Last week I was going through my files to look for materials from the martial law era to lend to my college at the University of the Philippines Diliman for an exhibit. I came across an issue of The Manila Chronicle dated Sept. 22, 1972, and was startled, thinking that the newspaper was shut down on Sept. 21.
Then I remembered that although Proclamation 1081 was indeed dated Sept. 21, it was not until Sept. 23 that Ferdinand Marcos announced on radio and TV that martial law had been declared.
That last issue of the Chronicle gives us glimpses into life on the eve of the imposition of martial law. Costing all of 25 centavos, the newspaper was already printing in color. On top of the front page were two photographs captioned “Demonstrators led by the Movement of Concerned Liberties pack Plaza Miranda in a rally against the threat of martial law.” Red flags provided a dramatic backdrop to the demonstrators. The men had long hair and the women were in miniskirts, and I wondered what happened to them after martial law authorities enforced a ban on both fashions.
The front page’s main story had the headline “Senate junks Aquino probe,” referring to the Senate turning down a proposal to inquire into alleged links between Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the Communist Party of the Philippines. Smaller headlines read: “Tolentino proposes national ‘summit,’” referring to Senate Majority Leader Arturo Tolentino proposing a meeting between the administration and opposition to resolve the growing political conflict, and “Marcos, military aides in huddle,” about Marcos meeting with Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Espino.
Ominously, the second article read in part: “The possible imposition of martial law was not discounted.” The other front-page articles were “Hernandez, unionist, dies,” “7 generals confirmed,” “Cancer kills one Filipino per hour” and “House OKs warning on tobacco” (the warnings said to be stricter than those required in the United States).
Inside that issue of the Chronicle, on the editorial page, were columns by Ernesto Granada and Alejandro Roces belittling Marcos’ allegations of Ninoy Aquino’s communist links. Granada criticized the press for giving so much space to Marcos’ “irresponsible revelations” when there were more important news stories, including the oil companies’ petitions for a 2-centavo increase in oil products. (If I remember right, gasoline was around 30 centavos a liter at that time.)
Also in the inside pages was an article on Marcos signing a new anti-car theft act with stiffer penalties. It was next to another photograph of the Plaza Miranda rally, this time focusing on “young Maryknoll coeds” heading to Plaza Miranda, all in uniform. Next to that photograph was an article on the education department being instructed by the military to report student activists, and proposals to include subjects in “civics and democracy” in the elementary curriculum. That proposal was opposed by Waldo Perfecto of the Catholic Education Association of the Philippines, who said that the education department might become “party to a witch-hunt” and that the subjects “are almost tantamount to brainwashing.”
The back page of the main section had a photograph of Ninoy Aquino addressing long-haired students from Ateneo de Manila and UP to “resist and fight the campaign of fear” of Marcos, which he said was paving the way for the imposition of martial law. Next to his photograph was an article describing a proposal from an ongoing Constitutional Convention to extend Marcos’ presidential term to June 1976.
In the business and finance section were articles like “No cause for alarm, bank depositors told.” One article was on a power struggle in the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and one on the declining textile industry.
Also in the business section was an article titled “American firms with properties covered by parity ruling,” about a list from the Securities and Exchange Commission naming 312 corporations with more than 40-percent US participation (equity). The amount of US equity involved totaled P961 million. The SEC released the report because of a Supreme Court decision that ruled an end to parity rights given to Americans by July 3, 1974. After that date, corporations engaged in the exploitation of natural resources, owning public lands or operating public utilities in the Philippines would have to have at least 60-percent Filipino equity.
In a 1984 article in the Philippine Law Journal, “The Legal Framework of Alien Interests in Land and Other Natural Resources in the Philippines,” Prof. Perfecto Fernandez provided a history of these parity rights. Americans had complete access to our natural resources when they occupied the Philippines in 1898. When we moved to commonwealth status in 1935, we passed a constitution that provided “parity rights,” meaning the Americans could exploit our natural resources and we could exploit theirs (sure, sure). In 1946, as we moved toward independence, we again extended parity rights, with nationalist historians like Renato Constantino pointing out that we were practically blackmailed here, the parity rights being tied to war rehabilitation assistance.
Fernandez wrote that after martial law was declared, a new constitution was put in place still upholding the expiration of parity rights on July 3, 1974, but recognizing individual land titles of Americans who had acquired their properties before that date. Moreover, the Marcos constitution allowed the government to grant foreigners access to our natural resources through service contracts and international treaties or agreements entered into by the Chief Executive.
The Chronicle article on parity rights reminds us of a broader context to martial law, beyond Marcos the individual. Marcos knew he would need Washington’s support if he declared martial law, and issues like parity rights and US bases were important. America knew Marcos would protect its interests and therefore allowed him to impose martial law and backed his dictatorship almost to the very end. During a state visit to the Philippines in 1981, then Vice President George Bush praised Marcos for his “adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic processes.”
* * *
Greenhills Antiques Show: Ongoing until Oct. 8 at the Greenhills Shopping Center is the 19th annual National Antique Show. There are regular dealers with antique furniture but there are also dealers with all kinds of collectibles: books and magazines, stamps, coins, bottles, toys. There are loads of martial law memorabilia floating around, from New Society coins to books by Ferdinand or Imelda Marcos, which were often given out free as political propaganda. Serious collectors and historians can browse through the old magazines and newspapers, which go from the 19th century to the present. It’s not all heavy political commentary in these publications. Noranians and Vilmanians can wade into the many movie fan magazines from the 1950s onward. I actually found one magazine with the life story of one of my aunts, the actress Emma Alegre, dating back to the 1950s!
* * *
E-mail: [email protected]