We have just arrived from Fort Magsaysay. You may recall then, in 1973, when my father was imprisoned in that camp for thirty days. His time in Fort Magsaysay was just a small portion of the seven years and seven months of hardship he experienced under the Marcos regime. And, come to think of it, he was merely one name among thousands in the list of Filipinos who were captured, jailed, and, if they were exceedingly ill-fated, killed, after Mr. Marcos allegedly signed the proclamation of Martial Law on the 21st of September, 1972.
This is why we find ourselves here, looking up at this monument, giving recognition to each name carved on it. It is not just my father we pay tribute to on this day. Several Filipinos gave their lives to restore democracy, and we have set aside this day for their memory, their sacrifice, and their heroism: they are the heroes of the Martial Law era. Whether or not their names are carved on the heroes’ monument, our gathering here is a symbol of our collective gratitude for their bravery.
Forty years have passed, and yet, to this day, the true details and events of Martial Law remain hidden from the public. One is the question of when Martial Law truly took effect. Many of you must be familiar with the video of the declaration, in which Marcos was sitting down, pointing at the camera, and seemingly staring down at the entire Filipino nation as he said: “I signed Proclamation Number 1081 placing the entire Philippines under Martial Law.” This happened on the 23rd of September. The question now is: If Marcos signed the proclamation on the 21st of September, why did he wait for two days before making it public? The answer: so that he could temporarily conceal Martial Law from the public, to give himself enough time to hunt down and take by surprise those who opposed his policies. This is why, on the 22nd of September, my father was arrested, and so were a number of personalities and civilians who were known threats to the regime that Marcos was building. Little did the public know that on the same day, the former President also released his first, and one of his worst decrees as dictator: General Order No. 1, which states that all power, as well as all operations of the entire government, would be under the control of a single person: Mr. Marcos.
The increasing number of crimes and the worsening state of rebellions: these were the reasons Marcos gave to justify Martial Law. He also said that his intention was to undertake reforms in our country’s social, livelihood, and political institutions. The line his propagandists took: if an iron fist exists in South Korea and Indonesia, then why not in the Philippines too? His message was clear: if you want to save our country from imminent collapse, then you must give me your freedom. At first glance, it seemed like a straightforward policy. After all, if you were not affiliated with plans to bring down the government, then you had nothing to fear; you were absolved. But the problem was: the moment you questioned Marcos’s decisions, you were made to pay.
I was only 12 years old then, and I did not have any idea of the monumental effect September 1972 would have on our family. Yes, I knew that my father was busy and also anxious on the days leading up to the declaration of Martial Law, but as a child, I did not give it much attention. I did not know, for example, that the streets would be filled with checkpoints. That they could stop the printing of papers and shut down radio stations. They could even have our favorite television programs stopped. If you expressed your opinion, and it differed with that of Marcos’, then you could be arrested. If you did something that Marcos simply didn’t like, they would immediately put you in jail.
In those thirteen years, the Marcos regime had their way with our laws and placed the interest of the common people in jeopardy. He wrote his own constitution, and pushed it in a Constitutional Convention for a vote. When he found that the constitution would probably lose a plebiscite, he changed the rules once again. Instead, there was a simple raising of hands in each barangay: a move undoubtedly fueled by cronyism and cheating. Because of this constitution, he padlocked Congress and took from them their power. Even the Supreme Court, based on their decision on the Javellana versus Executive Secretary case back in March 1973, showed that Marcos’ new Constitution was in effect. He succeeded in amassing all the powers of the state, and plunged our country into abyss of dictatorship.
Come 1978, the peoples’ collective doubt of the sincerity of Martial Law began to solidify. Those who used to turn a blind eye to the questionable goings on in society were slowly overcome by disappointment and anger. They could not sit back and keep quiet at the unexplainable disappearances of civilians. They grew tired of shutting their eyes to the corrupt practices and the abuse of soldiers and government officials. Even the soldiers used by the regime to spread intimidation, fear, and violence, were beginning to ask: Are we still doing the right thing? If we are truly soldiers of the people, why are we being ordered to hurt our defenseless fellowmen? The dictatorship spared no one. Every person was victimized by Martial Law. Every person, including our soldiers. And on the night of the 6th of April—on the eve of the election for the “Interim Batasang Pambansa”—one could hear thousands of Filipinos who had joined a noise barrage to support my father’s party, in defiance of the dictatorship. Though my father’s party may not have won the election, the noise of the protest paved the way for many more demonstrations. In schools. In plazas. In government offices. The people went everywhere, just so they could share their unified concerns: Enough is enough. We’ve had it. He must go.
