September 21 came and went early this week with hardly anyone noticing. This is as it should be. The day martial law was declared in the country in 1972 does not deserve to be marked with any kind of memorial ceremony.
We used to observe a day called Bataan Day, commemorating the day Bataan and Corregidor fell to invading Japanese forces in 1942. It was only in 1987 that the government, through Executive Order 203, revised all national days in the country and renamed the April 9 holiday as “Araw ng Kagitingan.”
There are events in history that stand out because they are particularly bitter defeats, like the Fall of Bataan and the Death March that followed. If we are to remember them at all, it is to reiterate the lessons we should learn from the experience.
The declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972, was one such event. Claiming he needed to stop an impending Communist rebellion, he assumed all governnment powers as he locked down Congress, along with the press.
For the next nine years, he ruled the country by himself, issuing presidential decrees that took the place of Congressional enactments. During those nine years of martial law, Amnesty International, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, and other human rights organizations listed 3,257 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 forced disappearances, and 72,000 incarcerations.
Martial law officially ended on January 17, 1981, but Marcos continued what he called his “authoritarian rule” until he was deposed by the People Power Revolution of 1986. He occupied Malacañang for a total of 21 years, from his election to his first four-year term in 1965 to his ouster in 1986.
Last Monday, Bishop Roderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, said he believes Filipinos have not learned the lesson of martial law. They are not vigilant and courageous enough to speak out, he said. Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos added: “There are political leaders who are self-serving, using their positions to enrich themselves and prolong their power. And we allow ourselves to be bought during elections or we just keep silent instead of speaking out against abuses.”
The anniversary of martial law is not to be celebrated, but it should serve as a reminder of what went wrong in this sad part of our history. It passed last Monday, hardly noticed by anyone, but it can serve as a reminder to all that we should never have another one like it.