A sense of ‘deja vu’ | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

A sense of ‘deja vu’

/ 03:26 AM September 21, 2016

I was surprised by the big turnout for my lecture on Ferdinand Marcos a few weeks ago. It was the first time we had to turn people away. The Makati Fire Department had classified me as a fire hazard and warned the Ayala Museum not to fill up the hall as we used to, with over 700 people being the highest on record. People must be tired of Rizal and the late 19th century and want to know more contemporary history to help them make sense of the present.

I have yet to read the recent Time magazine cover story titled “Night falls on the Philippines.” As a historian, I wonder if Time did similar coverage during the martial law period, but then at that time censorship was rigid and we got our news from banned issues of Time and Newsweek that were quietly passed from hand to hand, very much like Filipinos did with Rizal’s novels in the Spanish colonial era. The internet has made most everything accessible, but then this, too, can be censored or at least filtered by some algorithm, such that we get what our Search History says we like.


Not many people know that I started writing at the tail-end of the Marcos years, and that I was a staffer at the Philippines Daily Express weekend magazine who also wrote for the alternative press, like Veritas and Mr&Ms under a different name. History in those censored years was considered safe, but then as now perceptive readers can see that I comment on the present using the past.

Working on the Marcos diaries at the moment gives one a sense of deja vu because the situations seem quite similar. Some people say the recent (Sept. 2) bombing in Davao City that led to a declaration of a state of lawlessness echoes the Plaza Miranda bombing on Aug. 21, 1971, and it is quite uncanny that Ninoy Aquino, who was not present at the time of the bombing, was assassinated on Aug. 21, 1983. The bogeyman for the Marcos period was the communists, and for the Duterte period, drug users and pushers. President Duterte’s threat to declare martial law or a revolutionary government that would give him full powers without the check and balance we enjoy in a democracy was also around before the declaration of martial law in 1972.


Although they have to be read with caution, being self-referential and biased accounts, the Marcos diaries provide historians with a ringside seat to those dark years. Then as now, one of the few institutions that we look up to is the Supreme Court, and in 1972 some justices wanted to clarify the constitutionality of martial law. Writing at 1:25 a.m. in Malacañang on Sept. 25, 1972, Marcos recounted the events of the day:

“[Pepe] Diokno, Chino Roces, Max Soliven etc. [who were arrested and jailed together with others deemed in opposition to Marcos] have filed a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus before the Supreme Court.

“I asked Justice[s] Claudio Teehankee, Antonio Barredo, Felix Makasiar and Felix Antonio to see me. They insisted that the government should submit to the Supreme Court for the Court to review the constitutionality of the Proclamation of Martial Law, Proclamation No. 1081.

“So I told them in the presence of [Secretaries Juan] Ponce Enrile and Vicente Abad Santos as well as {Solicitor General] Estelito Mendoza that if necessary  I would formally declare the establishment of a revolutionary government so that I can formally disregard the actions of the Supreme Court.

“They insisted that we retain a color of constitutionality for everything that we do. But I feel that they are still image building and do not understand that a new day has dawned. While they claim to be for a reformed society, they are not too motivated but are too bound by technical legalism.

“I have amended both {General] Orders [Numbers] 1 and 3 to assume all powers of government including legislation and judicial and clearly excluded cases involving the constitutionality of my acts from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court… I signed the decree (No. 1) to promulgate the Law on the Reorganization of the Government.

“Tomorrow I will sign the decrees promulgating the new Civil Service Rules, the Rehabilitation and  Reconstruction Law, the Land Reform Funding and dismiss  some judges, the CIR Judges, Public Service Commission…”


The next day, Marcos wrote:

“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 is 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 Merryman case, Justice Taney 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 Taney said, ‘What can we do, we are confronted  by 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.”

One could say that the Supreme Court then blinked on this one, but again the Supreme Court does not have the police and military to enforce its decisions.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Davao bombing, Davao explosion, déjà vu, Ferdinand Marcos, martial law, Ninoy Aquino, plaza Miranda bombing
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