The Ides of September or why we should look the devil in the eyes

Joel Pablo Salud
8 min readSep 20, 2020

On September 21, 1972, my country fell under the grip of dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos’ batas militar (military rule). Shortly after the proclamation, Marcos padlocked Congress and ruled solely by presidential decree.

In Proclamation №1081, Marcos said among other things, “WHEREAS, in cases of invasion, insurrection or rebellion or imminent danger thereof, I, as President of the Philippines, have, under the Constitution, three courses of action open to me, namely: call out the armed forces to suppress the present lawless violence; suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus to make the arrest and apprehension of these lawless elements easier and more effective; or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

To justify the proclamation, Marcos listed down several reasons. Among them were: the activities of the radical left, the Kabataang Makabayan, Samahang Demokratiko Ng Kabataan (SDK), the New People’s Army, the Mindanao Independence Movement and the violent disorder in Mindanao and Sulu; to add, the entry of loose arms through Isabela, the ‘infiltration and control of the media by persons who are sympathetic to the insurgents,’ ‘acts of armed insurrection, wanton destruction of human lives and property,’ and the bombings in the Greater Manila Area.

Marcos based his proclamation of martial law on the provision in the 1935 Constitution, which said in Sec. 11 (2), Art. VII, “The President shall be commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and, whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, insurrection, or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, he may suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

A new draft of the Constitution, to be called the 1973 Constitution, was handed over to Marcos in Dec. 1, 1972 and proclaimed in force by Marcos on Jan. 17, 1973. The provision echoing martial law was retained in Section 9, Art. VII of the 1973 Constitution.

For whatever intents and purposes Marcos had in putting the whole archipelago under military rule (of course, we know now in hindsight that he did that to perpetuate himself as dictator for life), the declaration was, in and by itself, legal.

After having asked esteemed historian Jose Victor Torres on the matter of the legality of the proclamation of martial law, he said, “One of the illusions of the present generation was that martial law was something Marcos foisted on us to stay in power therefore it is illegal. What is not discussed is that the groundwork was laid to make it legal. Deterioration of peace and order, the Communist threat, etc. — all of these completed a scenario to declare martial law which was constitutionally within the powers of the President.”

He adds: “Marcos cloaked himself with legalities. This is the reason why his dictatorship was not questioned by the US. Most of them had their personal opinions that it was wrong, but none of it was official.”

*Torres and other guest speakers will be discussing this and other topics at length on the forum on Historical Revisionism related to the Martial Law Era organized by the Center for Social Concern and Action as part of the Lasallian Justice and Peace Commission’s program for the Lasallian Human Rights and Democracy Month (Sept. 21-Oct. 21). It will be held on September 25, 2020 from 3pm to 5pm via Zoom video conferencing and Facebook live streaming. I suggest you don’t miss it.

Back to our discussion, as we can see, the proclamation carried with it the weight of a Constitutional mandate, with all the forces and resources of the Marcos political blitzkrieg supporting its guns.

However, whether the proclamation can be considered moral, or that Marcos’ narrative behind the proclamation was accurate in its context, to say nothing of being just and true, remains subject to question.

Reasons for doubting Marcos’ claims are many. When news of an alleged ambush against Marcos’ defense secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile, hit the newsstands, the atmosphere was ripe for the declaration. Marcos diary entry of Sept. 22, 1972, 9:50PM said as much:

Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed near Wack-Wack at about 8:00 pm tonight. It was a good thing he was riding in his security car as a protective measure. His first car which he usually uses was the one riddled by bullets from a car parked in ambush […] And I have doubled the security of Imelda in the Nayon Pilipino where she is giving dinner to the UPI and AP as well as other wire services. This makes the martial law proclamation a necessity.”

Years later, Enrile himself would admit to “faking” the aforementioned ambush.

Former First Lady and wife to the dictator, Imelda Marcos, after the much touted People Power Revolution which ousted her husband in Feb. 1986, described their conjugal regime as a “compassionate society” and “benevolent leadership”. She likewise said, “Martial Law is the most peaceful democratic time in Philippine History” (Malanes 1999, 16).” (TORTYUR: Human Rights Violations During The Marcos Regime by historian Michael Charleston “Xiao” Briones Chua).

*To download historian Xiao Chua’s paper, click on the link: https://www.academia.edu/7968581/TORTYUR_Human_Rights_Violations_During_The_Marcos_Regime

However, the road to martial law was a narrow and rock-strewn one, mostly shaped by the Marcos propaganda machine. Of the numerous social upheavals happening since he took office in Dec. 1965, he blamed them all on the Radical Left and the Moro insurrection of 1969.

Little did people know that the period following World War II prior to martial law was already neck deep in problems. During Marcos’ reelection in 1969, the economy was well-nigh grinding to a halt. Based on a paper presented in Toronto, Canada for the Eighth World Congress in Sociology, rising election costs and a ballooning bureaucracy prior to the declaration “fueled a cyclical and chronic inflation” which also led to the slowing down of the economy (Thomas C. Nowak, The Philippines before Martial Law: A Study in Politics and Administration, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 1974).

