Martial law revisited

By Artchil B. Fernandez

The 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law is two days henceforth. It’s time to revisit that dark chapter in Philippine history in the light of the statements made by BBM on the actions of his dictator father in 1972.

“Martial law was declared because of the wars, the two wars we were fighting on two fronts,” BBM said in his first interview in office. “Those were the dangers, the perils the country was facing,” he added.

BBM’s statement is a reiteration of their narrative that his father was forced declared martial law due to the grave threats of armed rebellion by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). He alleged they were knocking on the door of the republic.  Is this claim supported by facts?

The New People’s Army (NPA) was established on March 29, 1969, with 60 armed fighters and 35 rifles in Central Luzon. In 1971, their number grew to 371 and by the time martial law was declared there were around 800 NPA members.

The MNLF on the other hand was founded in 1972, a splinter group of Muslim Independence Movement. At that time the group was seeking to establish a separate state for the Muslim minority in the South.

In 1972 the NPA was only three years old, and the MNLF was just established. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the other hand numbered 57,100 in 1971. The balance of forces was heavily tilted in favor of the Philippine military in 1972.

BBM made it appear the rebels were on the verge of taking over the Philippines in 1972 and a war on two fronts (against the NPA and MNLF) was raging. The Philippine government was about to fall to these rebel groups and the situation forced Marcos Sr. to declare martial law. Around 800 NPA rebels and an infant MNLF fighting against 57,100 AFP were winning thus martial law was needed. This is not only a ludicrous claim but an outright lie. Common sense defies this brazen and shameless falsehood.

The opposite happened with the declaration of martial law. The rebel groups grew by leap and bound during martial law. By the time the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown in 1986, the NPAs numbered around 25,000. MNLF rebellion was at its height in 1976 with 50,000 individuals killed and displaced 500,000 in Mindanao.

Instead of abating the rebellion of the communist and Moro rebels, martial law in fact intensified the conflict. Martial law was heaven sent to the rebel groups. Rampant human rights violations, systematic corruption, repression and absence of freedom and democracy drove thousands particularly young men and women to the side of the rebels. Martial law was the best rebel recruiter that so alarmed Washington forcing the US government to reevaluate its relations with the Marcos dictatorship.

Marcos Sr. declared martial law to perpetuate himself in power. The 1935 Constitution barred him from running for a third term. His attempt to hold on to power thru the Constitutional Convention in 1971 went puff when delegates passed a resolution prohibiting the incumbent president Marcos Sr. from running under the new constitution. Left with no other legal path to stay in power, Marcos Sr. staged a coup, martial law.

BBM also asserted that his father was not a dictator since he consulted people. “How many times have I been here in this room where he was in consultation with different groups? A dictator does not consult [people]. A dictator just says: ‘This is what you will do — whether you like it or not,” he claimed.

Is consulting people proof a leader is not a dictator? Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot and other dictators were also publicly photographed consulting their inner circle.

Marcos Sr. was a dictator. His 1973 Constitution granted him dictatorial powers.  Amendment No. 6 of the 1973 Marcos Constitution gave him legislative powers. He used the provision to rule by decree. Under Presidential Commitment Order (PCO) later renamed Preventive Detention Action (PDA), Marcos Sr. can jail anyone without trial or hearing and indefinitely (in case of PCO). These are dictatorial powers and actions.  BBM’s father was dictator – a brutal and corrupt one.

Under martial law 70,000 people were arrested mostly without warrants, 34,000 were tortured and 3,240 killed. During the 20-year rule of the Marcoses, US$10 billion were stolen from the Filipino people by the conjugal dictatorship. Six in ten Filipino families were poor during martial law and GDP growth was -7.3 percent in the dying years of dictatorial regime.

Perhaps the greatest lie about martial law is the myth that it was a “Golden Age.” No economic data back this patently false claim. During martial law Filipinos started leaving the country in masse to work as construction workers and domestic helpers abroad. If the country was one of the richest in Asia during martial law as the Marcos propaganda machine blatantly promotes, why would tens of thousands of Filipinos leave their families and loved ones at that time and endure hard and lonely life in diaspora?

Truth is the Philippines was known as the “Sick Man of Asia” at the height of the Marcos dictatorship. All economic indicators – GDP, GNP, inflation rate, per capita income, poverty incidence, malnutrition rate among others, show the Philippines was a poor country during martial law especially at the tail end of the dictatorial rule of Marcos senior. Martial law was not a “Golden Age” but the “Age of Agony and Misery.”

BBM and his family can lie all they want and pollute the digital world with their fiction thru troll farms. But a lie is a lie. When the deceived generations are gone, what will remain are facts. The facts will triumph in the end.