If Bongbong Marcos had hoped to present a revised version of the story of the martial law years by conducting that scripted video interview of Juan Ponce Enrile, he instead provoked an across-the-board retelling of what really happened during that dark period in our history.
“Name me one person that was arrested simply because he criticized President Marcos. None,” said Enrile. His gall to say that, when hundreds of those arrested, tortured, and kept in jail on his watch are still very much around to present themselves as living proofs of the injustice and cruelty of martial law under Bongbong’s father.
Some people say Enrile at 94 is already senile, that he has forgotten what happened 46 years ago for him to tell all those lies. No, his memory is still sharp. He remembers the execution of Lim Seng, a producer and dealer of heroin. If he remembers an obscure incident that took place shortly after military rule was imposed all over the country, I am certain he remembers the arrest of Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., the most vocal and harshest critic of Marcos, one hour after Enrile enforced martial law. After all, the arrest order was signed by Enrile himself.
There were other nationally known personalities who were arrested within the first hour of martial law on Enrile’s order. Among them were Senators Jose W. Diokno and Ramon V. Mitra, Jr., former senator Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, Manila Times publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces, Philippines Free Press publisher and editor-in-chief Teodoro M. Locsin, Manila Times columnist Maximo V. Soliven, and journalists and Constitutional Convention delegates Napoleon G. Rama (of the Philippines Free Press) and Jose Mari Velez (anchor of the former ABC Channel 5’s Big News). They were arrested and jailed because they were very critical of Marcos.
Why then did Enrile blatantly tell lies in that video interview? I tend to think he agreed to follow the script given him to please Bongbong. After all, Bongbong’s father placed Enrile in a position of awesome power, enormous privilege, and substantial pelf.
Enrile must have agreed to the staged interview because it was to be conducted by Bongbong, not by a professional broadcast journalist from a mainstream television network. The video is probably meant to form part of the Marcos family memoir, Enrile must have thought. There is really nothing to saying whatever Bongbong wants to hear. If it will please Bongbong and the Marcos family, that is fine with me, Enrile must have told himself.
He may not have known that Bongbong would post the video in social media so soon after the recording. While Enrile has revised twice over the story of his attempted ambush on the night of September 22, 1972, no one can disprove whatever he says about that attempt on his life, as he is the only one who knows what the true story is.
Unlike his claim that no one was arrested and jailed for criticizing Marcos, scores of people who were jailed and tortured came forward to prove his claim was a brazen lie. That totally destroyed his credibility, if he still had some before the production of the video.
It is ironic that the attempt to sanitize the Marcos dictatorship had instead brought back memories of injustice, oppression, deprivation, and fear. They are not fond memories, but they serve as warning of a possible repetition of the imposition of martial rule if we are not vigilant of the methodical removal of the safeguards of our life, liberty, and free exercise of our civil rights.
In February 2013, in observance of the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, President Benigno Aquino III signed into law a bill that declared positively that the Marcos dictatorship committed atrocities against Filipinos. The law creates the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission which ensures that the teaching of martial law atrocities is included in the basic, secondary, and tertiary education curricula.
After five years of searching for an appropriate place for a memorial and museum, the Commission signed a memorandum with the University of the Philippines that allots at least a hectare inside its Diliman campus for the memorial and museum in honor of the thousands of victims of martial law. It is expected to be opened to the public in time for the 50th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in 2022. I hope that starting next year martial law will be commemorated on September 23, not September 21.
Actually, September 21, 1972, a Thursday, was like any ordinary weekday. Business was buzzing, government was functioning normally. Congress and the Constitutional Convention were in session. Schools were open. Newspapers were delivered to homes and sold in the streets. All broadcast stations were airing their regular programs. A protest rally was held at the Plaza Miranda that day.
The following day was no different except maybe at the Asian Institute of Management where I was then a full-time professor. Senator Ninoy Aquino was in school in the afternoon of that day as guest speaker of the graduating class. He drew a large crowd of students, professors, and school staff because the senator was not only the arch critic of President Marcos, he was the presumptive standard-bearer of the opposition Liberal Party in the election scheduled the following year, and the expected winner as Marcos was banned by the 1935 Constitution from running for a third term.
There were as many as 16 military officers in the school that day. They were not there to secure the school or to arrest Senator Aquino. They were there as regular students of the Master in Business Management program of the institute. A number of them would become generals many years after. In fact, one became chief of staff of the Armed Forces and subsequently secretary of Defense. He was Angelo Reyes.
I distinctly remember that speaking engagement of Senator Aquino because I was conducting class in the room next to the hall where he was sharing his vision of “The Philippines After Marcos.” His bodyguards had spilled into the hallways, their high-powered arms distracting my students. After his harangue against Marcos, Dean Gabino Mendoza invited him to the Faculty Lounge. There he told his enthralled audience of professors and student leaders that he didn’t think Marcos would place the country under martial law, not until 1973.
From the institute, Sen. Aquino went to the Hilton Hotel in Manila for a meeting with other senators. There at around midnight he was arrested, at about the same time the other bitter critics of Marcos were being rounded up by METROCOM operatives and media establishments were raided and padlocked by military detachments. Martial law was imposed at dawn of September 23, 1972, not September 21.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.