Five Books on Martial Law every Gen Z (or millennial) must read


“Marcos is a hero.”

“Cory is a saint!”

“Tallano gold ang nagpayaman kay Marcos, hindi ang pagnanakaw!”

“[Marcos] is the best President ever!”

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A cursory look at first-hand evidence – from the records of the International Monetary Fund, first-hand accounts from survivors of Martial Law, official foreign correspondences, records from US customs – could piece a story of massive corruption, and rights abuses during the time of 1971 Martial Law.

The perceived inability of post-EDSA administrations to alleviate the country’s conditions – poverty, corruption, and the rise of the old oligarchy – has led to a disillusioned population susceptible to massive revisionism, especially among people too young to have experienced the Marcos Years.

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DNX curates five books from various authors on the Marcoses, Martial Law, and beyond. Please note that the choices are subjective, and there could be better books out there about the topic.

Still, we try to be as diverse in our choices in selecting books that represent the era.

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Some Are Smarter than Others: The History of Marcos’ Crony Capitalism by Ricardo Manapat

This is the first book that the author has read about Marcos. This is a massive book that highlights crony capitalism of the Marcoses. Book is about 600 pages long, so a total commitment is needed to finish it, and details how Marcos overthrew the old oligarchy but built a new one consisting of his friends, and relatives through massive favors in business, or outright giving them control over the country’s vast resources.

The book Some are Smarter than Others with the iconic octopus on the cover.
The book Some are Smarter than Others with the iconic octopus on the cover.

Manapat documented – through a list from the US Customs – inventoried pieces of jewelries bought by Imelda (partial list was valuated at $3.3 million – but already on the low side), as well as artwork that she collected (Botticelli, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Picasso, Goya, etc).

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One purchase by Imelda, for example, is a diamond and ruby necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels worth $100,000.

And that’s just one purchase.

And not just jewelry. One time, she famously bought flowers, some of which were tropical orchids, worth $27,000.

More than 300 pages were dedicated to Marcos cronies, from Robert Benedicto, to the Cojuangcos, to Lucio Tan etc., with documentation of how national coffers, loans, and all other government resources were placed at the leader’s disposal with little-to-no accountability.

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From a researcher’s and academician’s point of view, Some are Smarter than Others could be appreciated for its endnotes, thus every piece of data, and information is verified. Manapat’s sources vary from local, and international media organizations, to actual first-hand documents, and actual official statements/documents from government institutions, and corporations.

Conjugal Dictatorship by Primitivo Mijares

How can you treat a book written by a man who disappeared soon after it was published? Primitivo Mijares is perhaps one of the most recognizable names among the victims of the Martial Law, especially after what happened to his son (tortured, then dropped from a helicopter).

Primitivo Mijares' book details high-level conversations on how Marcos and his cabal manipulated events that led to the declaration of Martial Law.
Primitivo Mijares’ book details high-level conversations on how Marcos and his cabal manipulated events that led to the declaration of Martial Law.

Mijares himself has since been declared a desaparecido (the disappeared) but his work polarized audiences into deciding whether the author is a well-meaning idealist, or a con artist.

Mijares was a journalist who had become a propagandist and confidant for Marcos, and was once served as chairperson of the National Press Club. He became part of the Media Advisory Council, which he said means he filtered information, or even censored the press in 1973.

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Book recounts private conversations between President, and Imelda, and how Marcos reportedly manipulated conditions to declare Martial Law, including then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile’s ambush.

Conjugal Dictatorship is told from a first person point-of-view, and – to this writer – it reads more like a memoir than an academic piece of work. Some parts of the book have also been proven inaccurate, like the bombing of Plaza Miranda, which was later owned up by ex-Communists.

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This is best read to get a feel of how important policies were planned, including Martial Law, and how such a policy could shape things to come.

Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy

Written by Raymond Bonner, the book’s main source was from 3,000 classified documents from the US government, covering a trail of intervention, even outright support by no less than five US administrations.

Bonner's book is an impassioned critique of how the US handled Marcos' presidency despite his dictatorial tendencies.
Bonner’s book is an impassioned critique of how the US handled Marcos’ presidency despite his dictatorial tendencies.

While Manapat’s book details the domestic plunder that the Marcoses did from an academic POV, and Mijares’ accounts was that of an insider privy to the machinations of those in power, Bonner is an impassioned work from the POV of an outsider looking in.

Bonner briefly touches on the Philippines’ ties with the US before the 1950’s (Magsaysay’s rise to power as the US’ Amboy, as well as the role of the Central Intelligence Agency on the elections that put the older Macapagal in power).

Highlight of the book, though was about how US presidents treated Marcos with tolerance that sometimes border on indifference, even when the couple was looting the country, or even when stories of an unbridled insurgency were mounting, or foreign debt was ballooning by 1,300 percent (from $2 billion to $26 billion) or when 70 percent of Filipinos reported they were worse off pre-Martial Law.

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Bonner’s book is more of a critique of how the US danced with a clearly undemocratic leader, for as long as said leader has pro-US leanings (or claim so).

Dekada 70 by Lualhati Bautista

Books mirror reality, and sometimes even paint a clearer picture of what happened then.

Dekada 70 is one such a book, a novel so ahead of its time that it already has a nuanced discussion of feminist concepts, and ideals at the time when feminist concepts, and ideals were considered dangerous.

The novel is a portrait of a wife and mother living in the 70s and her struggle to keep the family together.
The novel is a portrait of a wife and mother living in the 70s and her struggle to keep the family together.

Bautista’s masterpiece is what I would call history-related (not historical), meaning the events related in the book – the declaration of Martial Law, the human rights abuses – were real, but the characters were imagined, fictional.

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Bautista effectively frames the story from the POV of Amanda Bartolome, a mother of six strapping sons, and wife ro one particularly patriarchal husband who believes that a man has ownership over his spouse (yes – THAT was discussed here).

Audience is soon treated to a dovetailing of Amanda’s struggle against her husband’s control while fearing for her children, AND the country’s own struggle as her children are slowly strangled by an oppressive system.

Book is both political and provocative, an impressive work that depicts how it is to be a housewife in the ‘70s with an overbearing husband, and children that are slowly getting out of her control.

An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines edited by Alfred McCoy

An Anarchy of Families is not a simple book but rather a collection of essays from Western analysts about the prevailing socio-political landscape that has grounded and pounded Philippine politics: the oligarchy.

An Anarchy of Families. From the Dimaporos of the South to the Lopezes in Visayas or the Montanos in Cavite.
An Anarchy of Families. From the Dimaporos of the South to the Lopezes in Visayas or the Montanos in Cavite.

The book analyzes the genealogy of eight families – from the Lopezes, to the Pardo de Taveras, to the Dimaporos of Mindanao or the Montanos in Cavite – and how each of these families have, through various means (guns, goons, and gold in the Southern, or the “rent-seeking behavior” of the Lopezes, with McCoy calling Eugenio – who had successfully expanded the family fortune outside of plantations – “ruthless”, and a deft manipulator.

Anarchy of Families has to be read to have an understanding of how the oligarchy had been before Marcos, and how it was when Cory Aquino restored the old oligarchy that Marcos overthrew.

By studying how families turn to dynasties and dynasties turn to entrenched oligarchies whose interests shape the national politik, students of politics and history are given important lessons on how the country has been passed from one oligarchy to another with varying degrees of success, but all with the same interests: self-preservation, and enrichment.

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