The Explainer: The nuts and bolts of martial law

If you haven’t read Luwalhati Bautista’s classic novel, “Dekada Setenta,” perhaps you saw the movie version. This scene represents the shock and nervousness of many families, when they finally knew for certain that martial law had been declared.

Friday marks what used to be Thanksgiving Day under Marcos, the date he says Martial Law was declared. The real anniversary’s next Monday.

Tonight, we’ll try to understand why Martial Law was a big deal; what it was, in theory and practice, is our topic for tonight.


I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. Defining martial law


Let’s explore something not usually discussed. What, exactly, is Martial Law?

The Oxford American Dictionaries defines martial law quite simply:


martial law |??m?r??l ?l?|


military government involving the suspension of ordinary law.


We Filipinos are no strangers to martial law.

The eight rays on the sun of our flag, commemorates a declaration of martial law: that by Spanish authorities, over eight provinces, when the Philippine Revolution began.

The Americans, too, imposed martial law over territory they conquered from the First Republic.

The defeat of our first republic changed the trajectory of our political development. Instead of a European orientation, by force of circumstances, we adopted an American orientation.

Under the Americans, we have two laws of the US Congress serve the role of constitutions. The first was the Philippine Organic Act of 1902. The second was the Jones Law of 1916.


Section  21 of the Jones Law, which served as our constitution from 1916 to 1935, contained this provision:

That the supreme executive power shall be vested in an executive officer, whose official title shall be “The Governor-General of the Philippine Islands.” … whenever it becomes necessary he may call upon the commanders of the military and naval forces of the United States in the Islands, or summon the posse comitatus, or call out the militia or other locally created armed forces, to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, insurrection, or rebellion; and he may, in case of rebellion or invasion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Islands, or any part thereof, under martial law: Provided, That whenever the Governor General shall exercise this authority, he shall at once notify the President of the United States thereof, together with the attending facts and circumstances, and the President shall have power modify or vacate the action of the Governor-General…


In 1935, our second home-grown and first totally democratically-written constitution, the 1935 Constitution, was ratified.

Article VII, Section 10 (2) of it stated,

The President shall be commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Philippines, and, whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, insurrection, or rebellion. In case of invasion, insurrection, or rebellion or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, he may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under Martial Law.


And here’s an interesting footnote.

In 1943, under Japanese Occupation, an appointed committee drafted and approved a constitution. In Article II, of the 1943 Constitution, the provision on martial law was almost identical to the 1935 charter:

Sec. 9. The President shall be commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Republic of the Philippines and, whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawlessness, invasion, insurrection, or rebellion. In case of invasion, insurrection, or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof, or when the public safety so requires, he may suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.


The blogger “Filipino Librarian” in 2006 pointed out something very interesting. When Marcos decided on September 21 as the official date of martial law, he was paying homage to an earlier proclamation.


On September 21, 1944, Jose P. Laurel proclaimed martial law over the entire Philippines, effective September 22. Twenty-eight years later, Marcos would implement Martial Law on September 22, backdating it to September 21.

Now with the defeat of Japan, the 1943 Republic was not only not recognized, but declared treasonous. So we continued to live by the 1935 Constitution.

The father of the 1935 Constitution, Claro M. Recto warned of the dangers of martial law, when he opposed President Elpidio Quirino’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Central Luzon in the early 1950s. Quirino would try other ways to exercise emergency powers, but didn’t try martial law.

No other president did until Marcos. In 1971, in the wake of the Plaza Miranda bombing, he suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Supreme Court okayed it. Marcos, seeing the courts accept his justification, began to plan more drastic action.

It all came to a head around 12:10 am on September 23, 1972, when Ninoy Aquino was arrested at the Hilton Hotel on UN Avenue in Manila. His arrest was among the first in a dragnet that eventually landed hundreds and eventually thousands, in government detention.

The Marcos propagandist, and later, enemy, Primitivo Mijares tells us that Ronnie Nathaniesz was waiting in station DZHP to tell his audience Aquino had been arrested.

But at 2 am, Metrocom troops closed down the station. They were, in fact, shutting down all media outfits.

Over at the Iglesia ni Cristo, a firefight took place when Iglesia guards resisted the Metrocom; 12 guards died. Juan Ponce Enrile had to show up personally, and convince the Iglesia to allow the government to shut down its radio station.