As reaction to the disapproval coming from other nations, Marcos formally lifted Martial Law in 1981. But, as expected, Marcos still wanted the upper hand. Because of his constitutional amendments, he still held absolute power over the country. In short, they made a fool of Juan dela Cruz. Until we reached the incident that sparked a revolution: on the tarmac of the airport, even before he could once again step on our native soil, the sound of gunshots resounded in the air. My father was assassinated.
This signaled the start of the revolution. The Filipinos who once said: “Let’s give Marcos a chance; it might work,” became the opposition who asked: “If they could do this to a former Senator, what more could they do to common citizens like us?” Doubt shrouded Marcos even further when the entire world witnessed 29 computer technicians walk out as a sign of protest against Marcos’ blatant manipulation of the election in 1986. Millions of people flocked to EDSA to finally let Marcos know that they are tired of Martial Law. Nuns walked head-on against tanks; our soldiers and ordinary people stood arm-in-arm in the middle of the rally. We overthrew a dictatorship peacefully; we ended Martial Law through our faith and trust in one another.
I wish to make it clear: we won back our democracy not because of the assassination of my father. We reclaimed it because we had hundreds of heroes who committed to fight for the rights of those in the margins; because there were those who insisted on fighting for our freedom, so that they could depose those who acted as if they were kings; because there are those who refuse to be enslaved by a dictator, and instead stand up for the rights of their fellowmen; because there are many other martyrs who freed themselves from the chains of the Marcos regime, at the cost of their lives.
Sometimes, I do not know whether to laugh or cry whenever I hear someone insisting that life was better during Martial Law. There were many conflicting opinions during that period, and perhaps I cannot blame those of our countrymen who take Mr. Marcos’ side—who say that if Martial Law continued, then, surely, our country would be better and more developed by now—that we would be living in a New Society. They have a right to express their own opinion, and we respect that right. But while we try our best to be fair to these people, I wish they could look us in the eye and answer us when we ask them this: Did we gain anything from Martial Law? I’m sorry, but I will not allow people to be misled by the skewed perceptions of a few.
Let us be honest. If Martial Law was supposed to be the solution that would bring down crime, why were we showered with news of disappearances, salvages, and summary executions? If Martial Law was the solution that would stunt the growth of communism, then why is it that, according to the book “Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power,” the number of people in the NPA grew from 1,250 in 1972 to an estimated 40,000 in 1983? If Martial Law was the solution that would improve the economy, why is it that the value of the peso dropped from four pesos to one dollar, to twenty-five pesos to one dollar, during Marcos’ time in office? Is this the promise of the New Society? You be the judge.
To make certain that the information we pass on to our children is based on true historical events, I have tasked the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to form a commission, whose purpose is to thoroughly collect experiences and stories from individuals who were alive during the Martial Law era. We wish to ensure that only the truth will be printed in the books of our students—not the collected lies of propagandists and not the deceitful clippings of revisionists.
There is a saying: “Those who forget the mistakes of the past are bound to repeat it.” Let us not allow our rights and our freedom to ever be imperiled again. I will not bequeath the mistakes of history to the coming generations. Let us value the lessons of Martial Law. It is the task of each and every one of us to uphold these lessons, by becoming our brother’s keepers and by recognizing the hardships and sacrifices my father, and other victims of Martial Law, undertook. We will turn the crooked principles and beliefs onto the straight path, so that we may help everyone remember the value of democracy and freedom, as well as the love for nation displayed by the Filipinos who fought against the dictatorship. Only truth and integrity will guide us on the straight path. Never again will we go astray, and our bequest to you—to our youth—will be a nation illuminated by justice and freedom. President Benigno S. Aquino III