The Marcos dictatorship was built on a structure of falsehoods. Even the date that Ferdinand Marcos chose to remember the start of martial rule, and thus of his so-called New Society, was fake. It was picked for numerology’s purposes: 21 was a multiple of 7, his favorite number. But in fact the “autogolpe” or self-coup that Marcos had been planning for years was finally imposed on Sept. 23, 1972.
That’s the real anniversary of martial law in the Philippines, as Manolo Quezon has not tired of reminding us. Marcos chose to fix the date of Proclamation 1081, which declared a state of martial law in the country, as Thursday, Sept. 21. The following year, he began to elevate the status of this fake anniversary by recognizing it as a special holiday, to be known as National Thanksgiving Day.
Proclamation 1180, signed on Aug. 30, 1973, began with that unctuous note that had begun to sound throughout martial law officialdom: “WHEREAS, the Association of Barrio Captains has urged the proclamation of September 21st as the National Thanksgiving Day in a formal resolution presented to the President of the Philippines and the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos.”
But on Sept 21, 1972, the Philippines was still nominally democratic. Quezon’s martial law timeline, an excellent resource, tells us that on that day, a large protest, reported to be 30,000 strong, thronged Plaza Miranda.
On that day, Sen. Ninoy Aquino, the lone opposition senatorial candidate to survive the Marcos mid-term juggernaut in 1967, who had risen in the next five years from youngest-ever member of the Senate to the President’s political arch-rival, delivered a privilege speech—the last of his life, and of the pre-martial law Senate.
And on that day, Aquino converses with Sen. Arturo Tolentino, a maverick politician who, in the 1986 snap election, served as Marcos’ running mate. Aquino tells him he plans to disappear, because Marcos was coming for him.
On Sept. 22, the plans begin to take form. Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile’s car is stage-ambushed, to provide Marcos with a pretext for the declaration. Troops are deployed at night. Documents are couriered. Imelda holds court at the Philippine Village Hotel for a press dinner, a maneuver that Agence France Presse bureau chief Teddy Benigno saw as a diversion. And close to midnight, Aquino receives warnings by phone while at what was then the Manila Hilton. After midnight, the first arrests, including that of Aquino, are made.
Primitivo Mijares, the self-described “cynical newspaperman” who became Marcos’ “media czar” and was present at the creation of the New Society, before turning on Marcos in 1975, testified before the US Congress that:
“President Marcos announced formally at about 8 p.m. on Sept. 23, 1972, that he had placed the entire Philippines under martial law as of 9 p.m. Sept. 22, 1972, by way of effective implementation of a martial law edict (Proclamation No. 1081) which he had signed on Sept. 21, 1972. Two months later, he told a convention of historians that he really signed the proclamation on Sept. 17, 1972.”
(In the same testimony, Mijares noted that he was “an unwitting tool” for Marcos. “As a matter of fact, I was the first newspaperman to write the full story of the imposition of martial law 12 hours before its official announcement. I have access in advance to the original copies of the martial law proclamation and the first six General Orders issued by President Marcos.”)
If martial law officially began on Sept. 23, why did Marcos choose to signify another date? Something the incomparable Hannah Arendt wrote about two decades before Marcos imposed military rule in the Philippines tells us that the answer must be: Because he could. “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”
Marcos had already constructed a fake persona: a bemedalled hero of World War II. In fact, as the New York Times reported in 1986, “repeated Army investigations found no foundation for Mr. Marcos’s claims that he led a guerrilla force called Ang Mga Maharlika in military operations against Japanese forces from 1942 to 1944.” This was a central part of Marcos’ political appeal.
Marcos had also constructed a fake legal record: the highest grade in the Philippine Bar. (A stupid thing, really, but of great political value in a status-conscious electorate. In fact, the record — 96.7 percent — was achieved by Florenz Regalado in 1954, almost two whole decades before the Marcos personality cult was launched.)
Marcos even constructed a fake rationale for the imposition of martial rule: the communist scare. But as his own presidential diaries reveal, he was engaged in plans to take over the entire government since his reelection in 1969: a “Contingency Plan” in February 1970, a “new plan of government and society” in January 1971, “a possible proclamation of martial law” in early September 1972.
Given all this fakery, what’s another falsehood?
To fight the Marcos family’s continuing, highly organized, well-funded campaign to deny history, we would all need to push back against every lie—starting with the fake anniversary that is Sept. 21.