Attention millennials: You ain’t seen nothing yet
They make up about a third of the Philippine population today. Born between the 1980s and the 2000s, this generation composed of Filipinos in their mid-teens to their mid-thirties was the first to come of age in the new millennium. They also share one other characteristic: None of them was around when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, which was “lifted” in 1981 but remained in force until Marcos was ousted from Malacañang in the history-changing bloodless Edsa People Power Revolution of February 1986.
Some martial law-related facts that millennials should know and ask.
- Oplan Sagittarius
Operation Plan (“Oplan”) Sagittarius, allegedly Marcos’ master plan to seize power, was exposed in a privilege speech at the Senate by Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on Sept. 15, 1972, a few days before martial law was declared. Under the plan, Greater Manila and the towns of Rizal and the entire Bulacan province would be put under military control. Widely recognized as Marcos’ main political rival, Aquino was also among the first, if not the first, to be arrested immediately upon the imposition of martial law.
- Rolex 12
The “Rolex 12” was a group of military and civilian advisers, that included Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary (PC) Chief Fidel Ramos, who helped Marcos plan martial law. The rest of the Rolex 12 were Gen. Fabian Ver; Armed Forces Chief Gen. Romeo Espino; Army chief Maj. Gen. Rafael Zagala; Maj. Gen. Ignacio Paz, head of Army intelligence; Air Force Maj. Gen. Jose Rancudo; Navy Rear Adm. Hilario Ruiz; Brig. Gen. Tomas Diaz, head of a key PC unit; Brig. Gen. Alfredo Montoya, head of the Manila Metropolitan Command; Col. Romeo Gatan, commander of the PC in Tarlac; and businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, the only other civilian in the group after Enrile.
Why Rolex? The story goes that each of the 12 received a Rolex watch from Marcos himself. This has been denied repeatedly, but the name has stuck.
- Enrile ambush: Real or fake?
Just before 9 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1972, Enrile was in a convoy of cars going to his Dasmariñas Village home in Makati when he was reportedly “ambushed” by “communist terrorists” who shot at one of the cars in the convoy. Enrile escaped unharmed. However, he would later admit at a press conference with Ramos on Feb. 22, 1986, when he announced his break with Marcos, that the ambush had been staged.
But then, in his memoir published in 2012, 40 years after the declaration of martial law, Enrile denied that the ambush had been staged. “This is a lie that has gone around for far too long such that it has acquired acceptance as the truth … . This accusation is ridiculous and preposterous,” Enrile said in his book. Whatever the truth about the ambush, one thing cannot be denied—Marcos said the Enrile ambush was the final straw, so to speak, that led to the declaration of martial law.
- Sept. 21, 22, 23, or 17? When was martial law declared?
Was Proclamation No. 1081, the proclamation that placed the country under martial law, signed by President Marcos on Sept. 21, Sept. 22, or Sept. 17, 1972?
The main document of the proclamation bears the date Sept. 21, in keeping with Marcos’ known obsession with numerology. He apparently wanted the fateful date to be divisible by his lucky number 7.
However, according to Marcos’ diary, the Enrile “ambush” on the evening of Sept. 22, 1972, made the “martial law proclamation a necessity.”
Proclamation No. 1081 was only formally announced on Sept. 23, with Press Secretary Francisco Tatad going over television and radio to read the proclamation at 3 p.m. That was about 15 hours after the arrest of Aquino about 12:10 a.m. Marcos himself went on air at 7 p.m. for the formal announcement of the proclamation. He then imposed a curfew and banned public demonstrations, among many other things.
In Raymond Bonner’s book, “Waltzing with the Dictator,” the author writes of an interview he had with Enrile in which the defense secretary recalled that he and acting Executive Secretary Roberto Reyes witnessed Marcos signing the martial law proclamation on the morning of Sept. 23.
The Bangkok Post in a series of articles called “The Aquino Papers” published on Feb. 20-22, 1973, wrote that Proclamation No. 1081 had been signed on Sept. 17, post-dated to Sept. 21. Journalist Primitivo Mijares also mentioned in his book that Marcos had said as much in an address to a conference of historians in January 1973.
- New Society inspired by Mao?
As a song about the New Society goes—“May bagong silang, may bago nang buhay, bagong bansa, bagong galaw sa bagong Lipunan. Nagbabago ang lahat tungo sa pag-unlad at ating itanghal bagong lipunan”—Marcos envisioned the dawning of a new age for the Philippines. But where did he get his inspiration for a reformed new society?