It adds: “To help maintain dominance by a small conservative elite over major institutions and protect foreign investors, Philippine regimes sustained barriers against new interests that threatened the status quo. Such barriers help channel the fruits of growth to a few entrenched interests and perpetuated a circle of economic and social dualism keeping the poorest groups poor.”

Also, the paper said that efforts by the executive to centralize and rationalize administration “sought to contain the dislocating effects of economic change through repression and the more efficient provision of limited social services”.

In short, what Proclamation No.1081 had failed to mention was that most of the political and social upheavals were the result of an incompetent government and greedy cronies out to enrich themselves. Corruption was such that it left the poor unable to cope with inflation and corruption’s other ill effects.

In Chua’s paper “Tortyur,” repression came in the form of several methods. While the historian quoted the figures presented by Danilo Vizmanos, a West Point-trained Navy Captain turned activist, the Hawaii case, and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, the most damning came from Amnesty International: “70,000 were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, 3,240 were killed (Tiongson 1997).”

Corruption choked to the tune of US$10 billion.

Chua explains the difference in statistical data: “The numbers vary and it would be impossible to account for everything since some victims and their families chose not to pursue it for fear for their lives. Despite the differences in statistics, these are not just numbers. Here are thousands of lives lost, and thousands of families destroyed. The human rights violations happened, and they were real.”

Years later, further proof of the violence employed by the conjugal regime of Ferdinand and Imelda through their military arm, aside from victims’ accounts, came in the form of an admission by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In “Tortyur,” Chua quotes the AFP’s 2005 Code of Ethics:

The AFP recognizes and resolves to correct misdeeds of some of its members who sacrificed national interests for individual gains, committed graft and corruption, perpetuated the ill effects of Martial Law […] These misdeeds tainted the good image of the organization. Therefore, the AFP, recognizing these shortcomings and misdeeds vow to evoke from its members the will to put the interest of the country and the service above self, to enhance solidarity, to promote professionalism, and to inculcate vigilance and preparedness against all threats to the Republic (Cardenas, Obidos and Ramos 2011, 18).

While this admission seems to deliberately avoid the idea that the AFP’s “misdeeds” took the form of systematic abuse, one sanctioned by the tyrannical regime, and not the sporadic, unrelated and individual cases the organization claimed they were, the admission itself was made under the name of the whole organization, thus making it an important matter to consider.

As we look back on martial law and the barbarities the Marcoses seek to bowdlerize today from the national memory, we must ask the questions: must we relegate the brutalities of Marcos to mere debate? Must we consign, or worse, banish the stories of the inhumanity of the Marcos regime to mere “constructs” —philosophical constructs being neither true nor false? What’s the point of seeking rival narratives when even families of victims have told their stories and the military arm had admitted guilt, to yet say nothing of the numerous coverage of atrocities accomplished by the “mosquito” press?

Primitivo Mijares, former National Press Club president who sat as Marcos’ propagandist and confidante, decided to finally burn in 1973 all that associated him with the dictator in order to write the expose, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

In this tell-all book, Mijares wrote: “I started entertaining second thoughts about my support and propaganda work for Marcos towards the end of the year 1973. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact point in time when I did. But it must have been right after December 30,1973, which was the day Marcos’ second and last term in office under the 1935 Constitution ended. At about that point in time, I began to realize that Marcos imposed martial law, not to save the country from a Communist rebellion and to reform society, but to hold on to the presidency for life — and as a dictator.”

In fact, Mijares’ purpose for writing the book stands clear for all time: “The sense of urgency in finishing this work was also goaded by the thought that Marcos does not have eternal life and that the Filipino people are of unimaginable forgiving posture. I thought that, if I did not perpetuate this work for posterity, Marcos might unduly benefit from a Laurelian statement that, when a man dies, the virtues of his past are magnified and his faults are reduced to molehills.”

Here’s a free PDF copy of Mijares’ book: http://rizalls.lib.admu.edu.ph:8080/ebooks2/Primitivo%20Mijares.pdf

Soon after its publication, the author Mijares and his son Boyet disappeared and were later found dead. Some accounts said he and his son were thrown off a helicopter. Later evidence pointed to the fact that they were murdered on the night they disappeared.

No amount of good which happened during Marcos’ New Society can outweigh, compensate or even banish the savagery of the martial law regime. No amount of philosophical calisthenics can obscure the reality of those who were murdered, assassinated, executed, tortured, abducted and raped.

The Philippines had been robbed not only of resources, but the people’s humanity as well. Now the Marcoses are pushing to rob us of our memory. Marcos’ “Camelot” was a dud, an obscene facsimile of the Camelot of legend. Marcos was hardly a benevolent leader, neither was he acquainted with the self-effacing tenets of compassion.

To compare him with animals is to insult every living species of beasts. He was a Filipino who murdered fellow Filipinos to perpetuate himself and his family in power.

He was and will remain in the national memory as a bloodthirsty and corrupt tyrant.

That is a fact. A fact safeguarded by our moral obligation to remember and the courage to look the devil in the eyes.

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Joel Pablo Salud

Joel Pablo Salud is the author of several books of fiction and political nonfiction. His opinions in Medium.com are his own.