September 23 marks the day the Philippines learned it was under Martial Law

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
September 23 marks the day the Philippines learned it was under Martial Law
Former President Ferdinand Marcos having a meeting with the military officials during Philippines' Martial Law.
Presidential Museum and Library

MANILA, Philippines —  The Philippines commemorates the anniversary of the declaration of martial law on September 21 — two days before it was actually announced, something historians say is a result of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos' propaganda and his efforts to revise history.  

"Throughout the Martial Law period, Marcos built up the cult of September 21, proclaiming it as National Thanksgiving Day by virtue of Proclamation No. 1180 s. 1973 to memorialize the date as the foundation day of his New Society," a special feature in the government's Official Gazette reads. 

"The propaganda effort was so successful that up to the present, many Filipinos—particularly those who did not live through the events of September 23, 1972—labor under the misapprehension that martial law was proclaimed on September 21, 1972."

But how did moving an anniversary by a mere two days serve Marcos' interest? 

It muddled the timeline of the last two days of the Filipino people's freedom: September 21 which saw Ninoy Aquino's last privilege speech,  where he made a final warning against martial law, and a protest 30,000-large at Plaza Miranda, and September 22, which saw the rounding up of Marcos' critics and the media in anticipation of the declaration. 

"Personalities considered threats to Marcos had already been rounded up, starting with the arrest of Senator Aquino at midnight on September 22, and going into the early morning hours of September 23, when 100 of the 400 personalities targeted for arrest were already detained in Camp Crame by 4 a.m.," reads the special feature published by the public journal. 

"In the meantime, the military had shut down mass media, flights were canceled, and incoming overseas calls were prohibited. Press Secretary Francisco Tatad went on air at 3 p.m. of September 23 to read the text of Proclamation No. 1081." 

Former Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile's ambush would be staged on September 22 as well, which Marcos would use to justify his declaration of martial law the following day. This was also meant to distract from the fact that rumors of the looming martial law declaration were already swirling.  

In truth, Marcos had been hinting at, and planning for, martial law as early as 1969. 

"When Marcos appeared on television at 7:15 p.m. on September 23, 1972, to announce that he had placed the 'entire Philippines under Martial Law' by virtue of Proclamation No. 1081, he framed his announcement in legalistic terms that were untrue. This helped camouflage the true nature of his act to this day: it was nothing less than a self-coup."

Quezon: Marcos' revision of time, memory, upheld by September 21 anniversary date

In a series of tweets on Monday, historian and columnist Manuel Quezon III said that choosing September 21 as the anniversary of martial law "is a tribute to Marcos and serves to uphold his revision of "time and memory itself with his legal, moral, political fictions."  Quezon is a former undersecretary of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office which maintains the Official Gazette. 

"By insisting on September 21, people forgot Ninoy was still making a warning on martial law in a privilege speech, or that congressional joint committees were holding meetings, or that the Left was having rallies in Plaza Miranda, or that the papers and radio and TV were abuzz with talk Marcos was poised to declare martial law which he’d been denying," Quezon said. 

"People forgot that Congress was due to reconvene in January or that so many legal challenges to the arrests and decrees were pending before the court, etc., etc. Instead, a whole chunk of time was erased and instead what was magnified and replaced reality was the line that Marcos had heroically intervened to save the Republic."

In a separate column written for the Inquirer in 2019, Quezon said: "By altering the date, Marcos helped erase not only September 21 as the last day of freedom but also how that freedom was lost between Sept. 22 and 23. A piece of backdated paper became the ultimate instrument for national amnesia." 

What followed was a large-scale plundering of state coffers, human rights abuses, killings, disappearances and media repression, which the Marcos family refuses to acknowledge to this day.

Narratives and the revision of Martial Law history

READ: Yes, the Philippines exported rice under 'Masagana 99' but...

During his campaign for the vice presidency, former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. claimed that his dictator father's "good work" continues to benefit the Filipino people.

After academics slammed his "revisionist" view, he denied having said that his father's presidency marked a golden age for the Philippines.

Early this year, Marcos called for the revision of school textbooks that he said portray his family as “bad” people.

His rhetoric largely parrot that of his mother, former first lady Imelda Marcos, who continues to uphold largely debunked myths of her and her husband's time in Malacañang.

In July, Rappler reported that Marcos sought help from controversial political data company Cambridge Analytica to change perceptions of his family on social media. Marcos has denied this. 

The whistleblower who spoke to Rappler, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, Britanny Kaiser, identified the "rebranding" Marcos allegedly asked for as historical revisionism. 

RELATED: Leaving out Marcos-led Martial Law in textbooks a mockery of history — teachers' network

Combat historical revisionism with 'affective' narratives

On Monday, during an event entitled "BALIK KA/SAYSAY/AN: An Online Conference on Historical Revisionism," anthropologist and columnist Gideon Lasco said more emotive narratives of history are needed to combat attempts at historical revisionism.

The digital conference was hosted by the Asian Center of Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University and the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation. 

"If empiricism and logic — if documents and testimonies, of [the] amount of billions stolen, are insufficient, then we need to locate history within people’s affective realms for it to matter," Lasco said. 

"In other words, we need to create a 'cinematic universe' out of our history...one in which people can relate to the characters, one which contributes to a sense of nationhood by reflecting and reinforcing our shared experiences."

Lasco further cited two factors that would aid in such an effort: "a growing awareness of the existential threats faced by our democracy," which he said "has led to a sense of community not seen since the 1980s," and the internet. 

According to the anthropologist, these opportunities should be maximized through a multi-disciplinary and inter-generational "collaboration between scholars and artists." 

Lasco said this would address the "unnecessary divisions" in the country which he further identified as institutional, disciplinal, regional, linguistic, and more. 

He further emphasized that such collaboration must be inclusive. 

"Reducing Martial Law as a dualism between the Aquinos and Marcoses excludes people who do not identify with either," Lasco warned. 

"Reducing our country’s history to events that took place in Tagalog-speaking provinces excludes people for whom Tagalog is [a] second language. Reducing our pantheon of heroes to mostly male illustrates and mostly elite presidents excludes women, indigenous peoples, and many others." 

While acknowledging the need to distinguish "indelible truth" from "outright lie," Lasco noted, an openness to various narratives is also necessary. 

"We need heroes too — not just one, but many. If we are to build a cinematic universe out of our history, we have to bring out the diversity that is already here to begin with." 

He further urged that the FIlipino people not tire of raising their voices. 

"We must not get bored with our own stories. Because our tyrants rely on our amnesia to escape accountability, memory itself is a form of resistance. Yet we must find new ways of retelling."

RELATED: NewsLab: 31 Years of Amnesia 

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