Remembering 9/21/72 an act of folly
It’s the season for remembering Sept. 21, 1972.
“Among the important events of the past 50 years, including the end of World War II, none is perhaps better remembered than the imposition of martial law. That happened 23 years ago today,” read the editorial of this newspaper on Sept. 21, 1995. On the same day, the Inquirer’s Conrado de Quiros wrote in his column: “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…”
A couple of years back I heard broadcaster Rey Langit recount that as he was coming out of his birthday party at ABS-CBN in the wee hours of Sept. 21, 1972, he saw a column of tanks approaching the broadcast station. He would learn hours later that a military unit had closed down ABS-CBN.
Actually, in the Greater Manila Area, as the metropolis was then called, Sept. 21, 1972, was like any other weekday. Business, slowed down by the floodwaters in the past weeks, was buzzing again. The 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. No military convoy went to ABS-CBN that morning.
The following day was no different, except maybe at the Asian Institute of Management where I was a full-time member of the faculty. Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was in school in the afternoon of that day as guest speaker of the graduating class. The senator drew a large crowd of students, professors and school staff because he was not only the archcritic of President Ferdinand Marcos, he was also the presumptive standard-bearer of the opposition Liberal Party in the election scheduled in 1973, and the expected winner, as Marcos was banned by the 1935 Constitution from seeking a third term.
There were as many as 16 military officers at the AIM on that day. They were not there to secure the school or to arrest Senator Aquino. They were there as regular students of the AIM’s master in business management program.
A number of them would become generals many years later. A few would rise to prominence, like Capt. Angelo Reyes, who would become chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and subsequently secretary of national defense; Lt. Col. Juanito Dator, who would head the Logistics Command; and Lt. Rufo de Veyra, who would become superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy. Two Air Force majors enrolled in the institute at the time would also gain fame, but for a bad deed: Oscar Canlas would lead a rebel force that took control of Channel 7 in February 1986, and Jose Commendador, who would become commander of the 2nd Air Division but who, as one of the coup plotters, would lay siege to Mactan Air Base.
I distinctly remember that speaking engagement of Senator Aquino because I was conducting a class in the room next to the hall where he was sharing his vision of “The Philippines After Marcos.” His bodyguards had spilled into the hallways, their high-powered arms distracting my students. After the senator’s harangue against Marcos, Dean Gabino Mendoza invited him to the faculty lounge. There he told his enthralled audience of professors and student leaders that he didn’t think Marcos would put the country under martial law, not until 1973.
From the school, Senator Aquino went to the Manila Hilton for a meeting. There, at around midnight, he was arrested, at about the same time the other bitter critics of Marcos like Senators Jose Diokno, Soc Rodrigo, and Ramon Mitra, and newspapermen Teodoro Locsin, Chino Roces and Max Soliven were being rounded up by Metrocom operatives and media establishments were being closed down by military detachments.
Martial law was imposed at dawn of Sept. 23, 1972. It was much later when Marcos claimed that he had signed Proclamation 1081 on Sept. 21. He had a fetish for the number 7. The number 21 is divisible by 7, unlike 23. The numerals 2 and 3 do not add up to 7. Marcos chose 21 also because it was on Sept. 21, 1939, that the Nalundasan murder charge against him was dismissed.
Sept. 21 was therefore only a product of Marcos’ penchant for romanticizing events. To put significance on that uneventful date is to put oneself under the spell of Marcos. In the belief that the Filipino people are under the spell of Marcos, his son Bongbong is seriously considering running for president in May 2016, cocksure that the Filipino people, supposedly grateful for the achievements of his father, would elect him president. After all, just a year after people power chased the Marcos family out of the country, the people allowed the remnants of the Marcos dictatorship like Juan Ponce Enrile to sneak their way into positions of power.
Today, the vestiges of the Marcos apparatus are very evident in Congress. The Senate counts among its members Bongbong himself, Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, and the scions of Marcos cohorts Edgardo Angara, Renato Cayetano, Salvador Escudero and Joseph Estrada. In the House of Representatives are Imelda Marcos and the offspring of the warlords of the martial law era.
When Marcos ruled over the land, foreigners referred to the Philippines as the country of 60 million fools ruled by a rascal. Now the Philippines can be described as the country of 100 million dummies manipulated by a puppeteer long dead.
Oscar P. Lagman Jr. is a business consultant, management professor and political activist.