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Marcos and Martial Law (First of Five Parts)

From the Desk


The imposition of martial law throughout the Philippines in 1972 was not like the proverbial thief in the night, creeping up and attacking without any warning. Proclamation No. 1081 may have set into motion President Ferdinand Marcos’ schemes for perpetuating himself in power, but the plan may have been hatched years before it was finally implemented.

The Escalation of Violence

The 1970s started on a high note for President Marcos. A few days before the new decade began, he, along with Vice-President Lopez, decisively routed Liberal challengers Sergio Osmeña, Jr. and Genaro Magsaysay to win a second four-year term amidst allegations of massive government spending that left the economy in a precarious situation, widespread cheating, and electoral terrorism.

The euphoria of the second Marcos inauguration soon wore off, and the peace and order situation in the capital and surrounding areas rapidly deteriorated. On January 26, 1970, as Congress convened, a crowd of protesters, led by the National Union of Students of the Philippines, gathered in front of the Legislative Building “to agitate for a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) that would achieve meaningful social and economic reforms.” As the First Couple was leaving the after the president delivered his first state of the nation address since winning re-election, “an effigy of Marcos was set on fire; someone in the crowd hurled a cardboard coffin, symbolizing the death of democracy, and another one threw a cardboard crocodile, symbolizing greed, at the two.” In the melee that ensued after the president had left, around 47 officers and men of the Metrocom and 38 demonstrators were injured.

Four days later, the demonstrators held a dialogue with President Marcos and presented him with their demands, among which was a written assurance that he would not seek a third term, which the president angrily rejected. Unknown to them, the tension inside the Palace was no match to the violence that would engulf the compound and its environs a short time later. The radical elements of the student movement commandeered a fire truck and crashed it through Gate 4 of Malacañang. Entering the compound, the demonstrators attacked the Palace using molotov cocktails, pillboxes, and steel bars, but were repelled by the combined forces of the army, navy, marines, constabulary, riot squads, Metrocom, and the Special Forces. The battle ended in the wee hours of the next day, with media reporting four deaths and the arrest of around 300 demonstrators and bystanders. The First Quarter Storm, with its teach-ins, marches, and the unfortunate attack on the United States Embassy, would last until March 1970. It would serve as the first provocation that would justify the president’s increased use of the forces of the state to ostensibly restore peace and order, but was suspected by many as a ruse to perpetuate himself in power. Martial law and the suspension of the writ were constantly and increasingly dangled as bogeymen to stifle opposition to his rule.

The violence would reach a crescendo on August 21, 1971 at Plaza Miranda during the proclamation of Liberal Party candidates for the local and senatorial elections to be held on November 8 of that year. Right after the proclamation of the candidates for Manila’s elective positions, as the plaza was set ablaze by fireworks, two hand grenades were lobbed toward the stage. All eight Liberal senatorial candidates were seriously injured,

one of them, the star of the senatorial team, Sen. Jovito Salonga, perilously within an inch of his life. Steel fragments mangled an arm, perforated his chest, stomach, legs and an eye.

The LP presidential standard-bearer in 1969, Sen. Sergio Osmeña, who was near Salonga, the most seriously injured, suffered multiple wounds in the back, legs and chest. Shrapnel pieced a lung.

The President of the Liberal Party himself, Sen. Gerardo Roxas, was also badly hit, with shrapnel lodged in both legs. His wife Judy was in even worse condition with shattered kneecaps and several wounds in the legs.

Congressman John Osmeña had two legs crushed at knee joints; a major artery was cut in one of the legs, draining blood. He needed four liters of blood upon arrival at the hospital. The doctors feared he would have to do without a leg for the rest of his life. However, expert surgery at Clark Air Base hospital (where he was air-lifted from Manila Doctors Hospital) saved his leg.

Ex-Congressman Edgar U. Ilarde suffered the same fate as Congressman Osmeña, sustaining fractured bones in the legs and in peril of having one amputated.

Senatorial candidates Melanio Singson, Eva Kalaw, Salipada Pendatun, Ramon Mitra and Genaro Magsaysay were not as grievously wounded, but all had to be hospitalized.

All told, there were nine casualties and scores wounded in what proved to be “the most villainous, outrageous and shameful crime in the annals of local political violence.” President Marcos, two days later, proclaimed the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, leading to the arrest of at least seventeen persons suspected of perpetrating the bombing.

At the start of the campaign, it was expected that, with the government machinery solidly behind it, the Nacionalista Party would dominate the elections, with at least five of its candidates entering the winners’ circle. But then the massacre happened, with many indicting the tenant of Malacañan Palace, either for masterminding the annihilation of the opposition, or for being inutile in arresting the deterioration of the peace and order situation that provided the opportunity for the slaughter to occur.

When the polls closed and the votes were counted, six Liberals emerged victorious: Salonga, Magsaysay, Osmeña, Ilarde, Kalaw, and Mitra. Only two Nacionalistas, Ernesto Maceda, former Presidential Assistant on Community Development, and reelectionist senator Alejandro Almendras, managed to capture the last two slots.

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