By Ricky S. Torre

Ex-senator sets correct date for Martial Law

Posted on September 22, 2014

THE ACTUAL DECLARATION of Martial Law by the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was on September 23, 1972, a human rights lawyer during that era emphasized in an e-mail to the media.

September 21 has been the annual commemoration of Mr. Marcos’s Martial Law for more than 40 years. The media’s commemoration yesterday of that bitter chapter in modern Philippine history was no different.

But in his e-mail, former senator Rene A. V. Saguisag said: “The September 21 superstition must end.”

Like Joker P. Arroyo, Jejomar C. Binay, the late Francisco I. Chavez and others, Mr. Saguisag was a leading human rights lawyer during this era -- a bane to military authorities at the time.

“Shall we stop marking September 21 as special?” Mr. Saguisag said.

“I am forlorn that Marcosian numerology persists. Marcos was fond of seven and its multiples so he sponsored the myth that September 21, 1972 was when martial law descended upon the land. Simply not true. Proclamation No. 1081 declaring Martial Law was not then announced, proclaimed, or implemented,” he added.

Mr. Saguisag remembered he was “San Beda Law’s Prefect of Studies or Vice Dean” at the time.

September 21, 1972, was a Thursday, he said, “and as head of the San Beda Free Legal Aid Clinic, I monitored in school by radio a huge rally in Plaza Miranda, Quiapo, featuring Ka Pepe Diokno, Charito Planas, et al. as speakers. Just another day in the office. No dispersals or arrests. Uneventful in that sense. No need to go.

“Ditto the next day, Friday, September 22. But, when I was driving from San Beda my trusty Beetle on top of Ayala Bridge -- to our rented Sandejas, Pasay apartment -- the car radio blared a supposed failed assassination attempt on [then] Defense [Secretary] Juan Ponce Enrile.

“This episode [Mr. Enrile] confessed as fake on February 22, 1986, in a disingenuous attempt to gain the people’s sympathy -- which worked. Revision of the dying declaration came in his Memoirs two years ago; there really was that ambuscade, he said, a Churchillian terminological inexactitude, a lie, from where we sat,” Mr. Saguisag’s e-mail said, referring to the autobiography that Mr. Enrile published in 2012 and that claimed, among other things, that his ambush on the eve of Martial Law was real.

Mr. Enrile -- now detained on plunder charges from last year’s pork barrel scandal -- had asserted otherwise at the height of the People Power Revolution of 1986. Among other archival sources, a news report by the Manila Times of February 23 that year quoted him as saying that the ambush -- the presumed basis of Martial Law -- was “staged.”

“In journalism and history, we should have a passion for precision in expression,” Mr. Saguisag said in his e-mail.

“Indeed, NEVER AGAIN! -- should we play up September 21 as Proclamation No. 1081 day. For Ninoy and a few others, it was midnight of September 22. For the rest of the nation, September 23, when the day began with no radio, TV and no newspapers.”

Malacañang also officially recognizes September 23, 1972, as Mr. Marcos’s actual declaration of Martial Law -- the proclamation of which was since antedated to September 21, to accord with Mr. Marcos’s “obsession with numerology,” the Official Gazette said.

“On September 21, 1972, democracy was still functioning in the Philippines. On same date, Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. delivered his final privilege speech in the [S]enate,” the Official Gazette said.

“A day after the final speech of Ninoy Aquino, that is, September 22, 1972, the newspapers still came out: they featured the rally held the previous day in Plaza Miranda.

“The pretext for Martial Law was provided later in the evening of Friday, September 22, 1972, [when] the convoy of Secretary of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed in Wack-Wack as he was going home to Dasmariñas village in Makati before 9 p.m. This ambush, as Enrile later revealed in 1986, was staged by Marcos to justify Martial Law.”

That evening until the next day, “the military had shut down mass media, flights were canceled, incoming overseas calls were prohibited,” the Official Gazette said. “By then, personalities considered threats to Marcos... had already been rounded up, starting with the arrest of Senator Aquino at midnight on September 22, and going into the early morning hours of September 23, when 100 of the 400 personalities targeted for arrest were already detained in Camp Crame by 4 a.m.”

Mr. Marcos went on national television at 7:15 p.m., more than 12 hours later, of September 23 to announce that he had placed the entire country under Martial Law.

Accounts vary as to when Proclamation No. 1081 was signed. But the “actual date for Martial Law [was] the moment [it] was put into full effect, which was after the nationwide address of Ferdinand Marcos as far as the nation was concerned: September 23, 1972,” the Official Gazette said.

These accounts “all indicate President Marcos’s obsession with numerology, seven being his lucky number, [which] necessitated that Proclamation No. 1081 be officially signed on a date that was divisible by seven. Thus, September 21, 1972 became the official date that Martial Law was established and the Marcos dictatorship began. It also allowed Marcos to control history on his own terms.”

Mr. Saguisag said in an e-mail to BusinessWorld that education is important to make the country remember its past. “History should be taught with stronger emphasis on the Marcos misdeeds.”

The price of forgetting Martial Law, he said, was “a possible repeat.” -- with a report by Joseph L. Garcia