Martial Law under President Ferdinand Marcos

Sunday January 01, 2017 ()

Ninoy Aquino and Marcos Martial Law

The year 2016 ends with speculations that President Rodrigo Duterte wants to declare Martial Law and institute one-man rule in the Philippines. The speculations emanate mainly from Vice President Leni Robredo, who merely echoes lines from her political patrons in the Liberal Party who practically gave her the vice presidency on a silver platter. Nonetheless, Robredo is all empty rhetoric inasmuch as her accusations against Duterte indicate that she does not understand Martial Law, either during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos, or under the 1987 Constitution.

President Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972 pursuant to the explicit provisions of the 1935 Constitution. Marcos explained that Martial Law is not a military takeover but a measure calculated to save the Republic from the communist insurgency. That insurgency was real, and it was one of the reasons why the Supreme Court, in a later decision, refused to overturn the president's declaration of Martial Law.

Martial Law under President Ferdinand Marcos

Martial Law did not cause the creation of the 1973 Constitution. In November 1972, the 1971 Constitutional Convention finished its draft charter. Two days later, Convention President Diosadado Macapagal himself went to MalacaƱang to personally hand over to President Marcos the official copy of the draft.

In January 1973, after citizens assemblies nationwide ratified the proposed charter, President Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1102 declaring that the Constitution proposed by the convention had been duly ratified. In April 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1973 Constitution was in force and effect.

Since Martial Law was proclaimed when Congress was not in session, President Marcos took to exercising both executive and legislative powers. Political opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. questioned this in the Supreme Court but the tribunal upheld the president because the transitory provisions of the 1973 Constitution, which was already in effect, expressly allowed Marcos to legislate by way of presidential decrees.

In other words, it was the 1973 Constitution, not Martial Law itself, which led to the strongman government characterizing the Martial Law period in the Philippines.

It is also incorrect to say that the charter proposed by the 1971 Constitutional Convention was drafted solely by Marcos allies in that assembly. Many delegates who were known foes of Marcos participated in the proceedings of the convention all the way to November 1972 when the proposed draft was finally completed, although they voted against the draft. Those delegates include Pacifico Ortiz, S.J., high-end trial lawyer lawyer Dakila Castro, and lawyer Jose Suarez of Pampanga.

While there may have been abuses committed by the military establishment during the Martial Law years, it is unfair to attribute every single abuse to President Marcos under the often-cited principle of "command responsibility." It was physically impossible for Marcos to monitor each and every move of the military establishment. That job belongs to General Fidel Ramos, as head of the Philippine Constabulary which was in charge of arresting and detaining rebels and insurgents, and to Juan Ponce Enrile, the Minister of National Defense who, as the alter ego of President Marcos, is the civilian overseer of all activities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Before Marcos is made to answer for those abuses, these two individuals should be made to answer first.

It is argued that because Ramos and Enrile were key players in the 1986 Edsa people power revolt that ended the Marcos administration, the people have apparently forgiven the two for their roles during Martial Law. If that is so, with greater reason should Marcos be absolved of his alleged "command responsibility" for the abuses.

The important question is not how Marcos is to be held responsible for the abuses, but whether or not Marcos himself would have countenanced the abuses if he knew about them. Unfortunately, there is no empirical data to that effect. There are, however, records which indicate that many innocent people who were arrested during the dragnet following the proclamation of Martial Law in September 1972 were subsequently released when it was established that their arrests were baseless.

Ninoy Aquino himself is a testament that Martial Law under President Marcos was not all about abuses. On many occasions, Aquino was given a furlough so he can go home in Quezon City to be with his loved ones. He was also allowed to celebrate his silver wedding anniversary at home, with no less than Jaime Cardinal Sin officiating the mass.

Under ideal circumstances, of course, a citizen like Aquino should not have been detained. It must be stressed, however, that Martial Law was firmly in place, and that the State saw Aquino as a communist coddler. The skeptical are invited to historical documents currently available which cite many instances when Aquino gave support to the communist insurgency that bedeviled the Marcos administration.

That's not all.

Although Military Commission No. 2 sentenced Aquino to death by musketry back in 1977, President Marcos had the death warrant held in abeyance.

In 1978, and despite his being in detention, Aquino was allowed to run for one of 21-seats alloted to the National Capital Region in the interim Batasang Pambansa. To make up for his limited campaign mobility, Aquino was granted a live, uncensored television interview where, for about an hour and a half, he subjected Marcos and his administration to seemingly endless criticism.

Later in 1980, Marcos even allowed Aquino to seek medical treatment in Texas, USA for his failing heart. After the surgery, Aquino was allowed to stay in the USA for an indefinite period. He was even warned against coming home to the Philippines in August 1983 when the government learned about a threat to kill him. No less than then First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos relayed the information to Aquino when they held a meeting in New York City. These are not indications of abuse.


  1. Martial Law under Marcos by Victor Avecilla, December 31, 2016 (Manila Standard)

(This article is adapted from the source listed above. We are unable to grant permission for any kind of reproduction other than social media shares.)


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