Dark era or golden age? Filipinos young and old look at martial law

By Rizal Obanil

Exactly 46 years ago a very crucial event in history happened that shaped the Filipino psyche for generations to come.


Has the memory of what some consider to be a “dark era” or a “golden one”, depending on who you ask, in Philippine history endured through the years? Or has it slowly faded with every generation failing to remind the young ones of the implications of such a presidential proclamation.

As street parliamentarians would chant: “Never again! Never again! Martial Law!

Is that vigor to counter what they deemed to be wrong still present in the younger generations, particularly the millennials? Or is it now just a faded memory which will eventually be forgotten?

On the other side of the spectrum, there exists today the side of those who believe that had martial law continued up to the present, the Philippines would now be a country similar in terms of economic status to Singapore.

Proclamation No. 1081 or otherwise known as the declaration of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos started an era of a one-man rule for the next 14 years.

Today, many of those who were still alive at the time that martial law was declared on September 21, 1972, still can recall the very significant date.

To test the memory of the older and younger generations, the Manila Bulletin video team interviewed random people from different generations to test their memory on two very important events that happened on the month of September.

The first question was if they were aware of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of those were asked were immediately able to recall the event.

Some of them even described how the Twin Towers in New York City were rammed by an airplane, which eventually became clear was perpetrated by terrorists.

A street vendor immediately recounted that there was an explosion, which technically is incorrect if what he actually meant was that there was a bomb that caused the explosion.

An elderly woman likewise said that the event was actually about an explosion. Although an explosion might have actually happened after one of the two towers was rammed, it was mainly due to the impact of the collision and tons of highly volatile fuel that the airplane contained.

With the first event, many especially the younger ones had easy recollections.

They weren’t as certain though when asked what transpired on Sept. 21, 1972.

According to Wikipedia, although the document about the event stated that martial was declared on Sept. 21, 1972, the public announcement was actually done on Sept. 23 of the same year.

Understandably, those who were older easily remembered the date and indeed blurted out that it was about the declaration of martial law.

Some of the students who were interviewed struggled at first but were eventually able to answer correctly.

Sadly, many of the younger interviewees were not even able to give an answer and in fact admitted that they were unaware of the significance of the date.

The reason behind the declaration

To this very day, there are many reasons offered why the declaration was made in the first place.

Those reasons vary from the actual official justifications made by the Marcos administration to the those that were put forward by the opposition.

University of the Philippines Alex Brillantes Jr. Identified three reasons;

Brillantes in his 1987 treaties “Dictatorship and Martial Law” Philippine Authoritarianism in 1972” Brillantes wrote that martial law was declared because it:

  1. Was a response to various leftist and rightist plots against the Marcos administration;

  2. Was just the consequence of political decay after American-style democracy failed to take root in Philippine society; and

  3. Was a reflection of Filipino society's history of authoritarianism and the supposed need for iron-fisted leadership.

The first two reasons were actually stated in Proclamation 1081 and were worded as “to save the republic” and “to reform society”.

In fact, the Marcos regime’s more prominent program was the supposed establishment of a “bagong lipunan” (new society), even though many were unaware how this could actually be realized.

Brillantes wrote that the third rationalization was born out of the then administration’s desire to promote Marcos as a “strongman” who will be able to compel Filipinos to follow, therefore promoting discipline.

Economic side

The reasons stated above are more political in nature but some Marcos critics also suggested that there is an economic side to the declaration.

The three reasons they say why martial law was declared was: that the global market system at the time required tight control of sociopolitical systems of the country’s resources to better exploit them; it was a product of the infighting among the families that belonged to the upper social strata of society and the supposed conspiracy between the state and elite to keep the lower rungs of society from obtaining social mobilization and eventually become powerful in their own right.

Actual announcement

As earlier stated, although the declaration was made official on Sept. 21, the actual announcement was done on the morning of September 23, 1972 after authorities succeeded in enforcing a lockdown of media outlets all over the country.

After the media lockdown, only channel KBS-9 went back on air but was eventually interrupted at 3 pm when press secretary Francisco Tatad read Proclamation No. 1081 and at 7:15 pm Marcos himself went on air and made the formal announcement.

Where do we go from here?

Although many would argue that martial law brought about economic prosperity and the supposed “golden age” of infrastructure to the country, there are still many counter-arguments to this, particularly the supposed human rights abuses that seem to justify why many are still strongly against it.

This survey-type video, proves that many of the millennials are unaware of a life-altering event, owing mainly to the fact that they were still not born at the time it happened.

Former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the key figures during the martial rule and also a part of what is now known as the world’s only bloodless revolt, the 1986 EDSA revolution, in an interview over television said that he does not blame the younger generation for their apathy towards a crucial time in Philippine history. He said that the so-called millennials have been fed wrong information of that part of history.

However, although it may be true that this particular generation is unaware of the Sept. 21 declaration for lack of exposure to more credible reading materials, it is still the duty of the other generations to remind them of such events.

“Those who fail to learn history are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist said.

Here's the video: