Martial Law at 49: What do the young think of martial law?

Published September 20, 2021, 6:37 PM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos

•    Four millennial (born 1977-1995) and Generation Z (mid-1990s-early 2010s) individuals were asked where they got their knowledge about martial law. The answer — school, family, but mostly from social media

•    Though they have different opinions, they all shared the belief that it is the responsibility of the youth to make sure martial law will not be repeated again

Former President Ferdinand Marcos announces the imposition of martial law on Sept. 23, 1972 on live TV. He signed the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972. (Photo from the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines)

Martial Law, as many Filipinos know it, was one of the darkest periods in Philippine history.

Forty-nine years later, many are still seeking justice for human rights abuses that happened during that time.

But what does the younger generation think of martial law? Forty-nine years after it was declared on Sept. 21, 1972 by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, how is that dark period remembered today by a generation whose parents were not even born then, or were not old enough to remember?

We talked to four millennial (born 1977 to 1995) and Generation Z (born mid-1990s to early 2010s) individuals and asked them where they got their knowledge about martial law. The answer — school, family, but mostly from social media.

Though they had different opinions, they all shared the belief that it is the responsibility of the youth to make sure martial law will not be repeated again.

Read on and learn what these young minds think.

Social media

Nineteen-year-old student leader Angelica Sanchez said she first learned about martial law from her grade school HEKASI (History) teacher. Years later, she learned more about it from social media.

Sanchez said she read a Facebook post describing the good projects that former President Ferdinand Marcos had done to make people’s lives easier then, and how he made the country compete globally in terms of economy.

Yet, in the same social media platform, Sanchez said she read about the abuses of military men during martial law. She said she saw the “other side of the coin” from information read in social media.

“There were some economic and infrastructure development. The LRT stations were built during that time.  So, too, the nuclear power plant, which became a waste because it was not used. Nutribun was also famous then. There was a nightly curfew, and military presence was all over the country,” she said.

“There were also cases of killings without reasonable causes, and abuses of military men, and so on,” Sanchez said.

From her readings, Sanchez said she at first thought of martial law as okay, it brought progress; then she read some more and she saw the injustice and human rights abuses.

“My belief with regards to martial law changed from: ‘Wow ang dami niya ring nagawa na nagagamit ngayon. Baka okay rin (It produced many things we are still using today so maybe it’s okay)’ into ‘Hindi makatarungan yung dinulot ng martial law. Naapakan nila yung karapatang pantao (Martial law brought injustice and it stepped on human rights),'” she added.

But from her family, she learned different views about that period.

“We came from a poor family and my lola started as a ‘labandera’ (a woman who washes clothes). All her children were working students. They said:  ‘Malaking ginhawa ang martial law (Martial law made things easy)’ for them,” she said.

She said the family remembers the nutribun which saved them many times from hunger, and the distribution of free rice to the poor.

Sanchez said that despite what she perceived as the good things that came out during the Marcos administration, one should not forget what happened during the martial law years.

“I believe that there are also good things that happened. But martial law itself should never happen again,” she said.

“Basic human rights should not be violated ever again,” she said.

‘We forgot about living’

Another student, Catherine Guanzon, first learned about martial law in elementary school, during a class that discussed Philippine presidents. She said the topic did not catch her interest at first until her family talked about it a few years ago.

“[Back] in junior high school, my family and I got to talk about the things that happened in the past and my mother explained [martial law] to me in a very simple way that, I think, molded my perspective in life. She said martial law was the time they just worked and “forgot about living.”

“The people experienced a nightmare they can never forget. Because of the greed for power and money, a lot of people lost their lives fighting for freedom, and fighting for what is right and just for humanity,” she said of what she learned from her mother.

Documentaries and movies

Twenty-seven-year-old TV producer Von Hernandez learned more about martial law from social media, documentaries, and movies like the 2017 indie film “Respeto.” He said the topic was not discussed in-depth in school.

However, he observed that there seems to be a constant battle about which information is correct.

“You would ask yourself if the information is the truth or not. Especially, because there was always this battle between the Marcos Era being called the ‘Golden Age,’ or one of the darkest chapters in our history,” Hernandez said.

“But I believe the latter, especially after reading stories and personal accounts of martial law victims,” he added.

Cor San Juan, a 27-year-old information technology (IT) professional, said she grew up having a “neutral opinion” on martial law because her mother said life then was better during the Marcos regime which was contrary to what she learned from school.

However, she said her mind was opened by more information that she read about the martial law period which were available in the online media.  She said that opened her eyes to the “atrocities of the regime.”

“Quality of life was not okay during martial law and it puzzles me why anyone would still support the Marcoses until now,” San Juan said.

Responsibility of the youth

Despite the differences in opinions about martial law, the four interviewees agreed that it is the responsibility of every person, particularly the youth, to make sure that the “darkest chapter” in Philippine history will not be repeated.

“There will always be people who will try to discredit the facts of the gruesome fate of the victims of martial law. It will always be our responsibility to know the truth of what really happened in our history,” Hernandez said.

Do not allow history to be revised

“This is the reason why we should not let anyone revise history because we all know how the quote from George Santayana goes: ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,'” San Juan said.