September 21, 1972 is a dark period in our people’s history when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos placed the whole Philippines under martial law with his Proclamation No. 1081. He started a reign of terror against his own citizens whom he had sworn to protect and defend. Hundreds of thousands of men and women, from all sectors of society, political opponents and activists who were critical and resisted the government were arrested and detained, tortured, abducted and forcibly disappeared. Whole villages and communities suffered from strategic hamlettings, imposition of food blockades, bombings and militarization. The government, the military and police, and its para-military units ruled with impunity, backed up by the courts and other agencies of the state. With martial law, Marcos was also able to extend his rule beyond the constitutional two-term limit as President (1965-1969, 1969-1972) until he was overthrown by the people’s uprising that culminated at EDSA in 1986.
It is unfortunate that the younger generation seems not to know, or know enough of this period in our people’s history (or our people’s history period). There could be several reasons for this ignorance or gap in our collective political memory — the failure of schools and teachers, the legacy of fear and terror, the attempts to rewrite history from the side of the Marcos family and the status quo, and the traditional and social media’s dishing out of myths, lies and distortions of history.
It is hard to listen to compatriots who revere Marcos as a saint and go on to defend martial rule, extol the virtues of martial law (citing “peace and order”, curfew, concrete edifices), praise his use of the iron hand, and to simply ignore the horrors and human rights violations that plagued those dark years. The impact of the martial law years and the ideology of fascism are carried over by the post-Marcos governments. The struggle of the victims of human rights violations to demand justice and indemnification continue and are deeply felt even now.
I find this thinking that martial law was good for the people troubling and I find it difficult to be calm about it. Why? Because I grew up under this dictatorship, it was my generation who lived, studied and worked in the Philippines. I witnessed it. Martial law was not just a theoretical and academic construct. It was real. Marcos, the architect of martial law, also made it very personal – when the military arrested, tortured and detained my husband in 1982, I took that against Marcos and his minions personally. His mother became politicized, like many mothers of political prisoners. Together, my mother-in-law and I marched with other families in many rallies and carried our placards and banners, picketed in front of the Supreme Court, stormed the offices of the military and the office of National Defense to demand the release of her son, my husband and that of the other political prisoners. My mother-in-law’s fierce love for her son extended to other political prisoners and their families and she became a passionate advocate for human rights.
I know full well the ugly face of martial law. From among the many people who were arrested and detained, killed and salvaged during those years, are people I know or have met. One of them was my best friend in UP, she was arrested, tortured and detained in Nueva Ecija in 1981. As a human rights worker, I have also met mothers whose young sons and daughters have disappeared for many years but they still remember and hope. In 1983, I sat across the table with Juan Escandor’s family after their son’s body was exhumated and autopsied only to grieve a thousand times over to learn that their son suffered terribly before he died and that his captors had desecrated his body as well. One female cultural activist who was “salvaged” by the military in Mauban, Quezon in 1976 especially inspired me with her rendition of Amado V. Hernandez’s poem “Kung Tuyo Na ang Luha Mo, Aking Bayan” in many pre-martial law performances.
It is also troubling when threats of martial law from President Duterte are announced and circulated, and more recently when the declaration of the “state of lawlessness” was declared after the Davao bombing. We have already seen close up the horrors of martial rule. Martial rule and whatever transformations it takes under different governments must be questioned, critiqued and resisted. The extrajudicial killings in the Duterte government campaign against illegal drugs should be stopped and should be resisted.
Never again. Never forget. We must continue to be vigilant and critical. We must continue to organize and demand the meaningful change that we want, as communities, as overseas Filipinos, for the Philippines.
We must continue to remember and honour the many men and women, especially those who lived and died in defiance of the repressive Marcos regime. Never forget. Continue to fight.
Never forget. I named my child “Leah” to honour friend and activist Leah Masajo who was pregnant when she was “salvaged” by the military. She was buried in a common grave and there are no crosses or flowers to mark her resting place. But Leah is not forgotten.
Tinig Migrante by E. Maestro