Current developments in our country are bringing back the specter of martial law. President Rodrigo Duterte has given not-too-subtle hints about declaring it. And while he has been quick to take back those hints — in his trademark flip-flopping style — the threats he has made against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman leave no doubt about his dictatorial tendencies.
What is alarming is the seeming lack of concern among those who refer to themselves as millennials and whom I classify as the post-Marcos and post-martial law generation. These are people who were either not old enough to understand the horrors of martial law and the abuses of the Marcos regime, or who had not even been born at the time martial rule was imposed.
Those who have been following their postings on social media may have noted that many of these young people are cheering Duterte and rationalizing the thousands of extrajudicial killings since he took office. They are also not averse to the prospect of Bongbong Marcos becoming vice-president or even president.
I think it serves a good purpose to apprise them of the horrors and how martial law will impact their own lives.
On Sept. 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation 1081, imposing military rule in the country. Congress and media were shut down, civil liberties were suspended and those identified as “enemies of the state,” were rounded up and jailed in military camps. Others simply disappeared, never to be heard from.
Those who could manage it made their way out of the country, some through the backdoor, in Mindanao. Still others who were already overseas, schooling, working or on vacation, decided to stay where they were.
This wave of immigrants became asylum seekers in the countries that they had escaped to or found themselves in. It is conjectured that most went to the United States. In fact, there were many who went to mainland China because of their leftist connections, and others who decided to build a new life in countries in Asia and Europe, as well as Australia.
Martial law decimated the journalistic community in Manila. Many members of the working press left for abroad, partly because they were being hounded by the Marcos military, and also because there were few jobs available.
The recent fate of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the virtual sword of Damocles currently hanging over ABS-CBN is déjà vu to those of us who witnessed the suppression of press freedom and the takeover by Marcos cronies of the media establishments.
Following the declaration of martial law, the Daily Express, a Marcos mouthpiece, became the leading newspaper. ABS-CBN was taken over by Marcos cronies and operated as RPN 9, Radio Philippines Network.
The Lopezes, headed by the late Geny Lopez, Jr., sought exile in America, settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. They returned to the Philippines only after the People Power revolt. Many of ABS-CBN’s top executives also fled the country, mostly heading for California.
Today’s millennials who may have some romantic notions about a Duterte-declared martial law should learn from the experience of those who were as young as they when Marcos assumed dictatorial powers.
This is not to say that today’s youth don’t care about civil liberties or freedom of speech and of the press. The recent demonstrations against Duterte’s bloody tenure have seen young people joining in large numbers. But, with due respect to them, they seem to lack the passion and the fervor that exploded during the historic First Quarter Storm.
From January to March 1970, or the first quarter of the year, a series of demonstrations, protests, and marches against the government led mostly by student activists gave Marcos, who was serving his second term as president, an excuse to declare martial law, claiming the threat of the communist insurgency.
In fact, Marcos was salivating for an indefinite term as president — as a president-for-life. He just needed a “plausible” excuse.
The reported threat against the government was further dramatized with the “ambush” staged against the convoy of then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile — an incident that Enrile subsequently acknowledged was staged. He admitted this at the height of the EDSA revolution, although he flip-flopped years later in his autobiography and insisted that the attempt on his life was real.
Martial law turned the lives of people upside-down.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, lawyer Rodel Rodis recalls how his parents managed to get him to leave the Philippines on a pretext. In fact, they had learned that Rodis was on a list of First Quarter Storm activists who were marked for pick-up by the military.
Jacqui Lingad-Ricci, former president of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Commission, was young, unmarried, and vacationing in America at the time that Proclamation 1081 was issued. Daughter of Governor Jose B. Lingad of Pampanga, she was advised by her family to remain in the US and seek political asylum.
On Dec. 16, 1980, her father was assassinated. Press accounts describe him as “the first of the Marcos political opponents to fall at the hands of the military, preceding a list of political martyrs that would include Ninoy Aquino and Evelio Javier of Antique.”
Cris Aranda was a student activist and was among those who were picked up by the military. He subsequently managed to get out of jail and make his way to the US where he applied for asylum. Aranda mastered the complexities of immigration and eventually helped many immigrants and asylum seekers like him legalize their stay in America.
Urban legend had it that TV host and advertising man Ariel Ureta cracked a joke about the martial law slogan, “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan (For national progress, discipline is needed),” substituting “bisikleta” (bike) for “disiplina.” He was reportedly penalized by way of several laps on a bike around the PC camp. I never confirmed if this story was true.
At first, martial law seemed like a boon to peace and order. In an environment where packing a gun was de rigueur, martial law forced good behavior on trouble makers and the trigger happy. The most benign impact of martial law on our lives was the curfew and the threat of being hauled off to Camp Crame if caught during the verboten hours. That certainly made a lot of housewives happy, seeing their husbands come home early from work, instead of having several drinks for the road.
But the so-called benefits of martial law became less and less appealing as military abuses became prevalent and mysterious disappearances of young activists became more and more frequent. In this regard, the EJKs under the Duterte government is déjà vu.
One is constrained to ask: Are we already experiencing the deadliest aspect of martial law?
Indeed, those of us who went through the martial law years, are watching the developments in the Philippines with growing concern.
The post-Marcos and post-martial law generation should not wish to experience losing their human rights and civil liberties to fully appreciate them.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.