Looking Back

Martial law replay?

It is odd how President Duterte can say something at the beginning of a sentence only to roar its exact opposite at the end of it. He said he would comply with a Supreme Court ruling and lift martial law if it was decreed unconstitutional, but warned that the second time he declares martial law he will not listen to anyone who opposes it. In 1972 the Supreme Court sought to review the martial law proclamation, but Marcos got them to do a 180-degree turn by threatening to declare a revolutionary government.

Contrary to popular belief, four months after the implementation of martial law, Marcos lost sleep guessing how the Court would judge on the validity of the new Constitution.


On Jan. 22, 1973, he wrote in his diary: “The petitions against the ratification of the new constitution have been dismissed by the Supreme Court but the court has opened the question of validity by calling for new petitions to be filed directly raising the issue of validity. I place in Envelope XLII-B the decision, the news report in Times Journal which distorts the decision and my statement. The decision may push us to a revolutionary government as it erodes my authority and credibility.”

Tuesday, Jan. 23, 1973, Marcos was so busy he missed the Joe Frazier-George Foreman fight and had to settle for a replay. After playing golf in the afternoon he met with Justices Antonio Barredo, Felix Makasiar, Felix Antonio and Salvador Esguerra till 2:30 a.m. “to determine the chances of avoiding a revolutionary government.” Earlier Secretaries Juan Ponce Enrile, Vicente Abad Santos and Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza had drafted the government position “on the Ramon Gonzales petition of prohibition and injunction against Decree 1102 on the ratification of the new constitution. This has caused us worry as it might push us to a revolutionary government.”


Jan. 24, 1973: “Had as usual only 6 hours sleep and seem to be tense because of the possible constitutional crisis that may come out of an adverse Supreme Court decision on the petition against the ratification of the new constitution. So I worked up to 12:00 a.m on the presentation of the problems we are facing and the absolute necessity of referring the matter to the citizen’s assemblies as well as the possible approaches and solutions. Then worked on the orders implementing the New Constitution.”

Thursday, Jan. 25, 1973: “Finished dictating the briefing I am going to give to the Supreme Court Justices on Monday for dinner.”

Friday, Jan. 26, 1973: “Chief Justice [Roberto] Concepcion plans to resign on the insistence of Sec. Vicente Abad Santos to comply with the new constitution by transferring the administration of all the courts to the Supreme Court.”

Saturday, Jan. 27, 1973: “Chief Justice Concepcion is sick in the hospital and may not be able to attend the dinner on Monday.

“It is apparent that the other justices are in favor of dismissing the petitions questioning the validity of the ratification of the New Constitution. But they want to be assured of their continuance in office under the new constitution with new appointments. And they are under the influence of Justice J. B. L. Reyes who although retired as of last year still holds office at the Supreme Court. But everybody else has accepted the new constitution and as we put it in the dinner conference we held tonight, how do the justices expect us to ‘unscramble the eggs already scrambled’? We have to handle them with finesse as the Supreme Court might become the rallying point of the opponents of reform.”

Monday Jan. 29, 1973: “The dinner with the Justices without Chief Justice Concepcion who is sick in Sto. Tomas Hospital turned out well. Casually I turned into the problems the country was facing requiring an unquestioned position of leadership for negotiations. As Justice Fred Ruiz Castro said, “I get the message, Mr. President.”

With that remark, Marcos had the cat in the bag. The new Constitution was valid and later ratified by “citizens assemblies,” rather than in a plebiscite he feared he would lose.


All legal impediments thrown by the Supreme Court were swept away by the end of the first quarter 1973. Marcos was supreme.

The Sereno Court works under a different Constitution and another president. Let’s hope it can stop a replay of Marcos’ martial law.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Duterte, martial law, opinion, SC, Sereno, Supreme Court
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