“I SIGN Proclamation Number 1081 placing the entire Philippines under martial law.”

These were the words of the late President Ferdinand Marcos that kept the attention of hundreds of Filipinos glued to their television sets.

September 21, 1972 was an unforgettable event in the history of the Philippines shocked the entire nation.

In his book Philippine Political Law, retired Justice Isagani Cruz defined martial law as “that law which has application when the military arm does not supersede civil authority but is called upon to aid it in the execution of its civil function.”

Phases of the dictatorship

Rampant demonstrations, riots, and the spread of communism among students infected the country at the start of the 70s. To suppress these violent protests, Marcos declared martial law to “promote peace and order”.

“The period of martial law covers from 1972 and technically up to 1981 when it was lifted,” AB Political Science Prof. Reynaldo Lopez said.

“In order to encourage the Pope to visit the Philippines Martial Law was lifted in January 17, 1981, which is the anniversary of the 1973 constitution,” Lopez added.

The period of dictatorship is divided into two phases. The first phase composed the first few years and the second started when the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was arrested. The transition from the first wave to the next was apparent because of the social conditions then.

“During the initial stage when Martial Law was declared, there was the climate of fear, arrests, (and) suppression. However, there was discipline in the initial stage because people were afraid and everything was controlled,” Lopez said.

At first, Filipinos liked the idea of suppression by militant groups and the developments in infrastructures and society by the government. But, things started to take a different turn when the abuse of power took place.

“From 1972 to 1976, there was a good stable economy. Warlords were arrested and there were few crimes. Marcos then popularized the slogan ‘sa pag-unlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan’,” Commerce History and Rizal Course Prof. Ramon Roda said.

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The peace and order did not last long. The world oil crisis affected the country’s economic conditions. Protests grew, demanding economic help from the government which grew more tense.

“When it was declared in 1972, the situation was very tensed. The Filipino people have never known what Martial Law is. We do not know what kind of animal this is because we had no experience about that,” Lopez said.

Schools were indefinitely closed. Rallies, demonstrations, strikes by labor unions were suspended. Media, television, print, and radio were all sequestered. Travel abroad was also banned and a curfew was imposed from 12 midnight until 5 in the morning. Labor union leaders, student leaders, politicians in the opposing political parties, media persons who were known to be vocal and outspoken against the government were arrested. Congress was abolished.

“The situation continued from 1974 to 1976. However, people became more militant. Some went to the mountains to rebel, others went underground, and there were student organizations and labor unions which were organized underground,” Lopez said.

Marcos also confiscated all private owned companies and targeted the all media forms, which gave rise to the alternative press.

“Malaya and Mr. and Ms. were among those mosquito press,” Roda said.

“The people began to feel the hardships of a suppressed and controlled nation at that time,” Lopez said.

In 1978, Senator Aquino was arrested in time for the Batasang Pambansa elections.

“Although the senator knew he would not win, he ran for media mileage. The government wanted to know if there were supporters of the opposition. To their surprise, the people organized a noise barrage up to time when Ninoy was being interviewed on television,” explained Lopez.

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In 1981, martial law was lifted through a press release.

The assassination of Ninoy came after. Movements against the government began and people were emboldened.

“There was this parliament of the state, rallies, noise barrages, confetti throwing, etc. and then the opposition was emboldened. They ran for the Batasang Pambansa where most of them won to their surprise,” Lopez said.

In 1986, the snap elections and EDSA revolution took place next and as they say, the rest is history.

UST during the martial law

Student activism was rampant even inside the University during martial law.

In an editorial of the Varsitarian on October 14, 1968, the activism started when the Central Board of Students or CBS (now the Central Student Council) declared that 50 centavos would be taxed from the students to fund their projects. Students violently protested by writing to the publication.

Rallies started to form, especially by the students of the Faculty of Arts and Letters. They reiterated their appeal to reduce the matriculation, transparency of funds and Filipinization of the UST administration.

Thomasians grew even more adversarial when the controversy stopped and the students joined in the protest on January 26, 1970 before the proclamation of the martial law headed by the National Union of Students (NUS).

UST suspended classes for almost a month due to the unstable civil conditions.

In 1980, AB organized the first legitimate student council in the Philippines after the declaration of martial law.

“When martial law was declared in 1972, all student councils were abolished,” Lopez said.

There were many student activists in UST during that time, but in different degrees. There were students who worked underground and student organizations that were recognized not only to function according to the focus of their organization but also participate in student activism.

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“Among these organizations are Pax Romana, Artistang Artlets, The Flame, and the Varsitarian,” Lopez said.

The government did not waste time in suppressing these student activist groups. Soldiers were found walking in the corridors to monitor classroom discussions.

Martial law did not affect the way of teaching, although the curriculum changed in most schools. The schoolbooks with approval from the Office of the President were the only ones allowed in elementary and high school. There were forms of indoctrination in the merits and advantages of martial law. Songs were taught in schools that change the way people think about the so-called Bagong Lipunan.

There were also ways of militarization of students like the Reserved Officers Training Course (ROTC) and boy scouting.

The Dominicans did not try to control the student activism but nevertheless complied with the new government.

However, when the assassination of Ninoy took place, Fr. Frederick Fermin, UST Rector during the People Power, joined the funeral. Santo Domingo Church was used to hold the funeral mass of Ninoy.

Martial law today

In martial law, the president is the law. The things that one can do and cannot do depends on the president.

Martial law is the last resort to suppress rebellion. However, with what the Filipinos experienced, it did not suppress, worse, it caused spread of even more riots and violent demonstrations.

Nothing can stop the declaration of Martial Law except the people.

This fact was underline din the 1987 Constitution which made it easier for citizens to question the legality of its imposition.

“What we should worry now is not the fear of declaration of martial law but the effects of martial law taking place today,” Lopez said.

Filipinos should be wary of what the future may hold and just let martial law be yet another memory in our history.

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