Sept. 21, 1972:  Revisiting a dark memory

ariel nepomuceno_1UNTIL today, the intense debates on how Presidential Proclamation 1081 affected the lives of millions of Filipinos have not ceased.  Akin to a love relationship, some would say there can never be a closure until the vast majority of our population realize the truth on how this particular episode in our history impacted our hearts and minds.

Most of the youth and yuppies of today have never experienced martial law, and some of us were just kids or toddlers when then-President Ferdinand Marcos, with his confident but haunting voice, monopolized each and every family’s TV screen on September 21, 1972, as he declared, in so many obvious ways,   that time has come for authoritarian rule and that everyone deserved it. Yes, we deserved it, because communist ideology has seeped in the crevices of Philippine society, fomenting unnecessary and baseless dissent, bringing about uncertainty, restlessness, criminal activities which posed an existing threat to the security and stability of our beloved republic. So, woe to us and we should live with it.

How it was during martial law

The results were formidably disastrous. Fundamental freedoms and rights were repressed with the military being used as Marcos’s main attack dogs.  The first step taken was to close all media and print outfits that were critical of the regime and which did not sell the “new society” brand name.  Several broadcast personalities, reporters, columnists and editors were tortured and imprisoned.

Next target were the havens of learning—university officials, administrative staff, professors and students. The other organized groups and movements—peasantry, fisherfolk, laborers, urban poor, writers, artists, religious and professional groups—were similarly subjected to harassment and violent actions on the part of the government. Witch hunts, investigations, interrogations, detention and torture in different variants and forms became a de facto state policy.  Why, even our basic textbooks and literary materials were assiduously revised, history tampered with in order to remove the communist apple that has poisoned the minds of hundreds of schoolchildren and university students. They say that the McCarthy period in the USA paled beside Marcos’s machinations.

Sadly, the political culture was further debased with the opposition muzzled, and the supporters of Marcos’s party elevated to a surreal, ridiculous level. Congress became a stamp pad, and so was the Supreme Court. The institutions were denigrated and the Philippine Constitution debauched.

Camouflage and cooptation

IN the years that followed, Marcos created a façade of economic development by embarking on big industrial and infrastructure projects, like government buildings, roads, irrigation, dams and bridges. Export orientation became the focus and, thus, various export-processing zones and warehouses proliferated. Incentives for investments in energy, manufacturing, technology and agricultural development were given.  However, all these initiatives were heavily reliant on loans from the International Monetary Fund and other international banks and financial institutions. The nation’s business and economic managers feared two major entities—the World Bank and the IMF. The latter practically dictated local economic policies. By the 1980s our external debt reached more than $17 billion.

In addition to our debt burdens was the spread of crony capitalism, where friends and close associates of Marcos’s were extended generous credits from banks, granted exemptions from taxes, and were given opportunities to monopolize key industries, such as manufacturing,  agriculture (sugar, rice and coconut), banking and finance,  media  and government procurements. When foreign funding stopped in the 1980s, these cronies had to be handheld by the government, thus, resulting to more budget deficits. Conclusion:  The poor became poorer and the rich, richer by far. Social justice was an elusive dream.

Distorted memory

IT is, therefore, dumbfounding to hear the comments of the remnants of this dark age that the martial-law years were better, because there was peace, discipline and order all around.  We had classy buildings, cemented roads, beautiful bridges and was being recognized all over the world.  We hosted the Miss Universe pageant, the Muhammad Ali fight, and several art, film and musical festivals that showcased the beauty and artistry that was Imelda.

Unfortunately, our youths have been increasingly mouthing these observations because of a lack of coherent and lucid understanding of what really happened during those dark days.   Some of our citizens have even gone to the extent of demanding for a dictator to rule this country, and exhibited the willingness to forgo observance of basic human freedoms  if only to have a country as stable and rich  when we were led by Marcos.

This alarming sociopolitical naïveté must be halted by reeducating our citizenry about the horrors of authoritarian rule. We must talk about it, participate in the discussions, instill awareness and use our existing democratic space to drive home the very important message about the need for lasting change in our political life.

Real democracy and the imperatives of  good governance will drive economic growth. In turn, this growth will improve the lives of our people, and the rest of the best shall surely follow.

The lessons of September 21, 1972, are as vivid today more than ever.  With the 2016 elections just by the doorstep, the memory should be deeply etched in our consciousness.  No matter how dark and painful.  We shall not forget. Neither should we forgive without justice.


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