OPINION: Martial Law and Parental Guilt
President Marcos’ first press conference after martial law was imposed, September 28, 1972
THE clip above from the Associated Press shows a delighted Ferdinand E. Marcos crowing on September 28, 1972, about the ease with which he was able to impose martial law.
So this time around, I’d like to focus on a particular aspect of Martial Law, which was meant to (as Marcos put it in the clip) “attain all the objectives we have set… this is a new kind of society… We will reform our society…”
So this week, let’s look at Marcos’ idea of a New Society and a particular aspect of it—parenthood.
We forget—remembering the old, ailing, elderly Marcos of 1986 and not Marcos in his prime in 1972—that the young men of the wartime generation were worried middle-aged parents during the turbulent years of the late 60s and early 70s, and they were freaking out about what was happening to their kids.
In 1966, The Beatles famously offended the Marcoses. Read Nick Joaquin’s vivid account in From Yeh Yeh to Go Go, July 16, 1966, in which he pointed out,
“Philippine values are held values; the scene at the airport was of a herd driving out the odd, the rum, the singular, the outrageous, the maverick, the new. It was a gesture of the Conformist Community, the Conventional Society…
“How could they not flop in a land which only wants not to be disturbed, not to change, not to be shocked? Having made a career of outrageousness, they have taken for granted that any audience that asks for them is asking to be outraged. If they made a mistake in Manila, the mistake is flattering to us: they assumed we were in the same league. But they were Batman in Thebes.”
In his year-ender for 1967, Nick Joaquin described what people wore as “principally paisley and psychedelic,” and illustrated the tensions in society with this fashion note:
“The gap between what our society thinks it is and what it really is produced comedy in 1967. A prize example is the to-do over the mini skirt. Churchmen fulminated against it, legislators threatened to outlaw it, moralists blamed the crime wave on it, and the literati debated its pros and cons. But visitors from abroad could only wonder why Filipinos were arguing so heatedly over something that just wasn’t there. One expatriate from New York complained that he had been in Manila a month already and still had to see a true mini. What passes for mini among us – a skirt barely baring the kneecaps – would be a crinoline abroad; and outside Manila even this timid mini is hardly what you might call standard. Yet we spent spirit denouncing or defending what was never more than a showpiece on local fashion ramps. Our line of reasoning seems to have gone this way: mini is mod; we are mod; therefore, the mini must be the mode among us. And those who know the true mini watched in bewilderment as we bade the little skirt that wasn’t there to go away.”
Nick Joaquin’s point over two years was that even in rebellion, Filipinos were terribly tame. But even that timidity should be taken in the context of the raging reaction from an offended—and worried—generation of parentals.
In that same year—in July, 1967—Ferdinand Marcos gave a speech at a conference with members of the mass media and the Board of Censors. After reading a list of acts banned from being portrayed in movies, Marcos observed,
“All we need to say, ladies and gentlemen, is that everything that has been prohibited here are being shown in movie theaters and on television today. Everything, but everything, and we are all to blame for this. We cannot face our children. You look at everything that is happening in the Philippines today. Who committed this act of kidnapping and rape, against this actress, Maggie de la Riva? Young kids. I am sure that they learned these techniques from the movies, from television, from the comics perhaps, and they have been emboldened because our society accepts these conditions complacently.
“I think it is about time that you and I come together. You are all parents, just as I am. I do not speak only as President of the Philippines. I speak also as a citizen. I think I articulate the sentiments of almost every Filipino right now. If there are those who feel this is not so, that what I feel as a parent is not shared by the majority, then I say they are wrong, and I am willing to take it up properly. I am willing to defend my position in any forum, whether it is before the courts or before the people. But I am sure that you and I are in agreement on this. It is just that we have not set the ground rules, or rather, we had set the ground rules but we have not followed them. Violations of these ground rules have been tolerated.
“Now, may I appeal to each and every one of you? May I appeal to the producers? May I appeal to the publishers? May I appeal to the radio commentators to do away now with sex and violence, not necessarily all sex and violence which sometimes are necessary to a plot, but the kind of sex and violence which incites unlawful acts from the younger generation.”
From Go-Go Dancers making their debut in 1967 according to Nick Joaquin, and Marcos blasting the media on behalf of anxious parents in the same year, you have to check out this memoir by Caroline Kennedy of the café habitués that haunted Los Indios Bravos in Malate like some sort of Tropical Baroque echo of the movie “Casablanca.” Imagine the reports Marcos was getting from Hans Menzi –and imagine this multiplied a hundred-thousand-fold, as parents dealt with hippiehood, the sexual revolution, dope, and rock n’roll.
Consider this film clip.
February 7, 1971 AP clip of Metrocom cops going after students in the vicinity of the Ateneo de Manila
And consider this diary entry, written on March 29, 1972, in which Marcos wrote that during a spiritual retreat, he asked God for a sign on whether to impose martial law and God answered him through the Jesuits:
“…My own Spiritual Exercise. I asked the Lord for a sign. And he has given it. In the meditation this morning the following thoughts were brought out.
“My job is too heavy. But your will not mine be done.
