By: Roni Santiago

Beyond the common perception that martial law began on September 21, 1972 – 47 years ago today — when President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the Constitution, closed down Congress, arrested opposition leaders like Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. and Sen. Jose Diokno, along wih hundreds of other officials and newspapermen, very little is actually known as historical fact about this period in our history.

This is why we welcome the announcement that starting next semester, the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Arts and Letters will be offering a three-unit subject “Wika, Kultura, at Panitikan sa Ilalim ng Batas Militar sa Pilipinas” under Philippine Studies in the Departamento ng Pilipino at Panitikan sa Pilipinas.

It will be broad enough to include martial  law as imposed during the Spanish  colonial  rule  and during the Pacific War. But these will largely  serve  as background information  for  the crucial years of Marcos martial law that set  aside   the country’s democratic system of government  in 1972.

The  country learned  of martial  law on  September 23, 1972, although President Marcos  had signed he  martial law proclamation on September 17. He publicly declared  martial  law  as beginning on September 21 —  a multiple of 7 – possibly  because he liked the number seven. “TP-777” was  the  hull number of the presidential yacht.

On the  morning  of  September 23, the nation woke up to find no newspapers  and  no radio broadcasts.  In  subsequent  days,  there were announcements of the  suspension of the Constitution, the closing down of  Congress,  and the arrest of prominent opposition leaders and newspapermen .

In the succeeding months, the president issued presidential decrees in lieu of laws that used to be enacted by Congress. There followed rumors of arrests all over the country but there was no way to confirm  such  reports. To this day, we have only sketchy accounts of what  was  happening  in  the country  during those years.  There  were  official announcements of  the  trial by a military court  of Senator Aquino, his detention for the next  eight years in military camps, and his conviction to die by firing squad.

Martial  law was officially lifted  on January 17, 1981, but President  Marcos’ “authoritarian government” continued until the People Power Revolution  of 1986. Senator Aquino  was allowed to seek US treatment  in 1980  after  he suffered a heart attack in prison.  He returned  on August 21, 1983, only to be shot  dead at the tarmac of the Manila International  Airport.

These are among the known facts  about  martial  law but there were thousands of others who  were also detained during that period.  Other government officials like Senate President  Gil  Puyat went quietly into retirement. Their stories and those of so many others have never been written down.

Since 1986, the nation  has been so relieved over the end of martial law, wishing  perhaps to forget all about it  that many details of what actually happened  remain hazy to this  day.  Perhaps the new course  on the Marcos martial law that will  begin next  semester at UP will open the door to research, to  official accounts,   to a recalling of actual incidents  by those actually involved.

From  all these sources of information that  may come up in the new course  at UP, we may one day have a historical account of what  truly happened,   as part of the lessons for all students,  not just at the UP,  and  of the history of our nation.