The history of Martial Law, is first and foremost, the history of the people resisting and fighting tyranny. It was a social movement, an Anti-Dictatorship Movement that succeeded to end Marcos fascist rule.

There are two sides to the history of Martial Law: On one hand, Ferdinand Marcos usurped powers, and established a dictatorship that plundered and committed atrocities against the people.

The other side is that the people resisted and fought back. Not just the activists. Not just the communists and the NPA. Not just the Aquinos, Lopezes and yellow-ribbon followers. But the people throughout the archipelago, numbering to MILLIONS!

Those who fought the dictatorship was a broad spectrum of social and political forces. Sectors included the church, student, teachers, workers, Igorots, Moros, urban poor, Filipinos in the US and Canada, artists, media people, politicians and eventually soldiers.

As shown in the SNAP election that Marcos called in 1985, the diverse political groups included Laurel’s UNIDO; Pimentel and Mitra’s PDP-Laban; Gonzales’ SocDem party; Bishop-Businessmen Conference; Zobel, del Rosario and Ongpin’s Makati Business Club; Conception’s NAMFREL; Diokno’s KAAKBAY, Aquino’s ATOM; Salonga’s wing in the Liberal Party; Bayan-NAJFD and other “Nat-Dem (National Democratic)” groups.

Notable figures included Jose W. Diokno, Ninoy Aquino, Cardinal Jaime Sin, Senator Lorenzo Tanada, Prof. Francisco Nemenzo, film director Lino Brocka,

Prof. Randy David, Nanay Soling Duterte (in the Yellow Friday Movement). They all fought the Marcos Dictatorship.

Among the many who fought the Marcos Dictatorship, there were those who took the path of armed resistance and war (1). Some took the path of dissent and reforms in the armed forces, eventually leading to a plot and failed attempt at coup d’état. Then were those who tried to bring down the regime, through the ballot box. Perhaps it remains debatable what was the “correct strategy” and “forms of struggle” (2).

What history strikingly shows us is the prominent role of mass protest actions, organized and spontaneous, that eventually proved in weakening and bringing about the downfall of the dictatorship.

Protest actions, organizations and movements grew in scope, scale and intensity — from ripples of protests beginning in 1973, building up as big waves until 1982, then a crescendo of “Welgang Bayans” (Peoples’ Strike), and finally ending with people power at EDSA. These went beyond placards, pickets and rallies, often described as “parliament of the streets”. These were general workers strikes, general transport strikes, barricades, student boycotts, gigantic demonstrations and electoral rallies, combined that effectively paralyzed major cities and towns.

What history strikingly shows us is the prominent role of mass protest actions, organized and spontaneous, that eventually proved in weakening and bringing about the downfall of the dictatorship.

These mass actions, while dealing with local and national issues, were expressly and pointedly directed against Marcos terror rule. The Anti-Dictatorship Movement was political in nature, and homogeneous.

EDSA was a culminating point, the last push that swept away the Marcos regime. It paved the way for the restoration of pre-Martial Law democracy. It

showed, moreover, that even the military, especially junior officers and the soldiers, who found their rifles decorated with rosaries and flowers at EDSA, took the side of resistance and fighting the dictatorship.

However, the pages of history cannot be reduced to February ’86 or EDSA (3). Those four days do not represent nor substitute the 13 years of resistance and fight under Martial Law, that weakened and eventually did away with the Dictatorship.

History, more precisely, events and facts during those 13 years projects a larger framework — a massive movement against the dictatorship and for democracy. Focus is mass protest actions that happened, wave upon wave, in major cities and towns of the country, in factories, universities, peasant communities, workers and urban poor areas. It was mainly for such resistance and struggle against dictatorship and against Martial Law, that victims and heroes rendered sacrifices and gave their lives.

…the pages of history cannot be reduced to February ’86 or EDSA. Those four days do not represent nor substitute the 13 years of resistance and fight …events and facts during those 13 years projects a larger framework ­­ a massive movement against the dictatorship and for democracy.

