Remember Sept. 23 | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Remember Sept. 23

/ 05:10 AM September 23, 2017

Today is the exact forty-fifth anniversary of the start of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime, which happened on Sept. 23, 1972.  That was, just like today, a Saturday.

For those with a reason to remember the true start of that awful regime, the proper day for it is not Sept. 21 but today (“Forget Sept. 21,” Opinion, 9/27/14). The number 21, being divisible by 7, was merely one of Mr. Marcos’ lucky numbers. Let’s stop letting him set which date to remember.


On Sept. 21 and 22, 1972, the newspapers, television and radio still operated freely. But starting Sept. 23, 1972, they no longer did, having been forcibly shut down by the military on the night of 22/23.  Mass arrests of oppositionist elements started that night. A nationwide curfew went into force, from the night of 23/24.

Martial law at present is different from what it was in 1972.  The 1987 Constitution put extra restrictions on it, such as forbidding warrantless arrests.  Mindanao, where martial law was declared last May 23 for 60 days on account of the Maute group’s armed occupation of Marawi City, and later extended to the end of the year, is governed by civilians, not soldiers.


In Mindanao, the mass media continue to operate; there are no mass arrests, and there is no island-wide curfew.  The military—in contrast to the police—appears to have been well-behaved.

President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao is popular with the people, but not his hint—and who can say when he is serious or only fooling around?—of extending it to other parts of the country.  (See “57% support PRRD’s declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, but more than 6 out of 10 oppose expanding it to Visayas and Luzon,”, posted on 7/11/17.)

It seems to me that the participants and supporters of protests on Sept. 21 this week are worried not about martial law specifically but about authoritarian tendencies generally—disdain for law, the sense of impunity.  If so, then the exact date does not matter so much.

Bear in mind that Filipinos reject authoritarianism. In the latest nationwide Social Weather Survey, done last June 23-26, 61 percent of the respondents answered that “Democracy is always preferable to any other kind of government,” whereas only 19 percent answered that “Under some circumstances, an authoritarian government can be preferable to a democratic one,” and 20 percent answered that “For people like me, it does not matter whether we have a democratic or a non-democratic regime,” when asked to choose from the three options.

This shows a solid 3-to-1 preference of Filipinos for democracy over authoritarianism, even though the latter is qualified by the phrase “under some circumstances.”  The many SWS surveys using this item in the past three decades have always found a strong Filipino preference for democracy.

Affirmation of democracy over authoritarianism persists in all main geographic areas, socioeconomic classes and age groups.  It rises with education, and reaches an immense 5-to-1 ratio among college graduates.

Opinion pollsters cannot be neutral on the issue of democracy versus authoritarianism. Opinion polling is an instrument for promoting and enhancing democracy.  It thrives in a democratic ambience, and wilts otherwise (see “Surveys suppressed by martial law,” Opinion, 10/6/12).


It is out of fundamental self-interest that Social Weather Stations, a politically nonpartisan institute, opposes authoritarianism.

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TAGS: marawi city, marcos, martial law, Mass media, Mindanao, Sept. 21
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