Looking Back

Recalling Marcos’ martial law

Ferdinand Marcos cast such a long and terrible shadow on the Philippines that the term “martial law” is always associated with him. Fear and suspicion over President Duterte’s recent declaration from overseas of martial law in Mindanao are fed by memories of Marcos and martial law. But contrary to popular belief, Marcos was not the first or the last to declare martial law in the Philippines: Jose P. Laurel, president of the wartime Republic, declared martial law nationwide on Sept. 21, 1944; it took effect the next day.

The dates of the Laurel and Marcos declarations are coincidental, and students taking history class should be reminded that the date of the declaration and the actual implementation are two separate things. In the case of Marcos, the document is dated Sept. 21, 1972, to conform to his lucky number “7,” such that his significant acts had to be made on a seventh day or any date divisible by 7. Depending on the source you are reading, the actual signing of Proclamation 1081 could have been Sept. 17 (postdated) or Sept. 23 (backdated).


Martial law also stretches back into the Spanish colonial period. Few people know that martial law is referenced in our flag. Contrary to popular belief, the sun’s eight rays do not refer to “the eight provinces that first rose in revolution against Spain.” Rather, these refer to: Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Manila, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Tarlac—the eight provinces placed under martial law by Spanish Governor-General Ramon Blanco, Marques de Peña Plata, on Aug. 30, 1896, following the outbreak of the revolution led by Andres Bonifacio a week earlier.

Now that it is feared that Mr. Duterte will extend martial law from Mindanao to cover the entire Philippines, to address the threat of IS, people are looking back at Marcos and martial law. But no one seems to have the patience to read the entire 20 pages of legal justification in Marcos’ Proclamation 1081 to get an idea of the situation at the time—real or imagined—that made martial law possible. The first wordy paragraph reads:


“Whereas, on the basis of carefully evaluated and verified information, it is definitely established that lawless elements who are moved by a common or similar ideological conviction, design, strategy and goal and enjoying the active moral and material support of a foreign power and being guided and directed by intensely devoted, well trained, determined and ruthless groups of men and seeking refuge under the protection of our constitutional liberties to promote and attain their ends, have entered into a conspiracy and have in fact joined and banded their resources and forces together for the prime purpose of, and in fact they have been and are actually staging, undertaking and waging an armed insurrection and rebellion against the Government of the Republic of the Philippines in order to forcibly seize political and state power in this country, overthrow the duly constituted government, and supplant our existing political, social, economic and legal order with an entirely new one whose form of government, whose system of laws, whose conception of God and religion, whose notion of individual rights and family relations, and whose political, social, economic, legal and moral precepts are based on the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist teachings and beliefs;”

The word “whereas” appears 22 times before you can get to the operative part of the document where Marcos declares martial law. All throughout it Marcos raises the specter of communism to scare the people and justify martial law following 18 bombings in Metro Manila from March to September 1972 and the assassination attempt on then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile that, depending on the source you are reading, was either staged or authentic.

One will be surprised that there is so much history embedded in the Marcos martial law document, but there is so much more that is not in it. So many other strands in the story have to be woven together to provide a clear and complete picture: other official and unofficial documents, newspaper accounts, memoirs, and memories of ordinary people.  We need to know and to remember what made Marcos and martial law possible.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, Ferdinand Marcos, Inquirer Opinion, Jose P. Laurel, Looking Back, martial law, Mindanao martial law, Rodrigo Duterte
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