Here is a short review of some events from September 1972 when Martial Law was declared to EDSA of 1986:

September 21, 1972

Huge rally of 50,000 people under the alliance “Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL)” was held at Plaza Miranda, just a few hours before Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 (Martial Law) and days before announcing it. The rally attacked “Oplan Sagittarius”, the secret plan to declare martial law.

January 1973

Lightning protests in Metro Manila against the 1973 Marcos Constitution, the initial stirrings of resistance.

November 1973

Roughly 5000 urban poor dwellers under the Zone One Tondo Organization marched to Mendiola, protesting against demolition of their homes under Marcos’ “New Society”

May 1975

First Bodong or peace pact meeting of 150 Bontoc and Kalinga leaders who united to oppose the Chico River Dam project of the Dictatorship. The Dam would have submerged sacred tribal lands. Their resistance continued to the ’80s despite the assassination of their leader, Macli-ing Dulag on April 24, 1980.

October 1975

The first wave of mass protest began at the La Tondena Distillery. Five hundred workers, chanting “Tama Na, Sobra, Welga Na,” went on strke, defying the dictator’s ban on strike and police repression. In the months that followed, the strike spread out to 200 strikes nationwide, counting an estimated 80,000 participants. In Manila alone, there were 25 strikes, with 40,000 participating.

Oct 1976

About 5,000 demonstrators, marched to Malacañang Palace to protest a referendum-plebiscite and four years of Martial Law.

July 1977

A wave of student protest rocked Metro Manila. Over 200,000 students joined protest actions, demanding a stop to tuition fee increases, push for the restoration of student councils and newspapers that have been banned under Martial Law, and opposing the militarization of universities and colleges.

March 1978

Filipino employees in various US bases in the Philippines, numbering to about 20000 went on strike.

April 1978

Large swaths of Metro Manila were swept by a ‘noise barrage’, amplifying a growing electoral movement and protest as Marcos cooked the elections that imposed a rubber stamp parliament called “Interim Batasang Pambansa”.

January 1981

After Marcos nominally lifted Martial Law, a wave of 260 strikes took place, with over 76,000 workers involved. Labor unions against the dictatorship increased in number and strength in the months and years that followed.

June 1981

Organizing and actions by Filipinos in different cities in the USA, against the Marcos Dictatorship, stepped up after Filipino-American labor activists Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo were murdered in Seattle. Later, a 1989 US federal jury determined that Marcos ordered the murders in retaliation to Filipino anti-dictatorship activities.

December 1982

Huge marches and demonstrations, numbering to 170,000 participants were held in Mindanao. Kuratong bamboo drums reverberated in many areas — a noise barrage against widespread militarization and hamletting in Mindanao.

August 31, 1983

At least two million Filipinos turned out to be counted in the funeral of Ninoy Aquino. They joined the procession, lined the streets, displayed banners and ribbons, and chanted all throughout an eleven-hour journey.

September-November 1983

Different groups united into a loose coalition against the Marcos Dictatorship and the assassination of Aguino. On Sept 21, the “Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA) coalition spearheaded widespread protest. Half-a-million people attended the Indignation rally at Liwasang Bonifacion in Manila. Other protests were in Davao City, with estimated 6000 participants and Zamboanga City, with estimated 10000 participants. In November 1983, observing the 51st birth anniversary of Ninoy Aquino, another JAJA rally in Luneta drew 250,000 demonstrators.

January 1984

“Tarlac to Tarmac” march, in memory of slain opposition leader Benigno Aquino, was staged by opposition and coalition groups. About 300 joggers, showered with confetti and cheered by thousands of Filipinos ended a 90-mile run Jan 29. Separately, about 10,000 demonstrators converged at Manila’s Central Post Office calling for opposition to Marcos’s rule. The wave of protest culminated January 31, drawing 2 million people in the largest anti­government rally since Aquino’s funeral.

