Friday, May 26, 2006


September 1, 1972 was a historic day in Philippine history. It would not be overly dramatic to echo the cliché, that it was a day that will go down in infamy. On this day, then President of the Republic of the Philippines Ferdinand Edralin Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1081, better known as Martial Law.

In effect, the Proclamation declared martial law over the entire country, suspended the writ of habeas corpus and essentially installed Marcos as dictator for life.

The proclamation of martial law found me working in Cotabato City, Cotabato in Mindanao at a road construction project. At the worksite, it was business as usual. When I drove back to the city in the early afternoon, though, I headed to my favorite watering hole, the restaurant at Imperial Hotel II where I was staying. There, over some cold beer, business associates told me the news.

All television and radio broadcasting were suspended. Instead, the government radio recited the riot act over and over. Among other edicts, there was no carrying of firearms except by military personnel, and there would be a curfew from midnight until 4:00 AM.

Rumors flew all over the place. Hundreds had been arrested in Manila and all over the country. There had been summary executions of known Marcos critics. Guerrilla warfare had now broken out in several parts of the country. It was next to impossible to sift fact from fiction, truth from rumor.

That night, a few minutes after midnight, a group of guys and myself stood at the sidewalk just outside the lobby of the hotel. Later, a military truck roared by, and somebody in the truck yelled at us to go back inside. With so many unanswered questions in our minds, we trudged back inside the hotel for a fitful sleep.

The following day, we had to make some minor adjustments. Now, we had to venture out of the city and into the neighboring towns and to the worksite without any firearms. I usually went out with a driver and a bodyguard. The bodyguard was always armed, and I was armed most of the time. That day, we felt apprehensive and vulnerable going about the province without any weapons, but eventually got used to it.

During that first day, we saw several random military checkpoints. A typical scene would be, a public bus would be stopped and all the occupants had to file out and be searched by soldiers. There was a bare table by the side of the road, which eventually would be piled high with confiscated firearms. We never saw any prisoners as a result of the checkpoints, so we assumed the soldiers were just confiscating firearms but not arresting any firearm carriers.

For the remainder of my stay in Cotabato, we were stopped at random military checkpoints in the province. Sometimes, they would simply look inside the vehicle, ask us if we were carrying weapons, and then wave us on.

We were working on a road construction project that had us working around the clock. Because of the midnight curfew, I had to go to the military authorities and request permits for each worker that had to work from midnight till 4:00 AM.

As an aside, instead of dampening the nightlife scene in Manila, the curfew probably generated more revenue for the nightclub owners. The nightclubs started having “stay-ins,” meaning partygoers simply stayed and partied in the club from midnight until 4:00 AM, the end of curfew time.

The Marcos Martial Law existed technically until 1981, when Marcos himself lifted it but still retained virtual dictatorial powers, and ended for good in 1986, when Marcos and his relatives and cohorts fled Malacanang Palace in helicopters supplied by the US, just as the EDSA marchers were about to storm the Palace gates.

While it may be argued that the first years of martial law brought some tangible benefits to the country, the eventual Martial Law years trampled on human rights, enriched Marcos and his family and cronies by about thirty billion dollars mostly in the form of behest loans, and saddled the Philippine government with these loans for the rest of its life.

September 1, 1972 was truly a day of infamy, the effects of which are still felt by the people of the Philippines, and will probably linger for many more decades to come.


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