Rhianna O. Jaquilmac

The era of martial law was a game of charades. Those in power acted like they cared for the people. Marcos appeared to put the needs of the masses first, as he proclaimed Martial Law to ‘curb the insurgencies within the country.’ But, in actuality,  it was a plot by the authoritarian regime desperately trying to stay in Malacañang Palace by any means possible.

Cartoon by Shirley Jean Follosco

It was the 23rd of September, 1972, and the clock read 7:17 PM. President Marcos appeared on television to announce that he had placed the entire nation under martial law. That fateful day would also signify the 14-year-long period of atrocities, forced disappearances, and acts too gruesome to enumerate, all under one man and his elite inner circle.

A day before the televised address, two notable opposition leaders, Ninoy Aquino and Jose W. Diokno, were arrested late in the evening. Further arrests for his critics and critical journalists were made in the early hours of September 23. Others, such as student leaders, were arrested regardless of whether the organizations themselves were radical or moderate in ideology.

These arrests were an essential reminder to the masses about what happens once you go against President Marco's rules. His opposition needed to be silenced.  It was either detainment behind bars or the possibility of death. There was no way out unless you were loyal to him or supported his agendas.

Aside from that, His cronies were given strategic posts in both government and private sectors in order for the incumbent political family to seize power in the nation. An example of this would be the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel of the current administration, the Honourable Juan Ponce Enrile. Considered a "protege" of Mr. Marcos, he served as Defense Minister and took charge of the military during the 14-year "dark age.”  Another was Mr. Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr., who was involved in the "coconut levy fund scam" and used the windfall from it to finance his purchasing of the San Miguel Corporation, in which the company received favors from the government.

It was also under Mr. Enrile that Marcos could stay in power due to the former's expertise in law. Under his brilliant legal mind, he ensured that the law gave Marcos and his cronies room to do whatever they desired without the possibility of any repercussions due to their actions. Aside from that, the law was also reworked to allow the ruling political dynasty to effectively take over essential sectors of this nation, especially from the economic point of view.

Due to this, the nation's economic state was crippled, whilst those who reigned remained wealthy and influential. It also did not help that countless human rights violations, such as forced disappearances and forced torture, were done but swept under the rug. In this case, the bottom line was it was done under the name of staying in power.

What started after a staged "ambush" was a domino effect that resulted in countless lives lost, questions of ethics and morality, and debate over the factuality of these events. It was from this point on that the pearl of the Orient turned red. A shade of red stained with blood, bullets, and money. This period, martial law, may have been said and done, but the nation and even the world will always remember the events from 1973 to 1981.


Rhianna Jaquilmac is a Grade 11 student of Xavier University and Shirley Jean Follosco is also a Grade 12 student of Sto Niño Catholic School. They both joined Explained Ph as part of its volunteer program.