Looking Back

Martial law through the eyes of Ferdinand Marcos

/ 09:28 PM September 20, 2012

Research requires a critical attitude. Whether the source is a 16th-century manuscript, a physical book, or Google, the researcher must cross-check with other sources and validate the information at hand. I remind my students that there is a lot to be found on the Internet besides porn, and that not all things that come to the top of a Google search are to be trusted without verification. Why do some people find it difficult to research when the first step is to simply punch in a keyword and potential answers to a question flood in within seconds?

Entries from the diaries of Ferdinand Marcos are to be found online in philippinediaryproject.wordpress.com, and if you have time you can browse through other first-hand accounts of Philippine history from the hands of: Antonio de las Alas, Apolinario Mabini, Edgardo J. Angara, Francis Burton Harrison, Salvador H. Laurel, Teodoro M. Locsin, and many more. There are also the sleek websites of the Malacañang Museum and the Official Gazette, managed by young people in the Presidential Communications Office that bring history closer to a wired generation.


It is fascinating to see martial law unfold through Marcos’ eyes. After Ninoy Aquino exposed “Oplan Sagittarius” on the floor of the Senate in 1972, people went to Malacañang to confirm the rumors and Marcos denied any plan for martial law. But in his diary entry written in the wee hours of Sept, 22, 1972, he described the previous day, Sept. 21, as follows:

“Delayed by the hurried visit of Joe Aspiras and Nating Barbers who came from the Northern bloc of congressmen and senators who want to know if there is going to be martial law in 48 hours as predicted by Ninoy Aquino. Of course Imelda and I denied it. But Johnny Ponce Enrile, Gen. Paz, Gen. Nanadiego, Kit Tatad and I with Piciong Tagmani doing the typing finished all the papers (the proclamation and the orders) today at 8:00 pm.


“[US] Amb. Byroade came to see me at 11:15 pm and was apparently interested to know whether there would be martial law. He seemed to favor it when I explained it is intended to primarily reform our society and eliminate the communist threat. But he suggested that a proclamation before the American elections may be used by MacGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate, as proof of the failure of the foreign policy of the present president.”

At 9:55 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1972, Marcos wrote: “Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed near Wack-Wack at about 8:00 pm tonight. It was a good thing he was riding in his security car as a protective measure. This makes the martial law proclamation a necessity.” In the heady days of Edsa 1986, Enrile was quoted as saying that this “ambush” was actually staged to give Marcos a compelling reason to declare martial law. That night, as the nation slept, martial law crept over the land.

The next day, Sept. 23, Marcos wrote in his diary:

“Things moved according to plan although out of the total 200 target personalities in the plan only 52 have been arrested, including the three senators, Aquino, Diokno and Mitra and Chino Roces and Teddy Locsin. At 7:15 pm I finally appeared on a nationwide TV and Radio broadcast to announce the proclamation of martial law, the general orders and instruction. I was supposed to broadcast at 12:00 p.m. but technical difficulties prevented it. We had closed all TV stations. We have to clear KBS which broadcast it live. VOP and PBS broadcast it by radio nationwide.”

By Sept. 25, almost everything was in place. Among many things, Marcos records his instructions to the military and a consultation with two justices of the Supreme Court on the legality of martial law:

“Met Justices Fred Ruiz Castro and Salvador Esguerra on a consulta. I told them frankly that I needed their help and counsel because we must keep all the actuations within constitutional limits. Justice Castro asked permission to ask a blunt question, ‘Is this a coup d’etat?’ and I told him that it is not but it is the exercise of an extraordinary power by the president for a situation anticipated by the constitution. Justice Esguerra said immediately that he feels that it is a legitimate exercise of martial law. And apparently reading my mind, he said, in the Merriman case, Justice Tanney had issued a writ of habeas corpus for a man who was detained on orders of President Lincoln. And President Lincoln just disregarded the judicial order. And Justice Tanney said, ‘What can we do, we are confronted by a superior authority?’ I then concluded that there must be no conflict between the two separate departments of Justice and Executive for it would be embarrassing to both. I believe that they are both of this persuasion.

“The public reaction throughout the Philippines is a welcome to martial law because of the smooth, peaceful reestablishment of peace and order and the hope of a reformed society. In fact most everyone now says this should have been done earlier. I attach the report of Boni Isip about the same result of a survey conducted by Liberal Party Leader Gerry Roxas. It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero! There is nothing as successful as success!”


Now that all the primary sources on the period are creeping out of the woodwork can we hope for a lucid and objective history of the Marcos years?

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Ferdinand Marcos, martial law, writ of habeas corpus
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