Looking Back

Memories of martial law

/ 08:38 PM September 24, 2013

Recent articles by Fernando del Mundo in the Inquirer and Maritess Vitug on Rappler provide Generation X a first-person account of the declaration of martial law in September 1972. This seems like ancient history to my students who were not even born yet when what can best be described as the Philippine “Dark Ages” were swept away by People Power on Edsa in 1986. My students are too polite to verbalize it, but when I teach them about the late 19th century, our heroes, and the birth of the nation, they imagine I should be as old as a dinosaur.

History is taught in the classroom to help us remember the long march to nationhood, and in that narrative we see how Filipinos have stumbled along the way and risen again and again, seeking to form the nation we fail to be. Students should be taught that history does not repeat itself, that we should stop laying the blame on history because it is we who keep repeating it.


Getting history across requires engaged and engaging storytelling. However, it is not enough to know and remember kasaysayan; rather, students must go beyond the salaysay or story into the saysay or the sense or meaning of history. Historians do research and try to express the data in a compelling narrative that helps people understand the past so that they can be liberated from history. How do we escape from the clutches of the past? That is a question I pose each time I enter a classroom, each time I send a column to this space.

I was 11 when martial law was declared. I remember being happy about it because classes were suspended and there was no turbulent weather to keep me indoors. I did not find it weird that there was nothing on TV and radio, but it was remarkable that Edsa was empty. Curious, I walked out our gate and crossed Edsa to the empty lot where Trinoma now stands. Where was everyone? It seemed like the world was standing still. Frightened, I ran back indoors and was told to stay put. The adults were visibly worried but didn’t explain why. Later in the day Ferdinand Marcos appeared on TV—black and white at the time—saying he had declared martial law. I did not understand the term at the time, and I don’t remember how it was explained to us in school.


I am a “martial law baby,” one in a generation that remembers Sept. 21 as a holiday—National Thanksgiving Day. (Sept. 21 was when Marcos supposedly signed Presidential Decree No. 1081 placing the Philippines under martial law, but the actual implementation and announcement was made on Sept. 23.) Martial law babies were taught slogans like “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.” We were told not to mess around with these slogans because a popular TV host publicly rephrased it into “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan” and was forced by the military to do rounds on a bike until his tongue hung out in fear and exhaustion.

We were also made to plant vegetables in a program called “Green Revolution.” Some of us were fed “nutribuns.” Aside from “Lupang Hinirang” we also learned the hymn to the “Bagong Lipunan.” Even our historical and linguistic consciousness were altered when we were taught that “KKK” was a livelihood program rather than the acronym for Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan. “Pag-ibig,” which previously only meant “love,” took on a second meaning as a housing program. It was the same thing for “Bliss,” which had a meaning in an English dictionary different from its usage in the Philippines. Was it more fun in the Philippines then?

This year on the anniversary of the declaration of martial law, I decided to share what Marcos wrote at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, 1973:

“A rather happy day.

“Delivered what could be one of my best speeches over TV—the State of the Nation one year after 1081. I attach copies of the speech without the adlibs and inserts which will be set in the printed copy.

“This is the first Philippine Thanksgiving Day.

“And I invited the originals to a mass and luncheon. The mass was solemn and a soulful rededication while the luncheon was a light recounting of the ‘kasalan’ and ‘handa na ang aking barong tagalog’—wala pa ba—atras, sulong urong’!! [What do these private jokes mean?-AO]


“Video taping at 4.30-5.30 PM of the speech.

“Had to forego pelota but jogged and exercised at the gym.

“The London Sunday Times of September 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.”

While it is interesting to read the September 1972 entries each year to remind us never to have martial law again, it is more important to read the diaries whole, to understand how Marcos’ thinking changed from 1969 to 1984 in the diaries I have at hand. Marcos also surely kept diaries before 1969 and after 1984. Where are these? Compiling and collating the Marcos diaries will keep me busy long after I have finished my Rizal project and retired from teaching.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, column, Ferdinand Marcos, marcos diaries, martial law
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