When people think about those eventful and fearful days in the ninth month of 1972, they would often feel very strongly about it one way or another, these having been seared into our collective thought.
Those were, like what Charles Dickens said “the best of times… the worst of times.”
The declaration of Martial Law by President Ferdinand E. Marcos remains one of the most unforgettable chapters in the history of our country, and its effects can still be felt today.
Even recently, the negative aspects of the legacy of the Martial Law period strongly resonates even among my contemporaries after a Filipina celebrity was castigated for granting an interview to the only son of President Marcos.
This sentiment, set against a backdrop featuring a global decline in the quality of democracy as reported by The Economist Intelligence Unit, is a valid one, underpinned by apprehensions of not being able to participate fully in the political life of the nation.
Upon the mention of the words “Martial Law”, more often than not, Filipinos would tend to take adversarial viewpoints.
There are some who argue that its declaration was to preserve the Republic from falling into the hands of the then-nascent communist movement headed by some guy who now lives in Utrecht.
Marcos supporters would point to the many edifices built and programs implemented by his administration as proof of its success.
On the other hand, opponents would frequently point to the many documented cases of human rights abuses, political alienation, the deleterious effects of economic protectionism, and the worsening of the national situation after Marcos was ousted from office in 1986 (this I will discuss briefly later.)
Starting off with the economy, it is quite accurate to say that the proclivity and tendency of Mr. Marcos to develop the country through an internal industrialization model following the South Koreans and Japanese did not materialize as planned.
The error in this rather narrowed approach lay in the distribution of key industries – like sugar, tobacco, coconut, and airlines to name but four of so many – to his close associates and cronies.
This move had the effect of making it difficult for international corporations to do business, and so as their capital flew out of the country and out of the economy, many of our countrymen did in fact follow suit in the search for more verdant pastures.
Of course, it goes without saying that such began the Overseas Filipino Worker phenomenon, that led to many working families being separated.
The Negros sugar industry fared no better in the context of Martial Law.
During its heyday in the late 1960s, plantation owners were raking in large sums of cash due to bountiful harvests and beneficial trading quotas thanks largely to the Laurel-Langley agreement that granted preferential access to the United States market for Philippine sugar.
Mr. Marcos, in a controversial move for his purported “revolution from the center” and seeking to limit the power and influence of these sugar plantation owners, decided to put in a handful of corporate entities and close friends the right to sell and purchase sugar products from the planters, doing so at prices unfavorable to them.
Many sugar planters, were, as a result, cheated of their cash and likewise their capability to pay back the crop loans they took out from the government to help them with their farms.
The result, as the course of history so tragically played out, was unemployment, hunger, famine, and then social unrest.
As these dreadful things were happening to the country, the Chief Executive spent his time amassing more power for himself and for his allies.
Precious time had been spent in harassing the opposition instead of formulating a more inclusive and stable political framework by which they could have been accommodated, thereby creating a deepening sense of polarization.
Much worse, too, had been the prolongation by one reason or another of the President to hang onto power instead of ceding it to a duly-elected parliament and prime minister ordained in the text of the 1973 Philippine Constitution, which was subverted on more than one occasion through his executive orders and numerous plebiscites or referenda.
Coupled with these acts, regions which did not express support for the administration were neglected and un-prioritized by the national government.
Clearly, the regime of President Marcos, by not using its sweeping powers wisely to reform the government, did much to increase the culture of corruption that many Filipinos continue to experience today.
Need I mention the effect of granting copious amounts of emphasis given to the Tagalog at the expense of other Philippine languages?
Since the 2022 elections are coming up, there are important things that have to be written here.
First and foremost, the next President must work to veer away from the Marcosian patterns of oligarchical domination, limiting competition in the economy, and dampening political participation by over-centralizing power coupled with avoiding horizontal political accountability. In that way, Filipinos will be able to look back upon that controversial chapter of our times, vow never to repeat its mistakes, and then step right out of its shadow into perhaps a more vibrant and progressive republic, armed with the means to finally make such a success.
This column is dedicated to the victims of Martial Law, those wounded by economic protectionism, family separations, and to my friends who seek to participate in our political life in a more effective manner.