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Eerily relevant to current times

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Looking Back

Eerily relevant to current times

That Ferdinand Marcos and martial law have cast a long, dark shadow on Philippine history would be clear to anyone who listened to the oral arguments presented to the Supreme Court sitting in review of President Duterte’s Proclamation No. 216 declaring martial law in Mindanao. Three decades separate us from the Marcos declaration of martial law in 1972, yet fear of its return in a new form remains alive in those who survived it.

Although they are flawed self-serving documents, Marcos’ diaries provide an insider’s view of events eerily relevant to our current times. In 1972 four Supreme Court justices attempted to review Marcos’ declaration of martial law and blinked when he threatened to establish a revolutionary government that would make the high court obsolete. This was how he recorded the events of Sept. 24, 1972:

“[Jose] Diokno, Chino Roces, Max Soliven etc. have filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus before the Supreme Court.

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“I asked Justice[s] Claudio Teehankee, Antonio Barredo, Felix Makasiar and Felix Antonio to see me. They insisted that the government should submit to the Supreme Court for the Court to review the constitutionality of the proclamation of martial law, Proclamation No. 1081. So I told them in the presence of Sec[retaries] [Juan] Ponce Enrile and Vicente Abad Santos as well as Sol[icitor] Gen[eral] Estelito Mendoza that if necessary I would formally declare the establishment of a revolutionary government so that I can formally disregard the actions of the Supreme Court.

“They insisted that we retain a color of constitutionality for everything that we do. But I feel that they are still image-building and do not understand that a new day has dawned. While they claim to be for a reformed society, they are not too motivated but are too bound by technical legalism.

“I have amended both Gen[eral] Orders Nos. 1 and 3 to assume all powers of government including legislation and judicial and clearly excluded cases involving the constitutionality of my acts from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. I met the cabinet to emphasize the program to reform our society. And I signed the decree (No. 1) to promulgate the Law on the Reorganization of the Government…”

The next day, Sept. 25, Marcos spoke with two other Supreme Court justices. Their meeting was recorded as follows:

“Met Justices Fred Ruiz Castro and Salvador Esguerra on a consulta. I told them frankly that I needed their help and counsel because we must keep all the actuations within constitutional limits. Justice Castro asked permission to ask a blunt question, “Is this a coup de’tat [sic]?” and I told him that it is not but it is the exercise of an extraordinary power by the president for a situation anticipated by the constitution. Justice Esguerra said immediately that he feels that it is a legitimate exercise of martial law. And apparently reading my mind, he said, in the [John] Merryman case, Justice [Roger] Taney issued a writ [of] habeas corpus for a man who was detained on orders of President [Abraham] Lincoln. And President Lincoln just disregarded the judicial order. And Justice Taney said, ‘What can we do, we are confronted by superior authority?’

“I then concluded that there must be no conflict between the two separate departments of Justice and Executive for it would be embarrassing to both. I believe that they are both of this persuasion.”

Marcos concluded by gloating:

“The public reaction throughout the Philippines is a welcome to martial law because of the smooth, peaceful re-establishment of peace and order and the hope of a reformed society. In fact most everyone now says, this should have been done earlier. It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero! There is nothing as successful as success!”

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Our Constitution contains safeguards against martial law to ensure that history will not repeat itself. While the Supreme Court can interpret the Constitution, unfortunately it does not have the police power to enforce its decisions. I have never appreciated the Constitution as much as I do now because people who swore to defend it now treat it with contempt, as a mere piece of paper, an obsolete document that needs to be revised or, worse, consigned to the dustbin of history.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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