So this is what Martial Law entailed, even before anyone really knew what was going on.

All media was shut down; media allowed to open was placed under government control.

Political opponents were rounded up and detained.

All public utilities were placed under military supervision. The overseas lines of PLDT, for example, were cut off for 36 hours, that included telegram and teletype services.

All rallies were banned, as was criticism of public officials.

All schools were closed for one week.

A curfew from midnight to 4 am (later 1 am to 4 am) was imposed.

A firearms ban was imposed, violations were punishable by death.

Filipinos were forbidden to travel abroad, except with government permission.

In his TV appearance, Marcos said, “the proclamation of martial law is not a military take over.” He said it over and over again.

But Martial Law was, first and foremost, about wielding military muscle. This picture, of Marcos in the presidential study surrounded by his generals, is visual proof of what martial law really is.

Yes, a civilian, Marcos, called the shots, but it was something no one else had –the military- that made Martial Law possible.

The Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and later became Prime Minister, once gave parliament this definition of martial law:

Martial law is neither more nor less than the will of the General who commands the army. In ¦act, martial law means no law at all.

What did Wellington mean?

We’ve all learned of Proclamation 1081. That’s what Marcos signed, and Kit Tatad read, instituting martial law.

But it was accompanied by another document, General Order No. 1, dated September 22, 1972. A General Order is a command made by the President to the entire armed forces.

It’s most crucial portion was this:

I, Ferdinand E. Marcos, President of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, do hereby proclaim that I shall govern the nation and, direct the operation of the entire Government, including all its agencies and instrumentalities, in my capacity and shall exercise all the powers and prerogatives appurtenant and incident to my position as such Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces of the


He then issued General Order No. 2, later amended to become 2-A, which did this:

I hereby order you as Secretary of National Defense to forthwith arrest or cause the arrest and take into your custody the individuals named in the attached lists for being participants or for having given aid and comfort in the conspiracy to seize political and, state power in the country and to take over the government by force, the extent of which has now assumed the proportion of an actual war against our people and our legitimate government and in order to prevent them from further committing acts that are inimical or injurious to our people, the government and our national interest, arid to hold said individuals until otherwise so ordered by me or by my duly designated representative.


And then, he issued General Order No. 3, also dated September 22, 1972, which said:

I do hereby further order that the Judiciary shall continue to function in accordance with its present organization and personnel, and shall try and decide in accordance with existing laws all criminal and civil cases, except the following cases:

1. Those involving the validity, legality or constitutionality of Proclamation No. 1081 dated September 21, 1972, or of any decree, order or acts issued, promulgated or per- formed by me or by my duly designated representative pursuant thereto…

2. Those involving the validity, legality or constitutionality of any rules, orders or acts issued, promulgated or performed by public servants pursuant to decrees, orders, rules and regulations issued and promulgated by me or by my duly designated representative pursuant to Proclamation No. 1081, dated Sept. 21, 1972.


Then, as Marcos’ ex-henchman Primitivo Mijares later wrote, Marcos increased, on September 30, 1972,  by 150 percent, the monthly base pay of all commissioned officers,from 2nd Lieutenant to General, effective October 1, 1972!

Marcos, to go back to Wellington’s definition, substituted himself for the law, even the courts.


An academic exercise in the U.S. Air Force Law review, titled “The imposition of martial law in the United States” by Kirk L. Davies, gives as an interesting analysis of martial law, from the point of view of the American political system. A system we’ve adopted.

First, the limits to presidential power:

Justice Jackson posited a three-tiered approach to analyzing executive power under our constitutional scheme. First, “[w]hen the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum.”  Second, “[w]hen the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain.” Finally, “[w]hen the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”

Next, what can a President do, in the face of an emergency situation?

Justice Jackson was careful to emphasize his view that the President’s emergency powers are derived from the Constitution, and are essentially shared with the Congress. Indeed, for Jackson, such power could only arise from an interaction between the legislature and the executive: “Presidential powers are not fixed but fluctuate, depending upon their disjunction or conjunction with those of Congress.” And even though Jackson was willing to give these powers broad interpretation,  he was unwilling to go so far as to declare the Executive possesses an inherent emergency power.

