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.