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Looking Back
Martial law in 1896

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:05:00 12/17/2009

Filed Under: Martial Law, Military, history

IF Filipino memory is painfully short, our historical memory is even worse. It is almost non-existent. Filipinos think 20 years is old and antiquated when other cultures like China, Japan, or India don?t just reckon in centuries, their memory goes back millennia.

Listening to the interventions in the joint session of Congress called to deliberate on the recent declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, one would have thought our historical memory stretched only to 1972, to Ferdinand Marcos and Proclamation 1081. Nobody seemed to have thought of the afternoon of Aug. 30, 1896 when Spanish Governor-General Ramon Blanco declared a state of war in the eight provinces now commemorated in our flag.

Almost everyone knows that Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino traveled to the Philippines with a passport that had a false name: ?Marcial Bonifacio.? The first came for martial law, the surname for Fort Bonifacio where Ninoy had once been detained.

If you visit Emilio Aguinaldo?s eccentric home in Kawit, Cavite, you will come upon a House of Memory, every nook and cranny filled or decorated with images, texts and symbols to remind you of the Philippine Revolution, the Philippine-American War, and the still-born First Philippine Republic of which he was president. The ceiling of Aguinaldo?s grand living and dining room are filled with all sorts of reminders. On the ceiling of the dining room is a relief map of the Philippines with an assortment of colors to rival a sapin-sapin from Malabon. There must have been some sort of color-coding scheme here now lost to history.

Cavite is painted in red. On the living room ceiling closest to what is now known as the ?Independence Balcony? where the declaration of independence is reenacted each year on June 12, there is a wonderful relief depicting a young woman, Inang Bayan or ?Filipinas,? holding a flag. In the foreground is a broken chain, symbolic of Philippine independence from Spain, and in the background a sun rising from a crowd of mountains, signaling the ?bukang liwayway? or crack of dawn that points to a hopeful future. At the center of the living room is another wood relief marked ?Ley Marcial? (Martial Law). Eight lightning bolts radiate from the center and are marked: Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija. These eight provinces are now commemorated in the eight rays of our flag, unless Sen. Richard Gordon has his way and adds a ninth ray to the sun for Muslim Mindanao, a historical distortion rejected by the congressman from Jolo.

Don Ramon Blanco y Erenas, Marques de Peńa Plata, governor and captain-general of the Philippines, states in the proclamation: ?The acts of rebellion of which armed bodies of the people have been guilty during the last few days at different points of the territory of this province, seriously disturbing public tranquility, make it imperative that the most severe and exemplary measures be taken to suppress at its inception an attempt as criminal as futile.?

In the first article, he declared a state of war in the eight provinces mentioned above. This was followed by nine other articles describing rebels and their acts as well as how they are to be treated: ?Any person accused of crimes contrary to public order, treason, acts which endanger the peace and independence of the State or against the form of Government, offenses against or disrespect to the authorities and their agents, and the ordinary crimes committed during a rebellion or uprising shall be subject to martial law.?

Aside from those guilty of open rebellion as stated above, Blanco added that ?those who are found on, or who had been at the scene of an action, and those who are captured fleeing or in hiding, after having been with the rebels, shall be treated as presumably guilty.? That seems to cover almost everyone, including the aged, infirm, women and children.

Blanco provided a 48-hour grace period from the publication of the proclamation for rebels to surrender and be free from punishment or penalty except, of course, the leaders of the rebels or accomplices in the crimes of rebellion, and those who had committed violence in those turbulent days. Those who surrendered also had to renounce their acts and denounce others to claim exemption from punishment.

Finally, Blanco warned that ?every suspicious group which may be formed shall be resolutely dispersed by force; such persons as do not surrender, being arrested and subject to the orders of the military authorities.? The times looked troubled indeed, but the government continued to function with administrative and judicial authorities exercising their mandate except in cases of public order where the military took over. This was the state of martial law in 1896 resulting from the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution.

This column was requested by a regular and very observant reader who also asked who among President Macapagal-Arroyo?s speech-writers came up with the fighting words, ?We make no apologies for acting where others fear to tread.? The reader suggested that Ms Arroyo should give this speech-writer a copy of the Oxford Book of Quotations for Christmas so that he or she won?t embarrass the President again. The original phrase from Alexander Pope goes, ?Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.?

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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