September 1984

QC Welcome Rotonda protest dispersal turns violent; student leader and future UP Diliman chancellor Fidel Nemenzo was shot in the kidney and nearly killed; photographs of 80-year-old former Senator Lorenzo Tanada and 71-year old Manila Times founder Chino Roces facing water cannons become iconic of the Marcos administration’s use of excessive force.

June 1985

June 18 “Welgang Bayan Laban sa Plantang Nukleyar” (“People’s Strike”) begins in Balanga, the capital of Bataan. By June 20, the protest activities of 22 anti-nuclear organizations forced the entire province of Bataan to stand still which eventually enveloped the country.

August 1984

About a million people joined protests nationwide during the first anniversary of Aquino’s death.

November 1984

The whole of Mindanao went on a “Welgang Bayan (or People’s Strike)”. Transport strike, barricades, noise barrage paralyzed major cities. Shops, schools, offices closed down. The cities of Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Surigao, Iligan, and General Santos came to a standstill. Tagum, Mrbel, Digos, Bayugan and other towns also joined the Welgang Bayan. The military killed some demonstrators, arrested thousands and dismantled barricades. But the barricades came back, extending even up to 3 days in some places.

December 1984

Jose Burgos Jr. relaunched the fortnightly “WE Forum” in addition to “Malaya”, a daily broadsheet. Burgos and his staff were arrested on Dec. 7, 1982, and detained for a month. The paper’s facilities were shut down for hard hitting coverage of the Marcos government.

September 1985

A crowd estimated at 5,000 people composed of sugar workers, farmers, fisher-folk, students, urban poor, church people and professionals staged a protest at the of Escalante, a town in Negros island, commemorating the 13th anniversary of martial law. Some 50 combat-ready Regional Special Action Forces (RSAF), plus local policemen, members of the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), and unidentified armed civilians attacked the crowd in what is now known as the Escalante Massacre. At least 20 people were killed.

October 1985

Thousands of peasants joined a “Lakbayan rally”, a 5-day march originating from various points in Luzon and coverging at Manila’s Liwasang Bonifacio. The marchers never reached Liwasang Bonifacio. Just before noon of October 21, 1985, police forcibly broke into their ranks while they were at Taft Avenue, killing a number of protestors.

December 1985

A big protest march was held outside Malacanang palace, on the occasion of Human Rights Day and on the eve of the snap presidential election called by Marcos. Huge rallies were held in other parts of the country, notably in Bacolod city where 20000 demonstrators converged.

February 1986

At the end of the campaign period of the Marcos snap election of February 1986, hundreds of thousands attended the opposition rally of Corazon Aquino. Marcos rigged the Feb. 7 polls and thereafter, on Feb 20, declared himself the winner of the presidential election. On the same day, two million people held a “people’s victory rally” and responded to Corazon C. Aquino call for civil disobedience. Public protest and anger would eventually lead to a 4-day “People Power” that would topple the Marcos Dictatorship.

Today, the history of the Martial Law years that we see is unrecognizable, Not only have Marcos and Duterte trolls spewed out lies, they have successfully changed the frame of the debate… Excluded from the narrative is the Anti­-Dictatorship Movement.

obfuscated and distorted. Not only have Marcos and Duterte trolls spewed out lies, they have successfully changed the frame of the debate. Did Marcos plunder the coffers of government, or did he have the Tallano gold? Was Ninoy a hero (worth naming the airport) or the communist-backed winner of the Aquino versus Marcos political battle? Were those killed during those years red-yellow terrorists?

Excluded from the narrative is the Anti-Dictatorship Movement.

