The Long View: Time bandit


Time bandit

 / 04:06 AM September 23, 2020

A reminder that we are reaching the outer limits of the dictatorship being within living memory: the sands of time running out, not just for the opponents of a Marcos restoration but the Marcoses themselves, as the loyalist ranks thin out, so too, do the ranks of foes of dictatorship.

Which is why you have to be aware that picking Sept. 21 as the martial law anniversary is a tribute to Ferdinand Marcos who engineered it so people alive then actually forgot there was no martial law on Sept. 21, 1972.

Marcos began planning martial law when he became only the second president elected to a second term, in 1969, when he claimed to be the first president to be reelected to office; by then memories of Quezon’s reelection in November 1941 had faded so he could get away with the claim, still repeated even by historians and political scientists.

Seeing he would have to step down from office in 1973, he also pursued other schemes ranging from shifting to parliamentary government or having Imelda succeed him. He gauged how the public and institutions would react by testing the waters, for example by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. He also engineered the removal/retirement of older officers who were constitutional in outlook, replacing them with officers who would support him.

Much has been made of his superstitious fetish for the number 7, but Marcos chose September because under the system at the time, Congress was due to go into recess, not reconvening until January, when its session would open with the State of the Nation Address (Sonas were in January, hence the First Quarter Storm in 1970). Recess meant Congress silent. Even people in his administration who had misgivings, like Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor, were sent abroad; this is why the ML proclamation was countersigned not by the ES but by a presidential assistant. The Speaker was also abroad.

But Congress then and now has been lax so to his irritation, Marcos found out that Congress would still be in session Sept. 21 because some committees still had work to do, so he had to postpone things. The problem was, word was leaking: On Sept. 21, Ninoy gave his last Senate privilege speech warning of martial law; the next day’s papers reported this. There was a big rally in Plaza Miranda. The initiative was slipping away from Marcos who faced institutions becoming alert to what was afoot. He had already sent his kids abroad just in case.

This explains the Enrile assassination gambit: Something had to be done to make people forget the snowballing news of martial law; it provided cover for postponed plans to be put in operation at last. This was Sept. 22, and it was late at night on Sept. 22 that the military fanned out to close down communications and the media, shut down the airports/ports, and decapitate the opposition and other groups by arresting media, civil society, and political personages. The only armed resistance briefly came from the Iglesia ni Cristo, when its radio station was shut down.

Then Marcos raised the ante by invoking powers that exceeded the general understanding of martial law: He took lawmaking power upon himself, for example (usurping Congress’ lawmaking power), and declared his acts as beyond the review of the courts. He waited to see what people would do. Which was: nothing. So on the evening of Sept. 23 Marcos told the country of martial law, by lying, of course (this is not a coup, he said; yes, but only because the word for self-coup still had to be invented). Marcos himself seemed surprised, then delighted, crowing in his diary on Sept. 25, “nothing succeeds like success!”

Which is why to recognize Sept. 21 is to revise time itself, to uphold Marcos’ revising time and memory itself with his legal, moral, political fictions. I remember this because when interviewing people active in 1972, it actually took a lot of repeated questioning to make them remember that on Sept. 21, 1972, life was still normal. They themselves, even if anti-Marcos, had been brainwashed by Marcos. They would sometimes be surprised to remember that they actually saw Marcos on TV on Sept. 23. That is the power of propaganda personified.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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