a superficial ‘peace and order’, a creeping deafness of the government on the rising poverty, coupled with the unchecked abuses of the military on the civilians, and state-sponsored forced disappearances of dissenters shattered the fabric of the nation. Massacres were implemented, political dissenters were incarcerated, in clear violation of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Marcos-sponsored 1973 Constitution itself.

There were a fledgling few who stood up against the might and wrath of the Philippine strongman. But they were all too few, and the country suffered the longest presidential rule on the country, with only a semblance of democracy and a bill of rights only on paper. It was ever a wonder that we stuck to that volatile situation. As National Artist Nick Joaquin, in his work, Quartet of the Tiger Moon, greatly put it, under Martial Law, there was no hope of change.

“What had the thinking Filipino desperate during the Marcos years was not that the tyrant had crushed our rights and liberties but that he had shown the way for future fascists to crush us again and again, simply by being as ambitious and amoral, as arrogant and artful and avaricious as Marcos… An endless cycle of tyranny followed by tyranny followed by tyranny: such was the living death that faced us with Marcos and after.  Before him, yes, there had been a long history of “violence and corruption,” but even that history had been an effort, an attempt, an impulse, however shy, at the democratic way of life. With Marcos ceased these exercises of democracy- and after him, of course, even the pretense of democracy would be discarded as opportunist and scoundrel exploited the pattern he had set. We had no future, no tomorrowonly that ever-present banality of evil.”

And then as critique to the world’s astonishment of our toppling the dictatorship in the EDSA People Power Revolution, Nick Joaquin offers the world a scathing rebuke:

“When we did not explode against that boot on our necks–that was the astonishment. When we let some fourteen long years pass with that boot on our necks–that was the astonishment. But when on the plenary nights of the tiger moon 1986 we rose against the boot on our necks–that was no astonishment. We were back to the regular, the everyday, the traditional. We had returned to normal. Because we have decided we were to have a future again, a tomorrow again, and that we didn’t have to resign ourselves to a numbing prospect of one damnable Marcos after another.

This is a revolutionary decision completely in keeping with our history, where the rate of insurrections, especially during the colonial period, comes to one revolt per year. And that’s when we mean when we argue that our 1986 tiger moon was no ‘astonishment’ but the customary, the accustomed, the habitual, the traditional, the normal. The Pinoy was back to his usual form.

So spare us your bravos.”

Is it any wonder that we are now back to zero? What gains we had are now meaningless to the administration and the powers that be who wants to resurrect the Great Marcos, the Savior of the Philippines. “Marcos pa rin” despite everything. Despite everything.

Whatever the ruling of the Supreme Court is, I rest in the comfort that even if it decides in favor of burying the dictator in Libingan ng mga Bayani, the battle does not end there. Because Truth, and the empirical evidences supporting it will catch on. It always has, and it always will. History can attest to that. It may take a while but it will catch on. And no one can hide from it. There will always be a day of reckoning.

So I pose this challenge to you dear reader. To whom much is given, much is required. Now that you know the story, responsibility is in your hands. In a democracy such as the Philippines, it is not dependent on our government, not even on Supreme Court rulings. It is in your hands, it is in your mind, that the fate of this battle will be decided.

Be on the right side of history. For even when it appears to lose, itaga mo sa bato, it will win. 

Be on the side of Truth.

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
Part 14: The Final Blow: A compromised Supreme Court legitimized Martial Law
Part 15: Road to Martial Law Redux: A Conclusion to a Series

About the Author

Kristoffer Pasion the resident historian of Team 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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