GHOSTS OF MARTIAL LAW
By: Ricardo De Los Santos
On September 23, 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law in response to country-wide bombings, massive social unrest, and the threat of communist insurgents. For more than eight years, Martial Law dictated the actions and suppression of the Filipino nation – it was a time of great fear, deception and censorship, caused by Marcos, together with his wife Imelda and his military. Through the leadership, however, of slain statesman Ninoy Aquino, his widow Cory, and disgruntled Marcos men Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos, the Filipinos rose up against the tyrannous regime, culminating in the People Power Revolution of 1986. With peaceful mass uprising paired with limited armed conflict, the revolution was successful in toppling the regime and reassured the greatness of the freedom-loving Filipino.
On the other hand, it seems as if the specters of martial law have come back after decades of wanted absence. Be it in the form of personalities, events or actions, Martial Law continues to haunt today’s society. Therefore, one must take a look back on those days of history and compare it to those of contemporary times. Through this, I believe, one can take proper action towards these specters, and maintain the honor and give justice to the revolution during the latter days of February 1986.
Former first lady Imelda Marcos, for instance, is now back in the country’s limelight, and for ostensibly no good reason. In fact, after returning to the country from exile in 1991, Mrs. Marcos has garnered needless acclaim and has evaded much of the criminal charges against her.
After years of embezzling public funds for personal luxury items (more than 1000 pairs of shoes), costly buildings (CCP and Film Center) and lavish events, as well as holding appointed yet unfitting government positions (Governor of Metro Manila), she was able to return to the country in 1991 after the Marcos family’s exile in Hawaii following the People Power Revolution. On her return, she faced around 900 criminal and civil cases, but most have been dismissed or acquitted Mrs. Marcos. She has yet to serve time in prison. Moreover, she was able to attain power as elected congresswoman of her native province Leyte in 1995.
Recently, she celebrated her 80th birthday in usual “Imeldific” fashion. Mrs. Marcos wore her signature terno (Philippine traditional dress) and was decked out in jewelry. Her posh party, along with her high society guests and friends (who according to her paid for the event), was highlighted by confetti and fireworks. This is definitely contrary to her proclaimed struggle to provide for herself, together with her reliance on her late husband’s war veteran pension and her children’s support. Additionally, generations that did not experience the Marcos years and Martial Law look at her as a subject of profound interest and even symbol of Filipino elegance.
Harrowing events of the past couple of weeks also stir sentiments of martial law recurrence. First, there was the bombing of the Office of the Ombudsman in Manila. Days later, it was followed by more bomb threats and discovery of unexploded devices around the metropolis. In Mindanao, bombs in the central and western regions terrorized the population, leaving at least 8 dead and hundreds more wounded. Just this morning, news of terrorists in the Metro Manila is putting authorities on alert.
This has lead to the assumption of opposition members, like Makati Mayor and United Opposition President Jejomar Binay, that the Arroyo administration is behind the bombings in order to facilitate emergency rule. Bombs across the nation, the opposition suggests, would not only terrorize the populace, but also justify the proclamation of emergency executive powers such as martial law. This assumption is furthered even by members of the administration. National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales declared that these bombings could very well result in the administration using its “iron fist”.
Such were the events, too, of 1972, when Pres. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. Bombings around the metropolis were rampant, whether caused by communist elements or orchestrated by the president in Malacanang. As it turns out, the “ambush” on then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile’s car was premeditated by the authorities, and occurred exactly a day before the proclamation of martial law on September 1972. The law would last for almost 9 years and lead to arrests of Marcos’ enemies, censorship of the media, and strong military participation in stately affairs.
Indeed, it is a valid impression that the specters of old are re-emerging. Martial law is again audible in people’s discussions and concerns. With carelessness, historical amnesia and apathy, the elements that caused much indignation to the country decades ago may very well do the same today.
*About the author: Ricardo De Los Santos is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. He volunteered with the NHCP (formerly NHI) from June to July of 2009 as a guest researcher. A native of Manila, Philippines, he now resides between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.ss