SEPTEMBER 21 has become a landmark in Philippine history. On Sept. 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos signed the proclamation imposing martial law in the entire country.
In one fell swoop, the Marcos military, headed by then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile arrested thousands of opponents and critics of the regime. In Manila, opposition leaders like Senators Benigno Aquino Sr., Jose W. Diokno, Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo and others were arrested and detained.
Here in Cebu, I was one of those who were arrested together with student activists who were my clients. At around 4 p.m. of September 23, 1972, I was arrested at my residence in Carcar, Cebu and brought to Camp Sergio Osmeña, Cebu City. I was detained until Dec. 23, 1972.
At dawn of Sept. 23 when martial law was implemented, the Marcos military dragnet was able to arrest and detain around 70,000 political opponents, students and social activists, labor organizers, religious leaders, writers and broadcasters, and all persons of different political persuasions, from the reformists to the members of the radical left. The whole country became one huge concentration camp.
In September 1972, Philippine democracy, with all its imperfections, was crushed by Mr. Marcos and his military. Congress was padlocked, the Supreme Court was castrated, elections became a farce and all media outlets like the press, radio and television were closed down. Marcos virtually became a dictator.
All lucrative businesses were now under the control of Mr. Marcos and his family, through the dictator’s cronies. Juan Ponce Enrile, cornered all defense contracts and the logging industry; Antonio Floirendo, the agri-business and real estate; Roberto Benedicto, the sugar farms, banking and telecommunications; Imelda’s brother Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, the media, Manila Electric Co., and all Lopez businesses; and Eduardo Cojuangco, the beer industry and real estate, to mention a few lucky cronies.
All these cronies gave shares to Ferdinand and Imelda from the various kickbacks, commissions and other scandalous transactions. Billions were plundered from the national coffers that accelerated the economic crisis and mass poverty during the dictatorship and the conjugal kleptocracy of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
Forty-seven years after the start of the Marcos dictatorship, ominous clouds appear in the horizon, signalling the slow demise of our democracy. The rule of law has been destroyed with the proliferation of extra-judicial killings, and our democratic institutions are under siege.
There is a clear danger of the return of authoritarian rule. What is disturbing is the seeming indifference and apathy of some of our people.
A vigilant people and a strong political opposition are needed for the survival of democracy and prevent the emergence of another dictatorship. Lord Acton was right when he said: “Absolute power corrupts and when it corrupts, it corrupts absolutely.”