Key to Justice Jackson’s analysis is how congressional action or inaction affects presidential authority.

Bearing what Justice Jackson wrote, take a look at this remarkable picture.

It’s in the book “Doy,” by Celia Diaz-Laurel. It was taken in January, 1973. Unlike today, when the official Congressional year begins in July, under the 1935 Constitution the official year began in January. So five senators showed up: Salvador H. Laurel, Eva Estrada Kalaw, Ramon Mitra, Jr., Gerardo Roxas, Jovito Salonga. Only one congressmen showed up, Jose B. Laurel, Jr. They found that Congress had been padlocked by the military.

Going back to what Justice Jackson wrote, what the Duke of Wellington said, what Marcos did, we see, fully, what martial law is: taking over all power. The only limits to that power is if any institution opposes it. If no one opposes it institutionally, power is limitless for the one who imposed martial law.


When we return, we’ll look into the workings of the mind of Martial Law’s architect, Marcos.


II. Everybody loves a winner


That was another scene from the movie version of “Dekada Setenta,” where the mother played by Vilma Santos, tells a dissident friend of one of her sons, that preaching the need for revolution’s easy.

The movie and novel helps us enter the minds of people who lived through those times. But what of the person who viewed himself the hero of martial law?

Martial Law actually began on different dates for different people.

The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos 1, by Primitivo Mijares has this digest of why this is so:

President Marcos announced formally at about 8 pm on September 23, 1972, that he had placed the entire Philippines under martial law as of 9 pm Sept. 22, 1972 by way of effective implementation of a martial law edict (Proclamation No. 1081) which he had signed on Sept. 21, 1972. Two months later, he told a convention of historians that he really signed the proclamation on Sept. 17, 1972.


But if you refer to Marcos’s own diary for September 17, 1972, what he wrote was that the Palace was lonely, because his children weren’t there; how he took a nap on his son Bongbong’s bed, which he said was the worst bed and had the lumpiest mattress; how he had sardines and pancit for dinner; how he enjoyed browsing through the library.

In his diary Marcos also mentioned various political matters such as inviting leaders of the opposition Liberal Party to a meeting; receiving a report of 7,400 cases of dynamite apprehended at the del Pan bridge; an Air Manila plane being bombed –but no mention of martial law.

In other words, he lied to the historians.

So, for the first part of our show tonight, I’d like to ask all of you to join me in taking a peek into the mind of Ferdinand Marcos. I’ve mentioned him often enough; but for now, let’s allow Marcos to tell us what he did, in his own words.

We’re going to look into the pages of Marcos’s own diary, from a period of slightly under three historic weeks, September 7, 1972, to September 5, 1972.

One of the Marcos children once told me the rather theatrical circumstances surrounding Marcos’s diary keeping. In the family dining room of the Palace, Marcos would sit down, usually after dinner, look off into the horizon, and begin writing his diary for posterity.

Several years ago, a media colleague gave me a plastic bag filled with xeroxed papers, which I had bound. They were, supposedly, copies of Marcos’s diaries. Here it is.

I’d like to ask ____ to play the role of Marcos, and read the entries he wrote. As you listen to what Marcos wrote, consider that he was writing this diary with history in mind.

Let’s begin with Sept. 7, 1972 Thursday 9:10 pm:

… This afternoon I spent in finishing all papers needed for a possible proclamation of martial law, just in case it is necessary to do so.


The next day, Sept. 8, 1972, he wrote,

… Sen. Aquino is, of course, playing a double game. He was in danger from the Maoists, as reported by him to Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile….

So I believe he negotiated in a meeting with Jose Maria Sison and is protected from that side.

But now he is convinced he is also in danger, from the government. So he goes through the motions of giving information to the Secretary of National Defense to get protection from government.

And I believe that he will, however, help the Moaists more than the government.


On Sept. 9, 1972, Saturday, at 12:35 pm he wrote,

…Sec. Ponce Enrile and I finished the material for any possible proclamation of martial law…


On Sept. 10, 1972, Sunday, 12:30 pm, Marcos made this observation:

It is now my birthday. I am 55. And I feel more physically and mentally robust than in the past decade and have acquired valuable experience to boot.

Energy and wisdom –the philosopher’s heaven.


