September 21: In Memory of a Paper Tiger

by Marivic Tanyo and Ernesto Anasarias

Editor’s Note: The following article is archived from Vol. 11, Issue 4 (October 2, 1984). Please be advised that the content of this piece is incomplete due to the damaged state of the physical copy.

History had taught us that whenever there is repression there is also the inevitability of resistance. Viewing this premise in the Philippine context it is apparent that the people’s dissent was bred by the political and economic ills that beset the masses.

Twelve years ago the Filipino people have experienced the iron hand of Martial Law which put the people’s struggle for freedom and democracy into test. For twelve years the people had endured the pain and vigorously moved onward to the dismantling of the structures that perpetuate the rotten system of neocolonialism and feudalism.

In 1981, Martial Law was ‘lifted’ to show the international community that the “showcase of democracy” in the … has triumphed over anarchy and subversion. However, beyond the shower of elegant speeches and disguised deception, the raging machinery of the dictatorship lingers on in the connivance with the preying imperialists that inconsiderately rob our country its wealth and sovereignty.

It is of virtual necessity that the oppressed masses commemorate Martial Law. Not because of its messianic charisma as we are made to believe but because we need to learn the lessons that will equip us in order not to be misled by the false conceptions about the event.

The Society and Martial Law

Generally, what could be said of the country prior to the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, was that of anarchy, rebellion, and national deterioration which had erupted from the economic and political crises felt during that time.

Taking the economic situation as the point of reference, the import substitution industrialization (ISI) of 1940-1960 did not prove to be a good strategy for industrialization. This era was characterized by stagnant industry and agriculture. Because of such a situation, ISI became an object of debate and dispute between the nationalist left who advocated for a strong control on foreign investment, strong protection of Filipino industries, extension of the strategy into intermediate and capital goods sectors and the redistribution of wealth; and the right-wing who contested that to speed up industrialization the protectionist barriers must be dismantled because the increase of flow of foreign capital would help in industrialization.

Nonetheless, this dispute threatened the presence of the US business investments thus forcing the government to abolish import and exchange controls for their own interests through the WorldBank and International Monetary Fund. Following closely then was the 100 percent devaluation of the peso and the cheapening agriculture and raw material exports. 

Between 1962 and 1964 the real wages decreased by 10 percent. A whole lot of Filipinos were affected due to the 100 percent increase in imported inputs and repayment of foreign loans.

During the late 1960s, WB-IMF structured the Export-oriented industrialization mode for Phil. industrialization. The implementation of such model then was enhanced by Pres. Marcos when he took his office as president in 1966. Obviously, he favored the foreign investors to enter the country and to formalize such things he legislated Investment Incentive Act of 1967 and Export Incentive Act of 1970. These legislations had given the foreign investors more incentives and the Filipinos left at the logging end.

In 1969, Export Processing Zone in Bataan was established— with all the glories that the country could offer like the cheap labor; duty-free raw material and intermediate goods imports; corporate tax holidays, accelerated depreciated rates on fixed sets and permanently subsidized infrastructure. This set-up had attracted other MNC’s establishment to enjoy and at the same time exploit natural and human resources of the country.

In the 1969 presidential election, Marcos won his second chance but was left without resources. The government was dried up of its foreign exchange reserves thus, he resorted to WB-IM which the latter considered as an opportunity for the Export-oriented industrialization to flourish and develop. Marcos received the $37 m standby loan from the IMF but as a consequence, there has to be devaluation of the peso of 60 percent and such devaluation lead to the increase in the inflation rate of 1.3 percent in 1969 to 14.18 percent in 1970. This era was also marked by slower growth of the GNP and lest the workers were adversely affected lowering the real wages by 50 percent.

With such a malady, came the uprise of the nationalist movements which had alarmed the spread of foreign business and technocrats circles. More so, in 1970, the constitutional convention held aimed for the nationalist development marked the retreat of foreign investors, taking their capital out of the country. On the other hand, demonstrations by peasants, students, and workers continued to protest against  foreign imperialism and for the widespread articulation of the nationalist sentiment

The people learned to wage wars on the streets because the government was no longer responsive to their needs but rather it has become an instrument to serve the needs of US monopoly capitalist that controls the major strategic industries. As a result, the country witnessed the emergence of several mass movements primarily aimed to seek nationalism. Among these movements were the Socialist Party of the Phil. among the workers; Malayang Samahan ng mga Magsasaka (MASAKA) among the peasantry; Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN) among intellectuals and professionals.

