Lessons from a dark era

“THE Filipino, it seems, has lost his soul, his dignity, and his courage. We have come upon a phase of our history when ideals are only a veneer for greed and power, (in public and private affairs) when devotion to duty and dedication to a public trust are to be weighted at all times against private advantages and personal gain, and when loyalties can be traded. …Our government is in the iron grip of venality, its treasury is barren, its resources are wasted, its civil service is slothful and indifferent, its armed forces demoralized and its councils sterile. We are in crisis. You know that the government treasury is empty. Only by severe self-denial will there be hope for recovery within the next year…This nation can be great again. This I have said over and over. It is my articles of faith, and Divine Providence has willed that you and I can now translate this faith into deeds.” – President Ferdinand E. Marcos, “Mandate for Greatness” (First Inaugural Speech, December 30, 1965)
It was an era in history that older generations of Filipinos would rather forget.
But lessons from this tumultuous period has taught us to commemorate the past — if only to recount the nightmare that was martial law, and to make sure that it never happens again.
On September 21, 1972, then President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos declared Martial Law (through Proclamation 1081), in the hopes of creating a “New Society.”
In “THE PHILIPPINES: Marcos’ Martial Law,” TIME Magazine recounts the sordid details of what ensued that day.
“Police squads walked into Manila’s newspaper offices and broadcast stations, ordered staffers to leave and posted announcements stating: THIS BUILDING IS CLOSED AND SEALED AND PLACED UNDER MILITARY CONTROL.”
“Domestic air flights were grounded and overseas telephone operators refused to accept incoming calls. Finally, after several hours of mystifying silence, Pres. Marcos went on nationwide radio and TV to proclaim a state of martial law. Civil government would be continued, but campuses would be closed. Restrictions on travel, the press and communications would remain in force, until the government dealt with ‘a conspiracy to overthrow the government.”
Pres. Marcos justified his new decree, saying that threats to his government were being made by communist and Muslim insurgents.
He ordered the arrest of opposition leaders and militant activists, including the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., along with senators Jovito Salonga and Jose Diokno.
According to HotManila.ph, “The biggest lie — the mother lie — was that Martial Law was imposed for the good of the people. It was not. It was imposed for the good of the Marcoses and their cronies, to keep them in wealth and unassailable power forever and ever amen.”
39 years later, in an ironic twist of fate, Pres. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, the son of the very senator whom Pres. Marcos arrested and jailed, would speak about the horrors of martial law — while accepting an honorary doctorate of laws from Fordham University.
Pres. Aquino lashed out at the late dictator’s administration and against his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (who, according to recent revelations made by Wikileaks, made failed attempts to impose martial law during her presidency.)
“We had our periods of darkness but now we are living in the light,” the President said.
He described the martial law years as “a regime where the law is nothing but the whim of one man.”
But People Power became the day of reckoning for the Marcoses, and they “fled like thieves into the night.”
The president said that the Constitution, which was crafted under his mother’s (the late former Pres. Corazon C. Aquino) administration has become the beacon of an enduring vow made by the people: “Never again” to martial law and to another dictatorship.
“It is that determination not to surrender to apathy, and not to allow ourselves to become atomized prisoners of despair and intimidation, that led me to where I am now,” he said.
Meanwhile, the social media is also abuzz with musings and opinions on the anniversary of martial law.
ANCALERTS’ Twitter account received numerous feedbacks from kababayans, to answer the Question of The Day: “How would you explain martial law to the youth?”
One respondent said that if martial law were still in effect today, we would not be experiencing the joys of freedom of speech, nor would there be room for social media — an unthinkable reality for the youth, especially at this day and age.
Most young people take these present freedoms for granted — unknowing of the dreadful and difficult journey that older generations had to go through, to get to our democracy.
Perhaps, by recalling the horrors of the past, we would be persistently reminded that the fight for democracy is never over.
As the great US President Thomas Jefferson once said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
It is inevitable to pass the torch of freedom to the younger generation. But in so doing, it is our responsibility to educate them and make them aware of their duties, as the new guardians of democracy — to ensure that they will keep the flame alive for generations to come.
(LA Weekend Sept 24-27, 2011 Sec A pg.12)

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