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50 years hence

Fifty years ago, a superstitious then president Ferdinand E. Marcos chose to sign Proclamation No. 1081, placing the Philippines under Martial Law, using today’s date. The dictator’s obsession with numerology, particularly the number seven, necessitated that the proclamation that would ultimately define his rule be officially signed on a date that was divisible by seven.

Mr. Marcos would subsequently appear on television at 7:15pm on September 23, 1972 to announce that he had placed the “entire Philippines under Martial Law,” framing his announcement in legalistic terms that were untrue. According to the website martiallawmuseum.ph, he cited a sizeable Communist force that had obtained weapons from China that sought to overthrow the government and violate the peaceful lives of ordinary Filipinos.

Furthermore, Marcos promised that he would use the special powers he had granted himself to lead reforms that would lead the Philippines to prosperity and peace. Those who did not oppose his vision would live to see it come to fruition; on the other hand, those who dared to offend his rule would suffer just as any rebel would.

After the nationwide address of Ferdinand Marcos, personalities considered as threats such as Senators Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Jose Diokno, Francisco Rodrigo and Ramon Mitra Jr.; and members of the media such as Joaquin Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr., Maximo Soliven and Amado Doronila were rounded up. By 4am of September 23, 100 of the 400 personalities targeted for arrest were already detained in Camp Crame.

Martial Law and its horrifying atrocities that included 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 ‘disappeared’, and 70,000 incarcerations; would officially end on January 17, 1981. The plunder of the nation’s coffers would continue until his overthrow in 1986.

Today, the 1987 Constitution safeguards our institutions from a repeat of Marcos’ Martial Law regime. The Supreme Court is empowered to review all official acts to determine if there has been grave abuse of discretion. Congress cannot be padlocked. Martial Law is limited in duration and effects. Back then, fresh from regaining the freedoms we lost to a dictator’s use and abuse of Martial Law, our lawmakers were determined to prevent the horrors that began with Proclamation No. 1081 that was dated September 21, 1972.

As our country moves forward, 50 years hence, let our Martial Law experience continue to serve a grim reminder of what we stand to lose when we allow one person to wield too much power over this country, its institutions and its people.*

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