On Sep. 13, Wednesday, at 11:00 pm, he recounted that,

…So I met with Johnny Ponce Enrile, Gen. Tom Diaz, Col. Montoya, Col. Romy Gatan, and Danding Cojuangco this evening at Pangarap and we agreed to set the 21st of this month as the deadline.

In the meantime Sen. Aquino in a privilege speech, today, claims we have an OPLAN Sagitarrius, which allegedly includes placing Greater Manila under PC Control preparatory to proclaiming martial law.

This is nothing but the contingency plan for the coordination of the local police forces and the Armed Forces in case of insurgency.

It is ridiculous to ascribe it to the plan of martial law since it referts to calling out the troops to quell a disorder.

But of course the media will give it all kind of meaning.

But, again, perhaps it is best that the political opposition start a debate that will get the people used to the idea of emergency powers.


On Sept. 14, 1972, Thursday, at 11:50 pm, he looked back on his day and wrote,

After golf, at 9:00 amat my room at Pangarap while taking breakfast, I told the SND, C of S, Major Service Commanders (Gen. Ramos, PC, Gen. Zagala, PA, Romando, PAF and Commodore Ruiz, PN) Gen. Ver and Gen. Paranis that I intend to declare martial law to liquidate the communist apparatus, reform our government and society, then have the Concon ratify our acts and the people can confirm it by plebiscite and return to constitutional processes; but that I needed at least one year and two months; that this would be a legitimate exercise of my emergency powers under the constitution as clarified by the Habeas Corpus case by the Supreme Court last January; that we need to cure the ills of our society by radical means (I mentioned corruption, tax evasion, criminality, smuggling, lack of discipline, unequal opportunities) so we must keep our moves clean and submerge self-interest.

I asked for any objection to the plan and there was none except for the observation of Gen. Ramos that the closing of the media should be done by a civilian minister supported by the military, and Gen. Gen. Romando who wanted missions definitely assigned to each branch of the service.


Four days later, on Sep. 18, 1972, a Monday, at 12:50 pm, he wrote that,

…We finalized the plans for the proclamation of martial law at 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm with the SND, the Chief of Staff, major service commanders, J-2, Gen. Paz, 1st PC Zone Commander, Gen. Diaz and Metrocom commander, Co. Montoya, with Gen. Ver in attendance.

They all agreed the earlier we do it the better because the media is waging a propaganda campaign that distorts and twists the facts…

So after the bombing of the Concon, we agreed on the 21st without any postponement.

We finalized the target personalities, the assignments, and the procedures.


The next day, Sept. 19, 1972, Tuesday, he tightened the noose around his enemies’ necks further:

Released the report of Sec. Ponce Enrile of Sept. 8, 1972 where he reported that Sen. Aquino had met with Jose Maria Sison of the Communist Party and had talked about a link-up of the Liberal Party and the Communist Party….

So since I invited Sen. Pres. Puyat, Speaker Villareal… I explained to the media which was covering us that when I invited the leaders of the Liberal Party I had wanted a private conference where we could, as Filipinos and for the welfare of our people, agree that neither party (Nacionalista or Liberal) would “link-up” with the Communist Party but their refusal to attend indicated that the Liberals were in on the deal to “link-up” with the Communists through Sen. Aquino…


And on Sept.. 20, 1972, at 10:40 pm, he pointed the generals were in on the plan:

…This afternoon General Staff with the SND and the Chiefs of the major services came to see us to submit the Assessment of Public Order wherein they recommend the use of “other forms of countering subversion/insurgency should be considered.” This means they recommend the use of Emergency Powers including Martial Law, formally.


Marcos’s Sept. 21, 1972, Thursday entry was really written, according to his marginal notes, on Sept. 22nd at 1:45 am. This is the day Marcos’s version of history says, was the date of Martial Law. But this, instead, is what Marcos was doing on that day –denying it would happen.

Delayed by the hurried visit of Joe Aspiras and Nating Barbers who came from the Northern bloc of congressmen and senators who want to know if there is going to be Martial Law in 48 hours as predicted by Ninoy Aquino.

Of course Imelda and I denied it.

But Johnny Ponce Enrile, Gen. Paz, Gen. Nanadiego, Kits Tatad and I with Piciong Tagmani doing the typing finished all the papers (the proclamation and the orders) today at 8:00 pm.

