by Nadia Babar and Minahil Rafay
On September 21st, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entirety of the Philippines under martial law. Twenty-nine years later, we reflect on that period, especially within the context of the election season in the country occurring now.
Marcos, a known kleptocrat, became president of the Philippines in 1965. The self-proclaimed “most decorated war hero in the Philippines” (a claim that was not only disproved multiple times, but thought to be a gross mischaracterization) initially oversaw a growing economy, but his 20-year tenure ended in poverty rife throughout the country, along with an extreme debt crisis.
Seven years after his election, Marcos implemented martial law across the country. The declaration, entitled “Proclamation No. 1081”, lasted until January of 1981. The drastic action was supposedly in response to “various leftist and rightist plots against the Marcos administration”, as well as an existential “communist threat.” During this period, under the guise of martial law, Marcos hid money, embezzled from his government, and ultimately stole from the country and its citizens.
The period was peppered with human rights abuses and the silencing of the media. Anyone who dared speak against Marcos was targeted and made quiet in some fashion. This included anyone from high-profile journalists to student activists. On the eve of Marcos’ declaration, he sent out armed forces to arrest 400 individuals who were deemed ‘priority targets.’ By the next morning, 100 of those 400 had been arrested.
This was the beginning of Marcos’ 14-year long dictatorship. Even when the law was lifted in 1981, Marcos stayed in power for another five years until he was exiled. Remembered by some as the leader of the Golden Age, by most, he is remembered as a corrupt, violent, and unethical dictator.
But his influence remained. In 1991, when the Marcos family was allowed to return to the Philippines, they were received with riotous welcomes. Within the next year, Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand’s wife, was running for the office of the Presidency. Several other members of the Marcos dynasty held positions of power in the Filipino government throughout the 90s, with two of his children becoming senators in the past several elections. Despite the atrocities committed during the period of martial law, their presence remains. The current Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, has come out in support of Marcos’ antics, a blatant display of anti-democracy. There is also an ongoing problem of historical revisionism regarding the period of martial law and the abuses committed during it. As we approach the anniversary of the period’s beginning, it’s even more pertinent to stay acutely aware of the country’s history and dark past under the Marcos regime.