When President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Proclamation No. 1081 placing the entire Philippines under martial law effective September 21, 1972, the country had a population of 37.9 million. Out of the present population of 111.3 million, 73.4 million or two out of every Filipinos, were born after that event. This explains why, if asked to comment or reflect on whether or not the imposition of martial law was beneficial to the country, their answer would probably be a shrug of indifference.
Notwithstanding this reality, it is well for Filipinos today to ponder on the significance of the imposition of martial law that was “lifted” in 1981, but in the reckoning of most, truly ended only after the triumph of the EDSA People Power uprising on February 25, 1986.
The bottom-line question is this: Did martial law make the Philippines a more prosperous country? After all, its avowed purpose was to “save the Republic and build a New Society.”
The global oil crisis in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in minimal economic growth. Adjusted for inflation, the average annual GDP growth during the martial law era was a measly 1.2 percent. At its end, the country carried a huge debt burden on top of extreme poverty and severe underemployment. The collapse of the sugar industry in Negros Occidental province caused widespread poverty and hunger. One of the iconic images of that era was the skin-and-bones profile of Joel Abong, son of a carpenter, who was among scores of children who died due to severe malnutrition.
When martial law was imposed, Congress and the ongoing Constitutional Convention were shut down. Newspapers and radio-TV broadcast facilities were either closed or taken over by the military. Thousands were arrested and detained without charges, among them prominent elected officials and high-profile opposition personalities led by then Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, Jr.
Congress passed a law in 2013 providing compensation to the victims of martial law violence and their heirs or survivors. The funds were sourced from the forfeiture to the Philippine government of Marcos’ assets declared by a US federal court as having been illegally acquired. In enacting Republic Act No, 10368, the elected people’s representatives acknowledged the massive human rights violations and the forcible takeover of businesses perpetrated during martial law.
Aquino’s assassination on August 21, 1983 triggered a serious political and economic crisis. Snap elections were held in early February 1986 amid widespread citizen protests. The questioned election results became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. On February 25, 1986, Marcos and his family left hurriedly for Hawaii aboard a US military plane and began years of forced exile. Earlier that day, Corazon Aquino was installed as President of a revolutionary government that ended 21 years of the Marcos presidency.
Continuing education on the causes and consequences of martial law is essential, for the benefit of the present generation of Filipinos who deserve to be sufficiently enlightened that they may do their share in safeguarding democracy in our land.