[U.S.] Amb. Byroade came to see me at 11:15 pm and was apparently interested to know whether there would be Martial Law. He seemed to favor it when I explained it is intended to primarily reform our society and eliminate the communist threat. But he suggested that a proclamation before the American elections may be used by MacGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate, as proof of the failure of the foreign policy of the present president.


And so, on Sept. 22, 1972, a Friday, at 9:55 p.m., Marcos wrote how the game was afoot.

Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed near Wack-Wack at about 8:000 pm tonight. It was a good thing he was riding in his security car as a protective measure…

This makes the martial law proclamation a necessity.


On Sept. 23, 1972, Saturday, 12:20 pm, Marcos revealed he was satisfied with how the plan had unfurled:

Things moved according to plan although out of the total 200 target personalities in the plan only 52 have been arrested, including the three senators, Aquino, Diokno and Mitra and Chino Roces and Teddy Locsin.

At 7:15 pm I finally appeared on a nationwide TV and Radio broadcast to announce the proclamation of martial law, the general orders and instruction…

I was supposed to broadcast at 12:00 p.m. but technical difficulties prevented it. We had closed all TV stations. We have to clear KBS which broadcast it live. VOP and PBS broadcast it by radio nationwide.


His entry for Sep. 24, 1972, Sunday, was again written late, on 1:25 am Sept. 25.

This, to me, is one of the most breathtaking entries.

It’s clear he’d been plotting martial law weeks before; but in this entry, he shows how within a day, he’d smashed the last obstacle to his rule: the Supreme Court.

Diokno, Chino Roces, Max Soliven etc. have filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus before the Supreme Court.

I asked Justices Claudo Teehangkee, Antonio Barredo, Felix Macasiar and Felix Antonio to see us. They insisted that the government should submit to the Supreme Court for the Court to review the constitutionality of the proclamation of martial law, Proclamation No. 1081.

So I told them in the presence of Secs. Ponce Enrile and Vicente Abad Santo as well as Sol. Gen. Estelito Mendoza that if necessary I would formally declare the establishment of a revolutionary government so that I can formally disregard the actions of the Supreme Court.

They insisted that we retain a color of constitutionality for everything that we do.

But I feel that they are still image-building and do not understand that a new day has dawned. While they claim to be for a reformed society, they are not too motivated but are too bound by technical legalism.


By Sep. 25, 1972, a Monday, at 12:15 pm, Marcos could write, with a chuckle, that he’d had the last laugh:

…The public reaction throughout the Philippines is a welcome to martial law because of the smooth, peaceful reestablishment of peace and order and the hope of a reformed society. In fact most everyone now says, this should have been done earlier…

…It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero!

There is nothing as successful as success!

There’s a lesson here, and it’s a saying as ancient as the Romans: fortune favors the bold.

When we return, we’ll ask our guest. Is the term martial law, an oxymoron? Is it nothing more than a coup from within?


III. Interview


Let us ask our guest what an Autogolpe is.


Next, we’re showing our present Constitution’s provisions on martial law.


1987 Constitution Article VII, Section 18.


The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.

Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress.

The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it. ??

The Congress, if not in session, shall, within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules without need of a call. ??

The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing. ??

A state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function, nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. 

The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in, or directly connected with, invasion. ??

During the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.


Why are they so strict, and are they so strict as to be useless?


IV. My view


Let us recall Martial Law when it became a reality, and not on the date its planner thought numerology made it a lucky. That means dropping September 21 as the date we commemorate martial law.

On that date, in 1972, we still remained a constitutional democracy. Even on September 22, when the order to implement it was issued, our third republic still had hours to live. It began to die on September 23, 1972, when the political prisoners were taken in one by one, the radios and TV stations and papers shut down.

For a country that claims to have turned its back on martial law, to commemorate a fictitious date, is to commemorate the fictitious basis for martial law; it is to justify it, and uphold it.

If we’re still fooled by Marcos’s pet date, and if we refuse to recognize what everyone felt: t the actual date that martial law became reality not just for a dictator and his enemies, but everyone, then no wonder younger Filipinos don’t see what the big deal about it was. We remain imprisoned in Marcos’s delusion; we haven’t even woken up to our freedom, which requires knowing when the calendar’s telling the truth, or it’s peddling a dictator’s lie.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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