“As of the twenty-third of this month, I signed Proclamation Number 1081 placing the entire Philippines under martial law” said President Ferdinand E. Marcos on that famous television broadcast 44 years ago today, September 23. Before the declaration of martial law, the country was in a state of upheaval.
It was the middle of the Cold War, but Asia was hot at the time. While the United States and Soviet Union silently produced nuclear warheads trying to outdo one another, the situation was different in Asia. Social upheavals were the norm in Asia: North Korea was founded in 1948, and the Republic of China fell to communist rule in 1949 after which the Kuomintang government was forced to exile in Formosa. The Domino Theory became popular during this time, and the theory held that once one nation fell to communist rule, the events would repeat in neighboring nations, a manifestation of the domino effect.
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That theory should actually be called a law, based on the events that followed. By the late 1960s, Southeast Asia and India were plagued by Maoist rebellion. The governments responded accordingly, and President Marcos (after careful planning with Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile) acted by declaring a state of martial law in 1972. Not to mention, besides the Maoist insurgency by the New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro National Liberation Front also launched an ethnoreligious war in Mindanao, seeking to secede from the Philippines. The two internal wars in the country required a strong response from the Marcos government, which was able to deliver and secure the foundation of the republic. In contrast, the governments of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia responded weakly.
The result? By 1975, order and stability were restored in the Philippines, and the Republic did not capitulate to communism nor did the country lose the southern island of Mindanao. On the other hand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam all fell to communist rule. Marcos’ declaration of martial law made sure that the Republic of the Philippines would never succumb to Maoist rebels.
However, today, the martial law era is cast in the most unfavorable light in the Philippines. Several groups from the elites, the media, the religious sectors, and the left have denounced martial law. The slogan ‘Never Again’ has once more been thrown around. Likewise, these groups have pointed out the human rights violations during martial law. They have pointed out that martial law suppressed the people’s liberty, and that the era knew no freedom.
And it is the love of freedom that has made the heroes of the martial law era stand up and fight for our liberties. It is love of the freedom they gave me and each one of us that has allowed me to write this piece today as we commemorate a chapter in our nation’s history. This love of country and love of freedom is something we inherited from these heroes of the martial law era.
Indeed, we must never forget the heroes who fell during martial law. Let us keep in our minds and hearts the many men and women in military uniform who during the martial law era so valiantly defended our nation from communism and separatism. When our national sovereignty came under attack from the dogmas of Maoism and Moro separatism, it was our soldiers in the front line fighting for us, carrying our flag and everything it stands for. They are the true heroes of martial law.