Aquino in his “Testament from a Prison Cell,” wrote that “in Peking (Beijing) in an address before the disciples of the Great Helmsman, Marcos unabashedly admitted that his New Society was greatly inspired by the ‘invincible’ thoughts and ideas of Chairman Mao.”
Aquino quoted Marcos: “I am confident that I shall leave inspired and encouraged in our modest endeavor in the creation of a New Society for our people, for the transformation of China under the leadership of Chairman Mao Tse-tung is indeed the most noble monument to the invincibility of an idea supported by the force of human spirit.”
This is confusing to students of history. Marcos had declared an all-out war against the communist New People’s Army because of its adherence to the so-called Mao Tse-tung Thought (MTT). And hundreds of student activists had been arrested and imprisoned as suspected believers of MTT, or for having a copy of Mao’s Red Book.
- A dangerous time for free expression
What freedom of expression? As veteran journalist Luis Teodoro put it, there was “only the hiss of empty air” over the radio and no newspapers outside their doors when people woke up on the morning of Sept. 23, 1972.
One of Marcos’ very first official acts following the announcement of martial law was the issuance of Letter of Instructions No. 1, which banned privately owned media facilities and communications “for propaganda purposes against the government.”
With martial law in place, Philippine media was under siege. Marcos controlled all sources of information through the Philippine News Agency and Department of Public Information. A Media Advisory Council was also in place as the agency that authorized mass media operations, and as the agency that reminded media about stories that should not be published. Military censors sat inside the newsrooms beside the editors and reviewed newspapers before publication.
Apart from Senators Aquino, Jose Diokno and Ramon Mitra, also among those arrested and detained in the first few days of martial law were members of media—publishers Joaquin Roces and Teodoro Locsin Sr.; journalists Amando Doronila, Max Soliven and Luis Beltran; and broadcaster Jose Mari Velez, to name a few.
In Metro Manila, seven English dailies, three Filipino dailies, one English-Filipino daily, seven English weekly magazines, one Spanish daily, four Chinese dailies, three business publications, one news service and seven television stations were closed. In the provinces 60 community newspapers and 292 radio stations were closed.
Most of the television and newspapers in the country were eventually “bought” or taken over by Marcos cronies and relatives, also placing them under his control.
Even gossip could land you in jail. Issued in 1973, General Order No. 19 says: “Any person who shall utter, publish, distribute, circulate and spread rumors, false news and information and gossip … may be arrested or detained.”
- Jingle most credible
With the credibility of Marcos-controlled media at an all-time low, Jingle Magazine became the most credible reading material during martial law. It was ostensibly a “chordbook”—it had all-in-one guitar chords centerfold in every issue—so kids could learn to play the latest pop hits on their guitars.
Jingle was one of the publications closed down when martial law was declared. Resurrected after a lot of pleading and bargaining, and renamed Twinkle for a short while, the magazine initially toed the line of “redeeming values” that martial law censors harped on.
In no time—perhaps because it couldn’t help itself—Jingle was back with its offerings of the latest songs with chords and lyrics (including some underground leftist anthems), a collection of contributed green jokes, music news, rants and raves from readers, some poetry, and fierce reviews of recent vinyl record releases and Chordian Angel rating—the most execrable being marked with a huge fly (bangaw).
Thus, for at least two generations, this publication served as a virtual music bible for young people who wanted to learn to play the guitar, check out the lyrics of their favorite songs before karaoke made that possible, and on the side, moon the martial law regime with the cheeky jokes and cartoons of its smart-ass staff.
Founded by Gilbert Guillermo in 1970, Jingle became the precursor to the many alternative publications that mushroomed after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983.
- From oligarchs to cronies
Marcos had blamed the oligarchs—the small dominant class of Filipinos that held vast economic and political power against the many who were poor and powerless—for most of the ills of the Old Society, the term he used to describe the Philippines before martial law. Next to the communists, they were the main enemies of martial law. In his book, “The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines,” Marcos said there was an urgent need for “the democratization of wealth.”
But in the book “Testament from a Prison Cell,” Aquino said only one member of the oligarchy had been jailed (Eugenio Lopez Jr.) and that the properties of his own family were taken by Marcos, his family and his cronies. Crony became the term used to refer to the instant new millionaires during martial law—those who, according to Aquino, were “plundering financing institutions to finance their corporate raiding and various takeover schemes.” They were the ones “awarded timber, mining and oil concessions and vast tracts of rich government agricultural and urban lands” and “lush government construction contracts.”
