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Today, 44 Years Ago

Junelie Anthony Velonta

“This must have been the feeling of a rape victim. We felt violated.”

marcosNowadays, September 21 is a day of “matters-of-fact.” Almost nobody knows of its significance. We go around doing our normal routines. We wake up. We go to school. We eat. We sleep. Forty-four years ago, the case was different.

Jimmy Sarmiento, a former Sillimanian, once wrote in an article: “I came back to a University that would never be the same.” Implementation of the so-called “constitutional authoritarianism” started on the 21st of September, 1972. Although it was formally announced two days later, the talks of Proclamation No. 1081 were common weeks, even months, in prior. Brought about by communist insurgency, there was a demand for security; Martial Law was the President’s answer.

According to Charles McDougald’s book entitled “The Marcos File,” former President Ferdinand E. Marcos associated the declaration of Martial Law with the birth of a “New Society.” The former invoked the promise of destroying the oligarchic character of Filipino
society. The Philippine News based in San Francisco described the change as “a blare of slogans and promises that wafted like a breath of fresh air across a land made arid by influence peddlers, vested interests, political untouchables and sacred cows.” Sadly, like the calm before the storm, the breath of fresh air turned into something worse than what was before.

Marcos named his version of running the government “constitutional authoritarianism;” however, a study by David J. Steinberg on “constitutional dictatorship” used during the Japanese occupation proved to be too familiar. McDougald states that the “constitutional dictatorship” may have planted the seeds for Marcos’ “constitutional authoritarianism” 30 years before. However, Marcos avoided any mention of “dictatorship” and “knew well” that he could do away with “massive powers, rigidly centralized” and this did not need any reforms. This “massive powers, rigidly centralized” was the same format force-fed into the Filipinos during the Second World War—when we as a people were enslaved for the benefit of the empire of another.

September 22, 1972 bore witness to the signing of General Order No. 1, which stated that Marcos would “govern the nation and direct the operation of the entire government, including all its agencies and instruments.” This meant that Marcos assumed all the powers of the government—executive, legislative, and judicial. Not long after, General Order No. 2 was signed, which ordered the Minister of Defense to arrest and detain named individuals who were thought to be “active participants in the conspiracy to seize state power.”

Following the two General Orders, a hunt for communists and insurrectionists immediately began. However, according to McDougald, this was nothing more than a witch-hunt to weed out and round up the enemies of Marcos, not the enemies of the state. It had nothing to do with communists, nor with rebellion. Most famously known to be a victim of this was Senator Aquino, who was picked up the very same day the General Orders were signed. The many knocks which were heard in the midnight echoed those of the Gestapo and the KGB.

On the night of the same day, all newspapers, radios, and television stations were closed and journalists were detained. None of these detainees were brought to trial. Overnight, 50,000 employees were immediately out of work. In Metro Manila alone, 34 media stations were closed. In the provinces, 60 community newspapers and 292 radio stations were closed. All of these were not allowed to exist in the “New Society” and they were quickly replaced by the Department of Public Information through the very first Presidential Decree.

Samuel Buot Sr., a lawyer and an Outstanding Sillimanian awardee, recalls the feeling of being violated—likening his situation to that of a rape victim’s. Samuel stated: “In disgust over the rape of our democracy, I decided to uproot and leave all security, home, family, friends and property to go to an unknown land.” On September 21, 1972, the then Lieutenant General of Philippine Kiwanis Samuel found himself stuck in Cagayan de Oro. Away from home and unable to leave, he was forced to look to the help of his friends to leave. Luckily for him, a cargo ship offered a path to home. Many others only had the idea of home, until they saw it again after Martial Law was lifted. Some did not get the same chance.

According to Dr. Crispin Maslog, director of the Silliman School of Journalism and Communication in 1972, 50,000 people were incarcerated just in the first three years of Martial Law. More than 75,000 individuals reported violations of their human rights. Sadly, among those digits were the 3,257 dead under the name of “justice and discipline.”

Many members of the younger generations have had no experience of Marcos’ “constitutional authoritarianism,” and few are made aware of the firsthand experiences of many living but old survivors from the era. Though some may argue that Marcos did do some good actions, let us remember the experiences of our elder Filipinos who have suffered—they did not want it to happen, but they suffered nonetheless. We must look back to the sins of our fathers to repent the fate of our children.

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