Remembering ‘National Thanksgiving Day’
Students and teachers waited for Malacañang’s announcement on the suspension of classes on Sept. 21, the anniversary of martial law, with great anticipation. While everyone enjoys a holiday, why this date? It is not enough that the generation, known as “martial law babies,” remember Sept. 21 as the date of Proclamation No. 1081 placing the country under martial law (it was actually implemented on Sept. 23), they were reared to remember the date as National Thanksgiving Day! In retrospect, there was not much to be thankful for when everything, both the pros and cons, of martial law are put in the balance.
It is quite strange to read what Marcos gleefully recorded in his diary on Friday, Sept. 21, 1973, a year from the declaration of martial law:
“A rather happy day.
“Delivered what could be one of my best speeches over TV — the State of the Nation on year after [Proclamation No.] 1081. I attach copies of the speech without the ad libs and inserts which will be set in the printed copy.
“This is the first Philippine Thanksgiving Day.”
Marcos also enclosed clippings from the Sunday Times of London on how he saved the life of the Pope during an assassination attempt at Manila International Airport:
“The London Sunday Times of Sept. 2, 1973 carries the story of the would-be assassin of Pope Paul VI Mendoza, saying I stopped him when he pulled the knife. ‘I was amazed when he hit me with his hand. It was a karate blow and terribly painful. The President was so strong, so powerful. I couldn’t believe the pain.’
“I attach the magazine pages.
“I may yet be remembered as the man who elbowed the Pope rather sharply, he almost fell — ‘Kulla’ is a more accurate term and kicked his secretary Mons. Machi on the left side of his left knee — actually intended for the assassin.”
Marcos expected widespread opposition to martial law from Day 1 and was surprised by the silence. He had planned for every eventuality and thought himself lucky or destined to rule that it emboldened him to test the limits of power and the patience of the people. On Sept. 22, 1973, Marcos set down his thoughts on the effect of luck or destiny in his life:
“I have often said achievement is but the meeting or congruence of preparation and opportunity.
“But Father Donelan told Imelda that in addition to this, I have had luck. He cites the increase in the prices of export products like copper, gold, sugar, copra, logs etc. And the fact that the floods occurred in 1972, not after Martial Law.
“I admit that I have had phenomenal luck in time of war as well as peace.
“And there must be a Guiding Hand above who has forgiven me my sins, of which I have had more than my mortal share, and led me to my destiny.
“Because all the well-nigh impossible accomplishments have seemed to be natural and fore ordained. And into the role of supposed hero in battle, top scholar, President I seemed to have gracefully moved into without the awkwardness of pushiness and over anxiety.”
One reads these words and, depending on your persuasion, can describe Marcos as a person with a sense of history or a man afflicted by megalomania. His diaries are open to two different interpretations. But not everything was easy because some justices of the Supreme Court were showing an independence he was not happy with. He wrote:
“The three Supreme Court justices, Justice [Claudio] Teehankee [Sr.], [Enrique] Fernando and [Calixto] Zaldivar who voted in the Javellana vs. Executive Secretary case to declare the new constitution as not validly ratified in the January plebiscite and thus questioning the legitimacy of the present government and my power as President to issue decrees with the effect of law, are holding on to their positions as justices in a government they consider illegal and unconstitutional.
“I asked [Secretary] of Justice Vicente Abad Santos to inquire from them if they found their continuance in their offices compatible with their opinions. But there seems to be no answer.
“Am presently studying the materials for the new book, The Constitution and Martial Law. Thus the thoughts on the three justices above-mentioned.”
Marcos took many things as an academic exercise and tried to solve things in his mind until events became unwieldy. His diaries help us understand why history unfolded they way it did.
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