9/21/72: Never forget, never again
Proclamation 1081 imposed martial law beginning Sept. 21, 1972. Congress was abolished, the Supreme Court was made moot, and one-man rule with military and police coercive force was put in place.
The image of Press Secretary Francisco Tatad reading the martial law declaration over and over on TV on Sept. 23, 1972, a Saturday, remains vivid in my mind, and perhaps in the minds of millions of other Filipinos. That was the only news on that day. The media outlets had been muzzled or shut down. Warrantless arrests were being enforced. The country was changed forever.
The Filipinos’ journey to become sovereign people, begun on June 12, 1898, was again rudely disrupted. One man’s ambition to be ruler for life and build a dynasty was pursued at the expense of a nation struggling to find its place in the free world. Exclusive control over raw power was elevated as the fundamental basis of governance.
There was violence in the streets of Manila prior to Proclamation 1081, from the brutal dispersal of protest demonstrations. The bombing of the Liberal Party’s political rally at Plaza Miranda on Aug. 21, 1971, was still fresh from the standpoint of projecting the growing unrest. As in the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983, the mastermind of the Plaza Miranda bombing may never be known. But regardless of who did it, the bombing was meant to create chaos, to justify a more sinister plot to deny Filipinos their freedom. This was the context behind Proclamation 1081 in 1972 and the events that occurred toward the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
Fast forward to Sept. 2, 2016: A bomb exploded in the Davao City night market, killing at least 14 persons and wounding scores of others. The timing is uncanny given the killings in many places nationwide, spawned by President Duterte’s war on drugs.
Will chaos again rise to an overwhelming magnitude, real or contrived, that will justify the loss of Filipino freedom again? Emergency powers for the President is today’s buzz, to allow him to confront crisis-level issues like the traffic gridlock in Metro Manila. The drug problem, bombing threats, or the alleged assassination plot on the President can be reasons to grant him greater power, too.
The President is a very powerful man. He is the commander in chief of the military and de facto head of the national police. He is the primus inter pares in the three-coequal-branches government structure. The executive branch should be able to work with the legislature and the judiciary on emergency plans that will address crisis situations without need for the additional powers provided by the 1987 Constitution. Effective and transparent leadership in all branches of the government is what the state of the nation calls for. The Constitution restricts the martial law option precisely to preempt a repeat of 9/21/72. Even the grant of emergency powers is restricted and exclusively a congressional prerogative in favor of the president, with specifications clearly defined. Under no condition will the Constitution be suspended.
The 1987 Constitution has served the country and Filipinos well with respect to providing a semblance of political stability. The people have been able to uphold and defend it against attempted amendments deemed contrary to the common good. It has sustained its substance and form even longer than the continuity of the 1935 Constitution. It is not the 1987 Constitution that has failed the people, but the leaders who swore to defend and uphold it but failed in governance. They have not served the common good, in violation of the vision enshrined in the Preamble: “… to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace….”
Marcos threw away the 1935 Constitution when he declared martial law. He had the 1973 Constitution promulgated to legitimize his one-man rule, though ratified under dubious circumstances. There are initiatives today to amend the 1987 Constitution, to consider a federal system and possibly relax the economic provisions to draw foreign investments. I daresay the flaws causing failed governance are not in the Constitution but in the elected leaders and the bureaucracy they have established. They have essentially maintained the Marcos mindset, which is power-driven and prone to corruption, as manifested in political dynasties. Politics and business, consequently, have been conspiring to exploit the ordinary men and women who have labored abroad to keep the Philippine economy afloat and growing in the last 30 years.
The first two months of the Duterte administration have been extremely busy. Many things are happening that can make or break Philippine society and upset the economic gains achieved at least at the macro level. The economic pie is much bigger now, and can provide the impetus for empowering those in the peripheries of society. The proposed 2017 national budget is close to 2.5 times its level in 2010. Social stability, peace and order will just have to be restored. The agenda of the President and the people around him will have to be made clear and transparent.
The Marcos legacy of 9/21/72 has stolen idealism from Filipinos, particularly the youth. The development of servant-leaders has been stunted, and educational and religious institutions coopted. They have not been able to counter the evolving power-driven mindset. Unless these institutions become proactive, including in transforming the basic values in the Filipino family, the country will remain in the martial-law mindset. We must never forget the evil that was 9/21/72, and we must resist any prospect that it will happen again.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant
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