story on bongbong marcos and martial law, written 2010

yep, it is that time of year again. september 21. anniversary of martial law.

i used to be a stringer and columnist for the khaleej times, UAE. this was one of my pieces for them.

sen. marcos was visibly miffed when i asked him about it.

pdf file is in my other laptop. i can’t find this online anymore. i wish i could’ve shared either with you 😦 but hey, found the raw version in my old gmail.


Head: Martial Law 38 years later: the good, the bad, and the unforgiven


By Gina Abuyuan


MANILA – As the country remembered the 38th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, opinions were divided on its effects, its pros and cons, and its significance today.

Two elderly solons, Rodolfo Biazon and Sergio Apostol, said “there is no more need for the country to commemorate it,” according to an article in the Manila Bulletin. Biazon, who was then a major in the Philippine Marines, and Apostol, Quezon City chief prosecutor in the latter years of Martial Law, both agreed that the current significance of Presidential Proclamation 1081 would better be left explained by history books.

“We have to remember the circumstances (under which it was declared); most people do not,” says Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., son of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, who declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972 and lifted it in 1981. “At that time, we were fighting two wars—the secessionist movement in the South, and NPA (the Communist-led New People’s Army) were getting to be adventurous in conducting an all-out war to bring down the government. Martial Law was necessary because there was great danger to the State. It also afforded us the ability to direct with greater efficiency the efforts of government for nation building as well.”

During the decade, crime rates plunged and the economy bounced back. The gross national product increased from P55 billion in 1972 to P193 billion in 1980; tourists rose from less than 200,000 in the early ‘70s to one million in 1980.


‘Dark night of body and soul’

“During the first years, as they say,” says renowned Filipino poet, author, columnist, screenwriter, journalist, and translator Pete Lacaba, “things were quiet, there were no rallies, everyone obeyed traffic rules…the Cultural Center of the Philippines was built, and the arts were given due attention.” The Lung Center, Heart Center, and Kidney Center—a cluster of specialist hospitals—were built. The era also opened up for him the opportunity to start screenwriting for Filipino film greats such as Lino Brocka and Mike de Leon.

“But in the final analysis,” Lacaba says softly, “I would think the minuses outweighed the plusses.”

Detained without charges for two years, Lacaba is one of the thousands who claim they were wrongly imprisoned and tortured during the Martial Law years. “I lost my job, I didn’t see my son during his first two years of life, except for when he and my wife visited me in prison. A lot of people and friends got killed, tortured, imprisoned—what can I say? It was a dark night of body and soul.”

Save for this year, when he stayed home due to an eye condition, Lacaba usually commemorates the anniversary of Martial Law with the members of Bantayog ng Mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes), a foundation established by former senator Jovito Salonga. A former board member of Bantayog, the structure itself has a “wall of remembrance,” photos of people who died during the Martial Law years, “so we won’t forget what they fought for,” says Lacaba.


Good leadership needed

Considering the dismal condition of the Philippine budget (P293 billion as of end 2009), the massive need for improved infrastructure, widespread corruption (it ranked 139 worldwide last year, according to Corruptions Perceptions Index), a good portion of society believes that the country does need an iron-fist to get its act back together.

“The criticism that about Martial Law usually comes from the political opposition. (They thought it) gave very little chance for them to gain ground and have a larger part in government; my father understood that and formed a movement called KBL (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, or New Society Movement), an all-inclusive movement, as a vehicle for that participation. But I suppose they were opposed not only to the policies of my father but my father himself,” says Sen. Marcos.

“And what will bring back that kind of attitude, that kind of thinking? The same sort of president,” he continues adamantly. “I think that the problems we have arise from the poor quality of leadership that has come since. Governance hasn’t been taken that seriously, and the people haven’t taken the job, the challenge of nation building as the centerpiece of what they should do.”

The cause of it, he opines, is the political system, a multi-party system that involves a myriad of factors that does not allow the best of the best to be vetted out—unlike a two-party system, which ensures that “whatever happens, the best are elected”; and the attitude of partisan politics that pervades even after individuals are elected.