“The permissiveness of society must be balanced by authoritativeness. The two poles must be given weight and equal importance.
“Then in the Exercise—is it for the glory of God that there be authoritativeness? Yes for we return order where there is chaos.
“Fr. [Roque J.] Ferriols spoke of recognizing the Relative of the Absolute and the Absolute in the Relative. As well as need for competence.
“Spiritual Exercises on the Specific Problem of Martial Law. There are certain themes that one must be sensitive to. Thus relativity. Food is good. But meat not always good. Thus, if one has had an appendectomy, meat is not good. This is the relative value of meat. Nor is cyanide to be taken at all. This is the absolute value of certain things to be taken. So I conclude that freedom is not always good. There may be periods in a country’s life when it is like meat. For the time being it must be curtailed or denied.
“And the permissiveness of our society has spawned the many evils that will wreck our Republic. It must now be balanced with authoritativeness and that is martial law. However, I put as a condition the occurrence of massive terrorism which would alarm the people as well as the authorities.
“And the discussion on authoritativeness to balance permissiveness comes incidentally in answer to some inquiry as to the problem of parents over teenaged children. The Father spoke of the problem of the Ateneo, where in the 1960s, the authoritativeness of the decade was balanced by the Ateneo with permissiveness by the Ateneo administration. And now the KMs who profess attention and ‘nagwawala’ nothing is evil or immoral. This has resulted in disorder in the mission to train and give competence in chemistry, economics, engineering, etc. which even the KMs with their avowed desire for a new society would need.
“So Father [Jose A.] Cruz, our former retreat master, has instituted authoritativeness which has made him unpopular but may have saved the Ateneo.
“But that this should be talked about when not in the subject of the meditation. This is the sign that I have asked of God.”
Consider the clip and the entry together. To the Father Ferriols, Cruzes, and President Marcoses of this world, the scenes of chaos outside the Ateneo, and even more so down the road in Diliman, were not merely untidy, or chaotic, they were a the signs of family life being besieged, with parents poised to lose the battle. Something had to be done. Was it any surprise that the year before, even as the Diliman Commune was taking place in 1971, “As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.”
The long-haired hippies had to be put in their place. With force, if necessary.
This yearning for order reminds me of a comment a friend recently made, about changes in his neighborhood since the new administration began. “I can sleep soundly at night, now,” he said, “because noisy kids don’t go around at night anymore.”
According to this way of thinking, the curfew for kids observed in some barangays today, is an instrument of freedom—for the middle-aged, who want to sleep soundly at night.
And so it must have seemed, too, in 1972, when martial law was imposed on a population that was conformist, obedient, cautious by instinct, anyway. What parents could not do, the State now promised to undertake.
Marcos, on December 2, 1972 (during the First National Conference on Children and Youth, naturally), put it plainly:
“This requires a national effort. This requires the effort of everyone whether in government or outside government. There will be a great need for the resources and services of agencies and organizations outside the government. There will be a need to mobilize free and voluntary services dedicated to the welfare and development of the youth. Unfortunately, many of the parents must answer for some, if not many, of the ills of our society. Many of our parents think that after they have sent the children to school their responsibility is finished. This is not true and many regrettable mistakes in our society are due to the fact that the parents have failed in many instances in performing their role in society. And yet we blame the young. We keep on blaming the young. When we speak of drug addiction and we speak of the waywardness of the young, we have an inclination and a tendency to point to them and say, they belong to this drug-addicted generation. Perhaps, we should look inward and into ourselves and ask ourselves how far have we as parents fallen on our job. I speak as a parent. As President I am a busy man. I sometimes work up to 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and yet, I have a feeling that notwithstanding the fact that we may be very busy there are certain obligations you and I cannot shy away from and they have to do with the care of our children. When my children were here, even if I was very tired or very occupied, I always tried to see them before they went to bed. When they were working on their lessons or when they were whiling away their time I tried to talk to them even for just a few minutes. I am certain that many of those who are drug addicts among our children will say, will tell us, that it was because we the older generation didn’t care enough that they turned out that way.”
So it would be a war on Communism, on Drugs, and… long hair. Ask people around at the time, and one early feature of Martial Law wasn’t just sirens, or arrests, or media shut-downs, it was the Metrocom—the unit of the Philippine Constabulary tasked with “securing” the national capital—going around cutting the hair of any hippie who wandered within range of their scissors.
But it had to be about more than Filipinos with afros, of course.
Three months before, Marcos’ televised address in the evening of September 23, 1972 had listed the reasons for imposing martial law, and introduced a goal that would become central to the justification for dictatorship:
“All public officials and employees, whether of the national or local government, must now conduct themselves in the manner of a new and reformed society. We will explain the requirements and standards or details as soon as possible.”
By the next page, it had become branded—New Society, as a noun:
“If you offend the New Society, you shall be punished like the rest of the offenders.”
