“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.
Persons who have nothing whatsoever to do with such conspiracy and operations to overthrow the Republic of the Philippines by violence or subversion have nothing to fear. They can move about and perform their daily activities without any apprehension from action or counteraction by the government especially after the period of counteraction which I have directed to be taken against the conspirators.” (Extracts from the speech of Ferdinand Marcos declaring Martial law, Official Gazette of the Philippines, Sept. 23, 1972)
It will almost be half a century ago now since those chilling words were spoken with such false assurance, but reading it once more brings back painful memories of those harrowing days under dictatorial rule. It does not help that today, smiling images of Marcos family members grace the pages of our publications once more, and thanks to the ignorance of a new generation of Filipinos weaned on Facebook and Tiktok, their infamous legacy has been perversely rewritten to rehabilitate their tainted family name.
Most family members of dictators of even lesser notoriety than Marcos don’t get away with such light-handed treatment.
There’s not a single descendant of Hitler, for example, walking the streets of Austria and Germany today, who struts about like the Holocaust never happened. Any link to the bloodline is vehemently denied, as it is cause for a great deal of shame and embarrassment on the bearer. Not so in the Philippines. If not for the vigilance of the Filipino electorate (at least partially), another Marcos would have been foisted upon this nation, something in my wildest dreams I never dared to imagine was even possible.
Today, some evidently ill-informed young people claim that Marcos was the best President we ever had in this country, a claim that could only begin to take the shape of truth if simultaneously we also entertain the idea that Hitler was the greatest leader Germany ever had.
And yet, Marcos was a suave and consummate communicator. He made people believe the message that he conveyed above—that law-abiding citizens should not be afraid of Martial Law, and that only lawless elements need be alarmed. In truth, he made up all of the imagined threats to national security to justify his clampdown on rights and freedoms, and ended up imprisoning his critics and political opponents in the process. Do not be afraid indeed.
Today, we are faced with the same challenge to our constitutional rights and freedoms, from a government that makes the same promise as Marcos did all those years ago. That if you are law-abiding, there is nothing to be afraid of.
Many of our lawmakers who seem blind to the brutal reality of martial law are not spring chickens. Most would have lived through some of the dark days of Martial Law. And even those young enough not to have experienced it are only a generation away from the lived experience of dictatorship their parents went through. And yet, they make the same empty assurance that the dictator made in 1972. Do not be afraid.
Dictatorship is a slippery slope, which often begins with lofty promises. But they always end with the painful reality of lost rights and freedoms.
I can only hope that with all the technology and information now at our disposal, we will not be as blind to the truth, and as trusting of the false assurances, as the unwitting populace during those dark Martial Law years.