“We have been embroiled in partisan politics so deeply that the actual programs, the work of government is forgotten.” Getting elected does not automatically mean one will make an effective leader. “I think that is the change we have to institute if we are to get good leaders back and the country’s progress back on track.”


What it takes to be ‘one’

Many—even those who eventually went towards the opposition—agree that one legacy of the brighter days of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s rule, is that Filipinos were proud to be Filipinos. “We considered ourselves Filipinos, one nation, all working towards the same goals, and we took our place in the international community. Until we get that unified feeling back, it’s going to be hard to get the country making progress in the same direction,” says Sen. Marcos.

And that includes supporting the current president. “Despite the media making it (so), there is no longer a fight between the Marcoses and Aquinos, and there has not been one for a very, very, very long time,” Marcos says, sounding frustrated. “My view is simple: I’m here to make the Philippines a better place, and my simple principle is if the president does well, the country does well. If the president does badly, so does the country, so let’s hope the president does well and we’ll do everything we can to make sure he does.”

Activist, publisher, and political analyst Renato Constantino, Jr., says what will help the Philippines get back on its feet runs much deeper: “We were unified when our forefathers fought to throw off the yoke of Spain and America,” he states when asked if there was ever really a time when we were “one.” “However, since the collaborating elite managed to co-opt the reins of power, the people have always been left out in the cold.

“This is why nothing has changed. Martial Law and all its variant ‘democratic’ mutations will continue to find fertile ground as long as our people remain ignorant of our rich history of struggle for freedom and sovereignty.”



Head: ‘I knew it was coming’


The declaration of Martial Law 38 years ago didn’t come as a surprise to the young Bongbong Marcos. He remembers hearing his father talk about it before that.

“I knew it was coming. By that time, the writ of habeas corpus had been suspended, there were all kinds of trouble around the country, there was a gridlock in government because of partisan politics—there was very much a crisis in the country. I remember my father saying that ‘I hope it doesn’t come to this, but we may have to declare Martial Law to regain control of the countryside, the country.’”

The Marcoses were so open and close-knit—they still are—that he remembers his father having an open door policy when it came to his children.

“We were allowed to walk into his office anytime and read anything on his desk,” recalls Bongbong. “Of course when something would be stamped ‘for the President’s eyes only’, that’s what would get us excited,” he says, laughing.

There was one ethos in the Marcos household, he says, and that was the “that you should always be learning something, something. If you’re not learning, you’re not alive…the habit of continuously considering yourself a student.”

He shares that the older Marcos wasn’t the type to sit them all down and tell them what to do or not do. What they learned—simple things like be good, work hard, watch your health, etc.—plus the sense of duty to the country, was learned by “some kind of osmosis. We’d pick up on all these things that he was doing. It happened in a very subtle way—we never really realized we were learning anything. Then something comes up and you do something and you think, where the heck did that come from? And you guess your dad did something similar and it stayed in your subconscious.”

One thing that’s stayed is his father’s work ethic: “Do everything you can, so you can go to bed at night knowing that if you did not achieve everything you want, you did everything you possibly could to try and get to that point.”

And so Ferdinand Marcos did declare Martial Law. His 15-year old son was in boarding school, in Worth School in England, when Proclamation 1081 was made.

The senator recalls Jaime Zobel phoning him and telling him, “’I need to talk to you. I have to inform you that your father declared Martial Law in the Philippines.’” Zobel was then-ambassador to the United Kingdom to the Court of St. James. “I said, okay, and put the phone down and went back to class. Very simple.”

Then, Bongbong admits he “didn’t quite understand what it meant. At that age, you don’t quite have big opinions on the subject.” He and his sisters, Imee (now governor of their hometown, Ilocos Norte) and Irene, “assumed it was going to be exactly the same—which of course it wasn’t. I guess we were just kids watching events unfold and trying to make sense of what was going on. Slowly, we realized that this was a fundamental change in the political life of the Philippines, and also in our lives.

“In a way, it was a gamble by the old man. Of course being his children, we were concerned how this gamble would pay off, to bring back the reforms he wanted, that he would be able to resist the forces of secession, of revolution. And in the end, he was able to.” –Gina Abuyuan



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