Meanwhile, in 1968, there was the rebirth of the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) “determined to implement its general programme for a people’s democratic revolution.” In the year 1969, the uprise of the New People’s Army (NPA). In Mindanao, the Muslim secessionist movement was said to  be having an “intensive training for a possible large scale offensive against military installations and personnel in Mindanao and Sulu as early as 1971.”

“A group of former officers of the AFP were conspiring to count a coup de’etat sic and to take over political power afte liquidation of the president.” 

With the 70’s, political opposition provided funds for the radical demonstrations, built up private armies and amassed high powered weapons smuggled into the country,

With all these threats to the Republic which had been manifesting shadows of rebellion and subversion inimical to the preservation of the state, Marcos issued Proclamation 1081 on September 21, 1972 basically to save the republic and develop a new society; to avert a revolution and to give way for a fundamental restructuring of power and wealth.

Instrument of Oppression

Basically, the immediate consequence of the declaration of Martial Law was the centralization of power and its strength. Whether it be on economics, political or socio-cultural issues, Marcos has always the final word.

Martial law was declared to protect the interests of foreign investors in the country and to protect his selfish interest in prolonging his tenure. For an oppressive, suppressive, and selfish type of ruling, Marcos needs the force of the military to work for him and his family and cronies— to “salvage” all those people who express dissent.

In its economic viewpoint, Martial law became a tool for the continuance and expansion of the export-oriented industrialization totally forgetting the import substitution industrialization which was forwarded by Pres. Carlos P. Garcia. The doors of the nation had given leeway to more multinational corporations due to the establishment of a new set of incentives for foreign investors. And yet the country has not established its own basic industries. 

On and on, because of these free trade relations, foreign investors took the opportunity of exploiting resources and power. Wanton aggression of the ruling class had prevailed. Inflation rate worsened. But because of the fear of military and detention camps, the people kept silent although there some who organized nationalist front against the dictatorship and the US intervention.

Marcos continued to exert his power. Everything must pass his desk— loans, budget proposals, plans of development, etc. Appointments of ministers of economic affairs were also appointed by him.

Despite the promises behind the declaration of martial law, in 1971, the poverty level rose from 57 percent to 85 percent in 1980.

Clearly then, martial law has plunged the country deeper into misery. With the powers concentrated in only one person, no one expected the state to ever be in a convenient situation especially after it has become more responsive to the needs of the foreign countries.

Martial law was also an instrumentality for the whims of dictatorship and authoritarianism. Power structure was kept intact within the Marcos clan and his cronies. The First Lady became the first governor with the establishment of the Metro Manila Commission (MMC); she also became the chairman of the Human Settlements Ministry and became the instant house speaker. Imee, on the other hand, became the Kabataang Baranggay chairman and Bong-Bong vied the governorship of the Ilocos region.

In order that these powers be protected, militarization is the answer to those people who resist the system. Martial law legalized oppression and institutionalized terrorism. Marcos showered the country with presidential decrees, letters of instruction and general orders which are very supportive of the nature of his dictatorship. And while all these things happened, there was an increase in the number of political detainees. The military arrested Jose Ma. Sison, Dante, Victor Corpus, Ninoy Aquino was arrested and was also sentenced to death. Many were silenced by the swords and guns of the military.

Obviously, despite the avowed intention of the restructuring of power, nothing has really been changed. Still, the powers are concentrated in the hands of a few while the majority is subject to harassment and oppression.

The military which had increased from 60,000 to 250,000 in 1975 became an integral part of the power structure. It became the Instrument for the suppression of students, workers, professionals and the other sectors of the population. Martial law was proved as not competent enough to solve the problems of the country but rather it has even worsened the situation. There wasn’t really manifestations of development for the whole lot of the population. Everything fell under the vain characteristic of “image-building”.

There were infrastructure beautification of the central city, etc. But the reality behind the scene was not considered— the people in squatter areas most especially did not acquire the proper attention and treatment They were overlooked by the government’s development projects. 

The mass media which is supposedly the instrument to spread the truth was censored. Luis Beltran, Director of UP Press said in particular that “the newspapermen under the martial law are crying to be newspapermen. Those who succeed receive pain as their reward. Those who fail are gifted with happiness.”