After the Edsa Revolution, the properties of the Marcos cronies were sequestered. As of 2002, the value of sequestered companies and assets reached P223 billion. They include assets connected with Lucio Tan, Bienvenido and Gliceria Tantoco, Geronimo Velasco, Andres V. Genito, Fe Roa Gimenez, Jose Africa and Manuel Nieto, Ricardo Silverio, Rodolfo Cuenca, the late Fabian Ver, Edward Marcelo, Emilio Yap, Luz Bakunawa, Peter Sabido, Maximo Argana, Vicente Chuidian and Alfonso Lim.
- Imelda, first MMDA chair (and more)
With the imposition of martial law, first lady Imelda Marcos’ influence in the government also grew. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s predecessor, the Metropolitan Manila Commission (MMC), was created headed by Imelda as MMC governor with control over all of Metropolitan Manila. Imelda was also in government in other capacities. For instance, as head of the Ministry of Ecology and Human Settlements, she had jurisdiction over more than 1,000 towns and cities nationwide. Her powers also extended abroad as she was also sent out of the country as the President’s “extraordinary emissary” who negotiated loans and met with heads of states and government. By 1981, it was said that Imelda had under her control public and private funds equal to about half of the government budget.
- Manila Film Center
In the wee hours of Nov. 17, 1981, a floor of the Manila Film Center, whose construction was being rushed for the January opening of the first Manila International Film Festival collapsed. Imelda had ambitions for Manila to become the next Cannes with the first MIFF, which featured the latest films and feted glamorous Hollywood stars like Brooke Shields and George Hamilton. The number of workers killed was pegged officially at eight but the death toll was rumored to have reached over 100. Imelda’s “dissident” niece, Beatriz Romualdez Francia, wrote how supervisors exhumed 35 workers who were buried under the concrete. To finish the Film Palace according to schedule, supervisors drilled out some of the corpses but then “hastily saw[ed] off the limbs of some of the dead victims and pour[ed] concrete over remaining evidence of the accident,” Francia said.
- Lifting martial law for the Pope
A month ahead of Pope (later Saint) John Paul II’s visit to the Philippines on Feb. 17, 1981, then Marcos “lifted” martial law via Proclamation No. 2045. However, he retained extralegal powers. The proclamation called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines to continue to prevent or suppress lawless violence, insurrection, rebellion and subversion. The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus also remained in effect in the two autonomous regions in Mindanao, and in all other places “with respect to persons at present detained as well as others who may hereafter be similarly detained for the crimes of insurrection or rebellion, subversion, conspiracy or proposal to commit such crimes.”
The lifting of martial law was also timed with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency of the United States. Marcos reportedly sought to get unqualified support from Reagan and at the same time, minimize papal criticism of his regime and lessen negative public opinion. That year, Marcos amended the Constitution, proclaimed a new republic, and was reelected to a third six-year term.
- Over 6,700 Marcos laws
When Marcos declared martial law, he closed down Congress, taking over the power to make laws. From September 1972 to May 1978 (when the Batasang Pambansa, or National Assembly, was convened), Marcos was the one-man Congress; all laws came from him alone. In reality, from 1978 to 1986, Marcos retained his power to make laws such that there was the unusual situation of the Batasang Pambansa and Marcos both having the power to make laws. But it was not that complicated as the Batasan was controlled by Marcos allies (Marcos’ critics called the Batasan his rubber stamp); there was hardly any conflict. Over 6,700 laws were promulgated by Marcos from September 1972 to February 1986, composed of 2,036 presidential decrees, 1,525 letter of instructions, 61 general orders, 690 executive orders, 1,409 proclamations and other issuances. How many still have the force of the law today? Compiled by Almi Atienza, Marielle Medina, Ana Roa, Eline Santos, Kate Pedroso and Minerva Generalao
Sources: Inquirer Archives, “The Filipino Ideology” by Ferdinand Marcos, “Testament from a Prison Cell” by Benigno Aquino Jr., “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir,” “Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: The Political Economy of Authoritarianism” by Albert F. Celoza, “The Marcos Regime: Rape of the Nation” by Filemon Rodriguez, “The Marcos File: Was He a Philippine Hero or Corrupt Tyrant?,” Official Gazette, chanrobles.com, “Waltzing with a Dictator” by Raymond Bonner, “Philippine Press: Under Siege Vol. 1,” “Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People,” “Imelda and the Clans: A Story of the Philippines” by Beatriz Romualdez Francia and “The Marcos Dynasty” by Sterling Seagrave
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