March 22, 2018, 7:58 am
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Remembering September 23

IF there is anything worse than forgetting history, it’s misremembering it. Historical revisionism is rife nowadays, and is fueled mainly by families and groups that will benefit from our collective amnesia. The best and most despicable example is the historical revisionism surrounding martial law and the role of Ferdinand Marcos and his ilk in this dark era of Philippine history.

For starters, martial law was not declared on September 21, 1972. While Proclamation 1081 was dated on September 21, the Sunday Express (the Sunday edition of the Philippine Daily Express, one of the only three publications during that time, because it was pro-Marcos) ran the story on September 24.

Marcos intentionally created the cult of September 21, even going to the extent of proclaiming it as the National Thanksgiving Day to mark the inception of his New Society. As presidential historian Manolo Quezon points out, Marcos’ propaganda effort was so vigorous and successful that many of us still consider September 21 as the actual day of the declaration of martial law. It is also worthy to remember that the staged ambush of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, the primordial excuse for the declaration of martial law, happened on September 22.

The infamous appearance of Marcos on television happened only on the evening of September 23, which checks out against an account given by JPE to Raymond Bonner (author of Waltzing with the Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy) where JPE claimed that he and Acting Executive Secretary Roberto Reyes were witnesses to the signing of Proclamation 1081 in the morning of September 23. Why the deception, you might ask? Marcos was obsessed with numerology. 21, a date divisible by 7, was seen to be auspicious compared to 23.

Since then, many lies have been perpetuated to rehabilitate the murderous regime that is martial law, ranging from its motives to the actual effects on the lives of Filipinos then, and now. According to journalist Alan Robles, one of the biggest deceptions perpetuated by the Marcos propaganda machine is that martial law was declared for the good of the Filipino people. There was a lot of noise (instigated by Marcos himself and his propagandists) about the so-called threat of communism to the community, and was in fact one of the charges frequently used to arrest his critics.

In truth, ML was imposed to solidify the hold of the Marcoses on absolute political power. His actions subsequent to the declaration have all been for the pursuit of gaining power, and holding on to it: the drafting of the new constitution and the railroading of the sham plebiscite, filling the seats of the constitutional convention with loyal allies to ensure the results he wanted; abolishing Congress and the courts; shutting down mass media; the list goes on and on. All these actions benefitted no other than Marcos and his cronies.

Another prevalent lie was that martial law was good for the economy. Marcos apologists frequently cite good economic numbers and the construction of the LRT, the CCP and other buildings are proof of economic wellness. Again, all blatant lies and misdirection. The poverty rate was at 24% in 1974, and had risen to 40% in 1980, a year before Marcos lifted (on paper) martial law. As Robles wrote in 2000: “Imelda Marcos was using the Philippine National Bank as her private piggy bank. One of her ideas of dealing with the poor was to put up whitewashed
walls around the squatter areas in Manila.”

It is true that infrastructure was built during martial law, but citizens should not thank the Marcoses for that; it’s government’s job to build for public use. After all, those projects were financed heavily by foreign loans, loans which continue to be paid by taxpayers’ money to this day.

When Marcos was kicked out by the Filipino people in the peaceful uprising known as the EDSA revolution in 1986, government debt stood at a staggering P395.51 billion, equivalent to 58.63% of the nation’s gross domestic product in the same year. Converted to 2014 figures, that translates to P3.363 trillion, more than the national government’s budget for that same year. In fact, the loan taken out for the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which stood as single biggest debt obligation for two decades, amounted to $2.3 billion dollars. The Filipino taxpayer only finished paying off that particular debt in 2007, twenty years after martial law ended.

So you see, dear millennials and fillennials, not everything is as rosy as some quarters bamboozle us into believing. Every time we fall for a lie that says martial law was good for the country, Marcos wins. Every time we question whether the regime was truly corrupt, Marcos wins.

Every time we keep silent about President Duterte’s plan to give the Marcoses immunity, Marcos wins. Every time you remember martial law on September 21 because the rest of the world doesn’t bother correcting themselves, Marcos wins.
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