And, having branded it, he then—quite audaciously—merged his arguments of having powers under the existing Constitution, with an objective nowhere in the Constitution as a basis for emergency rule—in effect, putting front and center his ambition to go beyond the Constitution:
“I assure you that I am utilizing this power for the proclamation of martial law vested in me by the Constitution for one purpose alone, and that is, to save the Republic and reform our society. I wish to emphasize these two objectives. We will eliminate the threat of a violent overthrow of our Republic, but at the same time, we must now reform the social, economic and political institutions in our country. The plans, the order for reforms and removal of the inequities of our society, the clean-up of government of its corrupt and sterile elements, the liquidation of the criminal syndicates, the systematic development of our economy, the general program for a new and better Philippines will be explained to you. But we must start out with the elimination of anarchy and the maintenance of peace and order.”
So that, by the very last sentence of his address, the goal to suppress rebellion had been completely superseded by something much more grand:
“Rest assured that I will continue to do so and I have prayed to God for guidance. Let us all continue to pray to Him. I am confident that with God’s help, we will attain our dream of a reformed society, a new and brighter world.”
Which brings us back to the clip at the beginning of this piece. The day before his press conference, in his diary entry for September 27, 1972, Marcos wrote he was interviewed by John Nance and Gil Santos of the Associated Press. He went on to record that, “Everybody is saying how swiftly the peaceful revolution was accomplished. John Nance told Imelda “You did not expect it to be so neatly done.”
“Will it be said by history that the communist threat was just a legal justification for a legal use of force?
“Then let it also be said that it was a constitutional revolution –And that it was necessary to reform society — to convert a ‘sick society’ into the ‘New Society’.”
He might as well have asked, who’s your daddy?
Of course, there was fine print. And here, yesterday collides with today. When news of the killing of Maria Aurora Moynihan came out, reports mentioned her father, the third Lord Moynihan, notorious for being a drug trafficker, but who claimed he enjoyed the protection of the late dictator. Whether for him or others, the New Society turned out to contain as many perks as the Old. At least for a time, until people who had once applauded the New ended up wanting to throw it out like the Old.
Some people will be commemorating Martial Law today (Sept. 21), the highest compliment that can be paid to Ferdinand E. Marcos since he selected the date by legal sleight-of-hand (if it’s the date on the document, it must be true, they argue) when he actually unleashed it on September 22 and the public learned about it from him on September 23.
One effect of martial law has been overlooked: the opportunities lost, that normally come from a change in leadership on a regular basis. A presidential election was due to take place in November, 1973. There would have been another one in 1977, then 1981, and 1985. Since presidents could be re-elected under the 1935 Constitution, it means that the country could have had anywhere from 2 to 4 presidents when it only had one from the years 1973-1985.
Or think of it another way. The scholar David Wurfel was of the opinion that our present Constitution basically represents what would have been the result of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, had it been allowed a free hand to draft a charter. In a sense, this suggests a lost era; that everything that has followed in the three decades since EDSA, was what could have taken place between 1972-1986.
Marcos had convinced the people, at least for a time, that extreme measures were required to address what he claimed was an extreme threat. Alarmed by change, his generation rallied around him and allowed him to stop the clock and stay on.
The most painful chapters in a country’s unfolding story are always those in which the old ways are dying, and something new is struggling to be born. It inevitably sets one against another, dividing families, shattering friendships.
A Filipina scholar abroad, in a Facebook conversation I recently read, succinctly puts it this way: “It is this — to the privileged speaking subject, rehearsed in his privileged narratives, make way for others to also speak.” I think she is correct. The clash between Old and New Societies is a cycle, not least because eventually what is new becomes old, and what was old becomes new again. Because some lessons have to be learned, and re-learned, to matter.
AP clip of Lim Seng being condemned to death
See my article, The fabric of freedom, which starts with the execution of Lim Seng, and traces the long, slow, journey from dictatorship to newly-restored democracy. A kind of prequel would be The Delegate and the President: Contrasting Diaries on Martial Law for contrasting points of view –Marcos’ and Constitutional Convention delegate Augusto Caesar Espiritu—in diaries. You can also read my article on the First Quarter Storm and reactions to it, in The Defiant Era.
Here are the reasons why Martial Law was proclaimed on September 23 and not September 21. You can access this Martial Law Timeline.
Here is an infographic on the day Martial Law was declared: arrests, closures, casualties.
Read about The fall of the dictatorship. And look at Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Foundation’s list of martyrs and heroes of the Martial Law era.
For the Marcos side of things, you can access, and search through, the speeches of Marcos If you look through the Messages of the President volume of President Marcos’ speeches, and you can see many of his diary entries posted in The Philippine Diary Project (it’s an ongoing project).
You can also watch American conservative pundit William F. Buckley interviewing Ferdinand E. Marcos on November 17, 1977. Incidentally it provides a last glimpse of the old Malacañan Palace which would be basically demolished the following year. See Vital Documents on the Declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines: a government publication.
And perhaps the most eloquent apologia for the dictatorship was penned by Leon Ma. Guerrero in Today Began Yesterday: A Historical Approach to Martial Law in the Philippines.
You can revisit the era by watching this collection of 140 (mainly) Associated Press newsreels on Ferdinand E. Marcos and his times.
My most recent article on Marcos is, The law says Marcos is a hero –and it also doesn’t. On my final point in this piece, do read All we need is…discipline? by Clinton Palanca.