With the recent 30th Anniversary of the 1986 EDSA “Revolution”, the martial law era of President Ferdinand E. Marcos was once again put in bad light. This, as President BS Aquino again showed the alleged atrocities of the Marcos regime without being able to highlight whatever he was able to achieve. Again, there were morons who said EDSA 1986 removed martial law (even though martial law had already been lifted in 1981). In any case, this article provides an alternative critique on the martial law era under Marcos, a critique which serves as an alternative on the oligarchy has fed us over the last three decades.
The yellow cult is quick to accuse the Marcos supporters of historical amnesia when they themselves suffer from it. What they have forgotten (and even some Marcos supporters have forgotten this) is that during the time of Marcos, the world was in the middle of the Cold War. In the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, the communist ideology was spreading fast in the world. The Asia-Pacific including the Philippines was not spared from this.
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In 1949, just four years after the end of World War II, the communists in China led by Mao Zedong came into power after overthrowing Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang government (which was forced to exile in the island of Formosa). With the help of the Soviet Union, a communist regime had also been installed in North Korea led by Kim Il Sung. Years later, the red influence would also head to Southeast Asia.
In Thailand, there was also a communist movement which lasted until 1983. In Malaysia, the Communist Insurgency War lasted from 1968 to 1989. This gives us two Southeast Asian nations who were also plagued with the communist movement.
Of course, we have the Vietnam War. The United States got involved directly in that war, and the Philippines also pitched in some help. But, the communists prevailed and took over Vietnam which they rule up to this day. In Cambodia, by year 1975, the communists under Pol Pot took over. The Khmer Rogue wiped out an estimated 1/4 up to 1/3 of the Cambodian population. The fall of the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments took place 3 years after martial law was declared, and who knows what might have happened to the Philippines if Marcos never declared martial law.
The Philippines was already experiencing a war on two fronts. In the South, there was the Moro National Liberation Front backed by Malaysia and Libya and seeking to establish an independent Islamic state in Mindanao. And as previously mentioned, the CPP-NPA was also launching a war. The People’s Republic of China was about to aid the CPP-NPA by sending a few thousand rifles, explosives, and bullets through Isabela province and Jose Maria Sison. Fortunately, the military was able to intercept the arms landing.
Several accounts also state that Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was collaborating with Sison in preparation of an armed struggle against the Marcos government. Again, the Philippines was fortunate that Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile thwarted this plan. Sison was out to become the next Mao Zedong, and Nur Misuari was seeking an independent state in Mindanao.
In response, President Marcos in 1972 placed the entire country under martial law. A dictatorial rule was established, and the Marcos government finally punched back. The Moro insurgency and the communist movements were violently suppressed, thus leading to what they call “human rights violations.” The United States under President Richard Nixon did not object to the declaration of martial law, but Marcos earned their ire when he pursued an independent foreign policy and started diplomatic ties with China and the Soviet Union.
I can hardly blame Marcos for the human rights violations. If anything, the rebel forces along with the communist-influenced activists brought it upon themselves. They provoked the monster that was the Marcos government. In Weberian theory, the state is entitled to the legitimate use of physical force within its territory.
The end result of martial law was that the Philippine Republic remained standing. One would not be mistaken that martial law saved the Philippine Republic from falling into communist hands. Marcos was a product of the circumstances of his time, and he rose to the challenge. In a time when governments were falling to communist hands, Marcos was able to take steps which allowed the Philippines to survive. But today, Marcos is heavily pointed out for violating human rights when only a few people even understood the circumstances at the time. People who are too shallow to know the history of Asia during the time say he declared martial law on a whim.
We can say all we want about martial law and Marcos. It doesn’t matter if I like or hate Marcos. But there is something that I am sure about. And that is I am thankful that during the time when the communists were powering up and the Moros were preparing to secede, it was Ferdinand Marcos in Malacanang and not Ninoy Aquino. I am glad that it was Marcos that was president, not someone who is a sellout and not someone who is too soft to unleash force against those who sought to overthrow the state.