The educational system was commercialized because of the intervention of imperialist countries. The National College Entrance Exam (NCEE) was required to all HS graduating students. There were tremendous increases to the tuition fees and … continued to deteriorate.

The postal services were laden with anomalies and corruption. The police which is supposedly responsible for the maintenance of peace, order and good conduct became too corrupt also and at times the root of chaos

The student sector was also restricted by the government in all its militant endeavors. Rallies, demonstrations and other forms of assembly were prohibited through General Order no. 5. The establishment of student councils and campus paper was discouraged to a large extent. The Anti-subversion law was widened and more student leaders were arrested from their posts. Likewise, more penetrating agents were scattered around the campus to monitor the activities of students suspicious of rebellion and subversion.

The workers on the other hand were robbed of their legitimate bargaining power. The authorities banned the holding of strikes and if ever there is, the military is used extensively to break them. Labor code was drafted not for the benefit of the workers but the management thereof. It was a visible instrument to protect the life and properties of the big capitalist and technocrats.

The other most oppressed sector is the farmer. Despite promises of emancipation, the farmers remained firmly chained to their tenant lands. The land reform program of the government was more of an exercise in futility. It has even worsened the lot of the landless peasants.

General order no. 47 or the Corporate Farming Act opened up vast tracts of land to the aggression of transnational corporation displacing thousands of farmers then.

Worst still is the harassment of small farmers and their families by some military personnel. The declaration of martial law had increased the military atrocities and brutalities done in almost all sectors.

However martial law did not actually end the resistance. The resistance had taken a new form and became underground. Nationalism still moved the Filipinos to work against the Marcos dictatorship and the US economic and political intervention in the country.

In 1973, the Nationalist Democratic Front (NDF) was established as a coalition group of the various sectors resisting the system of the US-backed and fascist government of Mr. Marcos. And this only proved that the Filipino people is willing to fight for freedom

democracy and authentic independence even up to the point of the sharp sword.

Shortly after Martial law was proclaimed, the inconsiderable silence in the labor from was broken when 500 workers from La Tondeña distillery burst into strike in 1975. This was followed by 400 strikes wherein 90 were declared ‘illegal’ because they violated the strike ban on foreign-dominated ‘vital industries’. This event marked the series of open protests against the imperialist domination of our economic and cultural life as the curtailment of our rights.

The unceasing peoples’ struggle had gained various concessions from the regime. The student sector have taken back their right to organize their councils and the campus also allowed to form unions though it was not encouraged both by the government and the capitalists by constant union-busting and the creation of anti-labor laws like  BP 130 and 227 which implicitly narrows down the right of workers to strike. Alongside with the advancement of the legal mass movement, the underground opposition grew like a forest flame in the countryside where it prepared its ‘protracted war’ strategy. The strength of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, the NPA, was best described by the Defense Minister Enrile when he admitted that the CPP/NPA is moving to its ‘strategic stalemate’ stage in over three years.

The Lessons of Martial Law

The lessons of Martial Law is sic simple. It summarizes the fascist character of a regime who don’t “intend to die” because it is backed up by its Americal imperialist master. Even the Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines attests that the supposedly lifting of martial law didn’t bring

back the situation to normalcy because “during the 8 years the has ruled the country, Mr. Marcis has systematically created an all-encompassing mechanism of personal power, control and coercion that will enable him to continue his one-man rule with nominal restraint after he shall 

have lifted the formal legalistic earmark of martial rule.”

September 21 is a red colored day in the history of the Filipino people. It is red because it is stained by the blood of the people who died in the dark days of Philippine democracy. It is red because it signified the unwavering  struggle of the masses for their emancipation from the claws of imperialism and the slavery of feudalism.

Twelve years of oppression is enough. The promise of greatness for this nation had been gone into oblivion. The Filipino people must now realize that the change will not be brought about by a self-proclaimed messiah but only through the concentrated effort of the masses with a nationalist and democratic leadership. [P]

4 comments on “September 21: In Memory of a Paper Tiger

  1. Pingback: In Memory of a Paper Tiger – Nelsapy

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  3. Pingback: Ika-49 na anibersaryo ng Martial Law, sinalubong ng kilos-protesta ng mga progresibo; pulis, ginambala iilang programa – UPLB Perspective

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