The period between 1972 and 1981 arguably stands as one of the most memorable moments in Philippine history, mainly because of President Ferdinand Marcos’ imposition of martial law during that time.
Nowadays, different Filipinos have different views on martial law, with some saying that it made the Philippines better while others say it practically destroyed the country.
While we won’t take part in the endless debates, we instead present in this article some lesser-known pics taken during the martial law years with very interesting backstories.
1. Lim Seng’s execution.
The picture depicts infamous Chinese drug lord Lim Seng shortly before his public execution by firing squad at a lot behind the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio on January 15, 1973.
A struggling restaurant owner in the 1960s, he later became one of the top heroin pushers in Manila and even exported his product as far as the United States. After martial law was declared, Lim was arrested and underwent a trial before a military tribunal where he was given the death penalty.
Up until the very end, he thought he could buy his way out and even joked with the soldiers as he was being tied up for execution. Little did he know, he would end up as the fitting candidate for President Marcos to affirm his tough stance on crime.
A popular urban legend goes that after the soldiers fired at him, some Assumption schoolgirls rushed to Lim’s body and dipped their hankies in his blood to show off to their classmates.
2. Ninoy was barely able to walk.
With the declaration of martial law, Ninoy Aquino became one of the first critics to be rounded and imprisoned. Facing a military tribunal for murder, subversion, and illegal possession of firearms, Ninoy refused to recognize their jurisdiction and so started a 40-day hunger strike on April 4, 1975, while in prison.
As evidenced by this photo taken in one of his court appearances in which he was forced to attend daily, the normally plump Ninoy dropped several kilos (54 to 36) and had to be helped with his walking. He would have continued his suicidal hunger strike too, were it not for his family and friends who successfully convinced him to stop by pointing out that even Jesus fasted for only 40 days.
3. Ninoy’s death sentence.
Shown together with the New People’s Army (NPA) founder Bernabe Buscayno and Victor Corpuz (the AFP lieutenant who made headlines when he defected to the NPA and raided the armory of the Philippine Military Academy on December 29, 1970) is Ninoy, bowing his head and looking somber after the military tribunal sentenced all three men to death by firing squad on November 25, 1977.
Throughout his trial, Ninoy refused to recognize their jurisdiction, saying that to do so would also give legitimacy to Marcos’ regime. Fortunately for him, the sentence was never carried out due to increasing international pressure over its human rights track record. Ninoy would live for at least another six years before his fateful demise on that airport tarmac.
4. The first ever PBA basket toss.
Founded on April 9, 1975, the Philippine Basketball Association is Asia’s first professional basketball league and the second oldest in the world (the NBA is first).
This photo, showing Ms. PBA Mia Montemayor in a ceremonial ball toss between Mariwasa’s Cisco Oliver and Concepcion’s Ramon Lucindo, officially marked the start of the league. Incidentally, this decade marked the greatest rivalry in local basketball ever—that of the Crispa Redmanizers and the Toyota Tamaraws.
5. First Lady Imelda playing chess with Bobby Fischer.
This photo, taken sometime in 1973, shows First Lady Imelda playing the black piece against renowned American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer while President Marcos looks on in their match.
Fischer, as we all know, was a very brilliant yet eccentric genius. At one point, he renounced his American citizenship and openly flouted his anti-Semitism. However, he loved the Philippines because he was treated like a celebrity, with even the president obliging him in a chess game. He settled in Baguio for a while and sired a love child with a Filipina before finally transferring to Iceland shortly a few years before his death.
6. The student who dared to question Imee Marcos.
The photo shows Archimedes Trajano, a student of Mapua Institute of Technology who unfortunately met his end in the hands of Imee Marcos’ henchmen.
During an open forum at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, the then-21-year-old questioned Imee on her capability to lead the youth and told her that she only became the head of the Kabataang Barangay because she was the president’s daughter. He also questioned her on the human rights abuses being committed by her father.
On September 2, 1977, his crumpled body was strewn on the streets of Manila. The official explanation was that he had died in a frat rumble inside his dormitory. Witnesses, however, said that Imee’s security dragged him away from the open forum. Trajano’s family successfully sued Marcos for civil damages in a Hawaii court; however, the local Supreme Court overturned it in 2006 due to a technicality committed by a lower court in trying to implement the prior verdict.
7. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s presscon at Malacañang Palace.
On Sept 18, 1975—less than two weeks before they would fight the last of their epic trilogy in the ‘Thrilla in Manila’—Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier paid a courtesy visit to the Palace and met President Marcos and First Lady Imelda.
As usual, the tension was kept high due to Ali’s penchant to mock his opponents before fights. Wearing barong Tagalogs, both men engaged in a duel of witty remarks, with the president acting as their referee.
8. Hiroo Onoda surrenders sword to President Marcos.
The picture shows Japanese lieutenant Hiroo Onoda formally surrendering his sword to President Marcos on March 11, 1974, at Malacañang Palace.
As we’ve pointed out before, Onoda was one of the longest-remaining Japanese holdouts ever, continuing to fight for 29 years in the island of Lubang because he had no idea that World War II had already ended. In fact, his old commander had to be personally flown in from Japan to persuade him to surrender.
After Onoda was indeed convinced, he surrendered peacefully. In this same ceremony, Marcos gave Onoda a full pardon for the Filipinos he killed during his holdout, considering the fact that he thought he had been at war during that time. The president also returned his sword.
9. Cory’s first political speech.
In a bid to legitimize his continuing grip on power, President Marcos ordered the interim Batasang Pambansa elections in 1978. Ninoy, still languishing in his cell at this time, was allowed to run but could not campaign. Instead, he had to rely on Cory to speak to his supporters.
Although preferring to remain in her husband’s shadow for most of her life, Cory obliged and rose to the challenge, delivering her first-ever political speech in this undated photo. Their daughter Kris, then six or seven years old, also displayed her gift of gab by frequently speaking in front of various audiences during the campaign period.
Did you know Cory had to use tranquilizers to keep herself from crying in public when her husband was imprisoned? All this and more in: 9 Things You May Not Know About Cory Aquino
10. A padlocked Congress.
After President Marcos declared the 1973 Constitution, ratified and effective by virtue of the Citizens’ Assemblies on January 10-15, he ordered Congress to be padlocked.
The 7th Congress had been set to open its second regular session on January 22. The photo depicts Senators Doy Laurel, Eva Estrada Kalaw, Ramon Mitra, and Jovito Salonga posing in front of the Senate session hall which had been padlocked, a stark symbol of power held by a single man.