Deny the past, desecrate the present
Yesterday was an unremarkable day. Sure, the entire week was punctuated with browbeating and histrionics in the Senate, expletives from Malacañang’s latest occupant and the continuing EJKs, but it was just like any other day all things considered.
Like every day before it, newspaper distribution networks were operating all night until before sunrise to make sure that your favorite broadsheet or tabloid would be waiting for you at the newsstands. Pumped-up talk show hosts on AM and FM radio and early-morning television shows competed with one another to jump-start your day. You probably were awake already, after having tapped on Facebook or Twitter to view the latest posts, memes and viral videos from your friends here and anywhere else in the world.
But 44 years ago, on Sept. 23, 1972, our world ground to a halt. That day was the virtual exclamation point to a political coup de grâce that had been brewing in the mind of Ferdinand Marcos for years. From that day onward, things would never be the same for us. For better or for worse, the values and ethical norms that we hold on to now bear the scars of atrocities and the iniquity and oppression visited by an omnipotent state on a mute and powerless citizenry.
A special feature published by the Official Gazette on the declaration of martial law recounts those “last days of democracy”:
On September 21, 1972, democracy was still functioning in the Philippines. Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. was still able to deliver a privilege speech—what would be his final one—in the Senate. Primitivo Mijares, among others, recounted the functioning of the House of Representatives and the Senate, with committee meetings scheduled for that night. Senate and House leaders agreed not to adjourn on this day, as earlier scheduled. They decided to extend their special session to a sine die adjournment on September 23.
That afternoon, a protest march in Plaza Miranda was sponsored by the Concerned Christians for Civil Liberties. The rally was attended by more than 30 “civic, religious, labor, student, and activist groups … [and] a crowd of 30,000,” and received coverage from newspapers, radio, and television.
On Sept. 22, 1972, a day after the final speech of Ninoy Aquino, newspapers still came out: they featured the rally held the previous day in Plaza Miranda. Mijares recounted that Marcos was agitated by a statement reported in the Daily Express that if Martial Law were declared, Aquino said he would have to be arrested soon after or he would escape to join the resistance.
By his own account, Marcos and his Cabinet finished putting together Presidential Proclamation 1081 the night before, on Sept. 21. The next evening, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile’s car would be riddled with bullets, giving Marcos the pretext he needed to issue PD 1081. We all know today that the “Enrile ambush” was staged, as revealed by Enrile himself in 1986.
The Official Gazette also points out that as far as the public was concerned, martial law came into full force and effect on Sept. 23, 1972, even if PD 1081 was dated two days earlier. After an entire morning of eerie silence, Press Secretary Francisco Tatad read the full text of PD 1081 on the only operational television station at 3 p.m., while Marcos would appear later in the evening “to justify the massive clampdown of democratic institutions in the country.”
By then, personalities considered threats to Marcos (Senators Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Jose Diokno, Francisco Rodrigo and Ramon Mitra Jr., and members of the media such as Joaquin Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr., Maximo Soliven and Amando Doronila) had already been rounded up, starting with the arrest of Senator Aquino at midnight on Sept. 22, and going into the early morning hours of Sept. 23, when 100 of the 400 personalities targeted for arrest were already detained in Camp Crame by 4 a.m.
In the meantime, the military had shut down mass media, flights were canceled, and incoming overseas calls were prohibited.
I purposely chose the reference and research material prepared and published by the Official Gazette because, well, that’s as official as you can get. (This government office did get some flak recently for that ill-considered birthday greeting to the late dictator, but that’s a story for another time.)
As a matter of fact, historians, political analysts and social scientists here and abroad have spent time and effort to deconstruct the Marcos regime (1965-1986) and the martial law years, from Sept. 21, 1972, to its official end on Jan. 17, 1981, through Presidential Decree 2045. The might of the Marcos dictatorship, however, was in no way diminished because it continued to wield decree-making powers until it was dismantled by People Power in 1986.
The facts are there for anyone to see if one only cares to look. And yet, the misinformation that feeds the Marcos myth of a benevolent dictatorship continues to this day. We can’t deny our past. We have to face it, however horrific and complicated it may be. Otherwise, we will desecrate the present, even if we do not mean to.
Butch Hernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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