The generation of the Martial Law years must speak out their truth. It is not enough to show and say, “I was at EDSA in 1986!”. We need to show and say, “I was there during the 1973 lightning rallies shouting ‘No to the Marcos Constitution’. I was there, in the mid-70’s, during labor strikes at South Superhighway, Parañaque. I was there at the university belt when students sang ‘Ibalik ang Students Council’. I was there when people people were honking their vehicles and making noise when Marcos imposed his 1978 IBP parliament. I was there among the barricaders of Bajada, in the last day of a Mindanao-wide welgang Bayan. I was there under the JAJA banner expressing my anger at Liwasang Bonifaction Sept 21, 1983.”

“I was there in the Anti-Dictatorship Movement of the Marcos Martial Law years!”


  • Two groups opposed the Marcos Dictatorship through arms or by means of war:

The first was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). A botched plan of the Marcos government to invade and reclaim Sabah in 1968 ended in the massacre of Muslim recruits, in what would be known as the “Jabidah Massacre”. The MNLF began and grew from Muslim students radicalized by the Jabidah Massacre and advocated separatism for Muslim Mindanao.

From 1972 to 1976, the separatist MNLF and its military wing, the Bangsa Moro Army, with an estimated 10000 troops and 30000 reserve became strong enough to engage the AFP in positional warfare. Military stalemate pushed Marcos to carpet bomb Cotobato and other Muslim areas, and eventually seek a negotiated political settlement in Tripoli, Libya.

The Tripoli agreement of 1976 was used by Marcos to give Muslim nominal autonomy. It split the Moro movement into MNLF and MILF. When Muslim armed groups resumed guerilla warfare in 1977, armed Moro regulars were down to about 3000 and a reserve of about 12000 under 9 provincial commands.

The second is the the Communist Party of the Philippines. The CPP’s armed wing the New People’s Army, grew rapidly in the early ’80s. According to 1986 documents of the Executive Committee of the CPP, it had about 4000 regular fighters, 7000 guerillas and a organized mass base of about 700,000.

The MNLF-MILF and the CPP-NPA, as history shows, have failed to achieve their goals thru military means. They politically prepared and mobilized the population they reached, to resist the dictatorship. However those efforts, that tied the people resistance to military strategies, argue-ably led only to derailment and diversion of the people, from different, timely and effective ways to fight the dictatorship.

  • Under the shadow of a failed “protracted people’s war”, a number of people in the Left, including former CPP members may hesitate to expound on the protest actions and movements during the Martial Law years. It is a known fact that many of the mass protest actions during Martial Law years were initiated by the CPP, where its cadres and forces directed those mass actions and mass organizations to support, directly or indirectly the NPA.

However, a closer view of the people’s protest movements would show that communists did not have a monopoly of the protest movement. For example, in the labor movement during the first half of the ’80s, the CPP had influence only in less than 20% of unions and strikes. During times when the political struggle shifted to the electoral arena, like the snap elections of 1986, the CPP and its forces were a minority and eventually marginalized in 1986 because of its position to boycott election.

(3) EDSA ended with the Americans spiriting away the Marcoses to Hawaii (bringing with them some of their immense loot), revealing the fact that the Americans controlled the end-game of the so-called “EDSA revolution”. US president Reagan simply waited for the last hour to implement a “transition plan” prepared in Washington months ahead of the EDSA coup attempt. The National Security Strategy Directive (NSSD) was completed in November 1984 and adopted as policy in January 1985. (…/analysis-how-united-states…/)

American influence, through the Enrile-Ramos faction, toegether with the vacuum created by a largely absent Left, meant that the Cory Aquino government would pursue reforms for democracy, only to a limited extent and in a limited way. Decades later we would see the result of such limitations: the destabilization of institutions of the 1935 and 1987 constitutions, the consolidation of political dynasties – Estradas, Macapagal, Duterte, Garcias, etc and the return of the Marcoses.

Ryan Quimpo

co-author, “Subversive Lives”

July 25, 2022

Photo: Human barricade at Iligan City in the second Welgang Bayan that paralyzed Mindanao in May 1985. (from photo collection of Filippijnengroep Nederland)