The violence that marked then President Ferdinand Marcos’ State of the Nation Address at the Legislative Building on Jan. 26, 1970, put in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to the declaration of martial law in September 1972. Looking back on those events with hindsight and primary-source materials makes for some very fascinating reading.
I just discovered a First Quarter Storm website with first-person accounts of the events of that time and, aside from the most quoted reportage by Jose F. Lacaba, I rediscovered the very long and detailed reporting by Kerima Polotan that made me appreciate what good writing is all about. I asked my Inquirer editor how and why such long pieces were published in the past. Did people read more in the past compared to the millennials today who get their news in short Twitter feeds?
Seeing events from Marcos’ point of view may not sound politically correct these days, but it is important for a historian to study the different versions of the truth, the different viewpoints, to try and reconstruct the past. The Official Gazette records that on Jan. 27, 1970, the day after the Sona, Marcos had a long conference in Malacañang with the police chiefs of Greater Manila to find out what caused the violence the night before.
He asked that charges against the student demonstrators be dropped and advised the police to be “more tolerant of the future leaders of the country.” However, charges against nonstudents who committed violence would remain. Marcos hoped that the student demonstrators’ charges against the police would be dropped. He also directed that charges against individual policemen be investigated.
The President received only two callers on that day: US Ambassador Henry Byroade and Rep. Justiniano S. Montano of Cavite in the morning. Marcos wrote in his diary:
“Also met with Cong. Montano at 11:30 AM. Asked him to stop his fellow Liberals from the crazy ideas of a coup d’etat.
“12:10 PM Imelda left for Leyte to attend the installation of the Bishop of Palo. Have just called her up by phone patch. She says Olot is so beautiful, the Papal Nuncio says it is more beautiful than Napoli. The moon is out. It is a three quarter fading moon.
“Met with the Chiefs of Police in the Metropolitan area, the Metrocom Chief and his staff, the PC Chief and his staff and the NBI chief. Asked Col. Tamayo and Barbers to report on the rioting yesterday. I requested that the charges against the students be dropped; charges against nonstudents can continue; that a critique be made of the conduct of the men in uniform; that steps be taken to prevent any injuries to demonstrators in the future as there are reports of individual cases of policemen using more force than necessary. The MPD Chief explained that in the melee and the mob action, it was difficult to say what are the proper limits to the use of force to meet force. They asked for additional equipment as the policemen have to buy their own helmets and baton. About 19 policemen were injured.
“As reported by Ignacio Lacsonia, his NUTC men in the rally saw Roger Arienda and his men start the rioting by throwing the coffin, the stuffed crocodile and stones at my car. I have asked Col. Ver to get their affidavits.
“I also met at 10:45 with Ambassador Byroade whom I quietly confronted with the story the Liberals are spreading openly, that the American Embassy is supporting an attempt at a coup d’etat. He claims they only listened to the need of a coup. I told him of Patterson’s suggestion to blow up the bridges to isolate Malacañang. He seemed stunned and said he was greatly concerned and would do something about it. He said as long as he and Nixon were in position, we would not be fighting the Americans.
“I am a little relieved by his apparent willingness to cooperate with me.”
It is unfortunate that we do not have the Official Gazette entries for the President’s Day for Jan. 28-Feb. 5, 1970, because it would have provided the context for the diary entries that follow. On Jan. 28, 1970, Marcos detailed what he saw to be the pattern of subversion that included a conspiracy to grab power and assassinate him. He went over a list of journalists and academics making the government look bad and contemplated a plan:
“If we do not prepare measures of counter action, they will not only succeed in assassinating me but [also] in taking over the government. So we must perfect our emergency plan. I have several options. One of them is to abort the subversive plan now by the sudden arrest of the plotters. But this would not be accepted by the people. Nor could we get the Huks, their legal cadres and support. Nor the MIM and other subversive or front organizations, nor those underground.
“We could allow the situation to develop naturally then after massive terrorism, wanton killings and an attempt at my assassination and a coup d’etat, then declare martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus—and arrest all including the legal cadres.
“Right now I am inclined towards the latter.
“The student demonstrators seem to want a parliamentary form of government.
“If I want to be perpetuated in power, this is the easier way to it, with a constitutional provision that there shall be no elections unless a majority of all members of a unicameral legislature should adopt a formal resolution asking for such elections—and the powers of the Prime Minister are those of the President now.”
That plan was executed in September 1972.