Last week marked the 45th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law over the Philippines by Ferdinand Marcos. While the day itself may not have been as eventful, as say, 9/11, the Marcos declaration, did change the arc of many Filipino lives, both in the Philippines and abroad; it certainly changed mine.
While organizing against it, I met my wife Prosy, with whom I have two accomplished children, Corina and Carlo, and a wonderful grandchild, Ever-Iyla. Through the opposition movement, I met progressively minded Filipinos and Americans, including members of the Black Panther Party, who shared precious insights into the struggle of African Americans against racial oppression, and a deeper understanding of racism, and white-skin privilege in America.
Marcos justified his imposition of martial rule by exaggerating threats to Philippine national security, and a faking an ambush of his defense secretary. By exaggerating threats to national security, and staging the ambush of Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos lied to the Filipino people.
As we look back 45 years ago, we realize that the Marcos’ martial rule was actually a deliberate and calculated move to subvert the normal democratic processes of political succession in the Philippines, to stay in power beyond his constitutional term of office. Marcos, in lying to his people, is not unique; other national leaders, including U.S. presidents, have done so, perhaps, not so much to maintain themselves in power, but to justify policies that are unpopular.
As we mark the 45th anniversary of the imposition of martial rule in the Philippines, we must pause to reinvigorate its lessons. Through lies and exaggerations, Marcos was able, under cover of his supposed constitutional powers, to suspend civil liberties, and subvert the very same democratic processes from which his power derived. This enabled him to rule by executive decree for almost 15 years until he was deposed by the EDSA revolt.
The new Philippine Constitution, drafted post-Marcos, makes it somewhat harder to declare martial law, but democracy continues to be a very fragile thing. Through lies, exaggerations, state-sponsored propaganda and a complicit media, those in power can manipulate public opinion and obtain public consent to executive orders and legislation that constrain and undermine basic freedoms and civil liberties.
To keep democracy strong, and its leaders accountable, we need to view political power and those who have been given the privilege to exercise it, with a healthy dose of skepticism, subjecting their pronouncements and political acts to strict scrutiny and debate. To fail in this is to abdicate one of our key responsibilities as citizens of the Pilipinas.