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Sept. 23, not Sept. 21

/ 05:04 AM September 26, 2019

Last Saturday, Sept. 21, the Inquirer editorial opened with, “Despite the passage of time, there are still enough Filipinos who remember where they were and what they were doing when President Ferdinand Marcos announced the declaration of martial law.” In that same Sept. 21 issue, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz wrote in her column, “The arrest and detention of … Senators Ninoy Aquino and Jose W. Diokno began on Sept. 21, 47 years ago today.”

That was not the first time the Inquirer observed the imposition of martial law on Sept. 21. In 1995, the Inquirer’s editorial on Sept. 21 went this way: “Among the important events of the past 50 years … none is perhaps better remembered than the imposition of martial law 23 years ago today.” On the same page, columnist Conrado de Quiros wrote under the title “September 21, 1972”: “The day Marcos declared martial law, a pall of silence quite literally fell on Manila. The TV was dead, and nothing came off the radio but static. Nobody was there to deliver the papers.”

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In that same issue, Inquirer’s sports columnist Chito dela Vega wrote: “On Sept. 21, 1972, Marcos declared martial law. It was Thursday, exactly 23 years ago. How can I forget that day?”

The hard fact is that Dela Vega got it all wrong.

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I had written in a commentary that appeared in the Opinion section of this paper that commemorating Sept. 21 as a significant day is an act of folly.

Sept. 21, 1972, was like any ordinary weekday. Business, slowed down by the floodwaters the past weeks, was buzzing again. Government was functioning normally. Congress and the constitutional convention were in session. Schools were open. Newspapers were delivered to homes and sold in the streets. All broadcast stations were airing their regular programs.

The following day was no different, except maybe at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. was in school in the afternoon of that day as guest speaker of the graduating class. There were as many as 16 military officers in the school that day. They were not there to secure the school or to arrest Aquino. They were there as regular students of the Master in Business Management program of the institute.

I distinctly remember that speaking engagement of Aquino because I was conducting class in the room next to the hall where he was sharing his vision of “The Philippines after Marcos.” After his harangue against Marcos, Dean Gabino Mendoza invited him to the faculty lounge.  There, he told his audience of professors that he didn’t think Marcos would place the country under martial law, not until 1973.

From AIM, Aquino went to Hilton Hotel for a meeting. There, at past midnight, he was arrested, at about the same time other bitter critics of Marcos like senators Jose Diokno and Soc Rodrigo, and newspapermen Teodoro Locsin, Chino Roces and Max Soliven were being rounded up.

Martial law was imposed at dawn of Saturday, Sept. 23, 1972, and was announced only at dusk of that day by Marcos. He claimed days later that he had signed Proclamation No. 1081 on Sept. 21. But on another occasion, he told a group of historians that he signed it on Sept. 17.

Marcos had a fetish for the numeral 7. The number 21 is divisible by 7, unlike 23. Sept. 21, therefore, is only the product of Marcos’ penchant for romanticizing events. So, even “Sept. 21” is a date of dubious significance.

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The Inquirer’s Sept. 21, 2019, editorial closed with, “Still, on this anniversary of the declaration of martial law, the country would do well to keep the flame of remembrance alive, and keep reminding the Marcoses that they have yet to atone for the ‘lost’ years of martial law.”

I think the Inquirer would do well to check with its longtime columnist Randy David, who had a fretful face-to-face encounter with the agents of martial law on its very first hour, as to when exactly martial law was imposed, that it may stop once and for all the folly of observing the anniversary of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21.

* * *

Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Marcos martial law, Oscar P. Lagman Jr.
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