Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

EDSA ended Martial Law

Posted by butalidnl on 4 February 2011

There’s a lot being mentioned about the coming EDSA anniversary later this month. Some people even say that the country didn’t gain much from EDSA. Well, I think things have to be put straight. EDSA was not mainly about making the Philippines prosperous; rather it was the revolution that ended 14 years of Martial Law, and that was THE big thing about EDSA.

Martial Law seems to be so long ago. It was declared in 1972, which is 39 years ago. EDSA, which ended it, was in 1986, which is 25 years ago.  The majority of Filipinos are younger than 25, and certainly a big majority are younger than 39 years old. It’s no wonder that many not only “forgot” what EDSA was all about; many actually never even knew.

I am 53 years old, and thus remember how it was under Martial Law. Martial Law was simply terrible. Nothing in our recent history comes close to it. Our generation was known as that of the “Martial Law Babies”. Let me share some of the things martial law brought to ordinary people.

Kabataang Barangay. Marcos invented the baranggay as a unit of government, and he formed the Kabataan Barangay as a kind of “Hitler Youth”. It might seem fantastic now, but I remember that in Cebu we heard the loudspeakers of the KB training camp in Capitol Hills (in the mountains, about 5 km from our house), blaring “Ang Bagong Silang” and other Martial Law “hits”, and even their shouts of : “Sino ang ama ng bayan?” President Marcos (of course). And they were quite serious indoctrination courses. And kept people awake at night. Most of the KB were just ordinary kids; but their leaders were a fanatic pro-Marcos cadre.

Curfew. We had a curfew from 12 midnight till 4 am. This meant that you had to be home actually much before 12 midnight – otherwise the taxi drivers (who also need to go home before midnight) will not give you a ride. This very much killed a lot of nightlife.

Censorship, Government Press. In the first few years of Martial Law, we only had the Philippine Daily Express as our newspaper. And it was terribly pro-government; it seemed that everything the government did was good, if you believed its stories. The rest of the print media was closed. When they were again allowed to operate, they were subjected to extreme censorship. Same thing for radio and TV, they had to conform to self-censorship, or remain closed. Of course, people resorted to rumours, which even if sometimes fantastic, were still more believable than the media.

The press shutdown went down even to the level of school papers. I know. The first edition of our school paper was ready to be printed the day martial law was declared – it never got printed.

Military Abuses. The military was quite abusive everywhere. It was detaining and killing oppositionists left and right. It was bombing Cotabato City and Jolo. There were lots of political prisoners and people who disappeared. But I saw little of that at the time. What I knew was that the military brass (even in Cebu) was mostly Ilocano, and they and their families were quite abusive. Sons of generals would go out and beat up anybody who even “looked wrongly” at them (and at times even killed them), and they were not prosecuted.

General Feeling of Being in a Prison. When I went to study at UP, the place was closed in by bars, and there were only two entrances to the huge Arts and Sciences college (which made for long lines of people having their IDs and bags checked).  You had to be careful of what you say; anything that can be construed to be anti-government could be overheard by civilian spies, and land you in jail.

There was a travel ban. Only people with special permission could leave the country. This was relaxed a bit for workers headed to the Middle East, but other people had a hard time leaving the country.

If your name was similar to someone in the government “watch” list, you’re in for a lot of problems. The school will not enroll you, you can’t get a place at the dormitory, even board a domestic flight. It takes a lot of lobbying to get you out of problems; to tell the government that it is not you they’re looking for, but someone else. Good thing my name was rather unique (i.e. Butalid). But people with family names like Garcia, del Rosario, dela Cruz often have “wanted” people with names similar to theirs.

The Barangay Tanod was literally everywhere, and many of them were quite enthusiastic about their task of controlling the population. It was a good idea NOT to cross anyone of them, or else.

Abuses and Corruption by Marcos and Cronies. Corruption had a face, and it was that of Imelda Marcos. She was not only the wife of the dictator, she was also Secretary of Human Settlements and Metro Manila Governor. She was extremely powerful, and extremely corrupt. When she would go to a (very expensive) jewelry shop, for example, she will select the items she fancied, and then leave the place after saying “thank you” (i.e. she didn’t pay; and the shop owner wouldn’t dare to collect).

Marcos and Imelda hardly bothered to hide their corruption. When their daughter Irene was married, they splurged like crazy in a lavish wedding and reception. They even built a hotel (quite rapidly) for the reception, and upgraded the Laoag airport, so that it can handle international flights (for the guests).  Marcos made a “Malacanang of the North” in Paoay town, and Imelda made a “Malacanang of the South” in Leyte.

Imelda went on a spending spree with the people’s money to build the Cultural Center complex.  It was scandalous that the country had to borrow money from abroad for these and other projects.

Marcos made sure that he owned a percentage of practically all businesses in the Philippines. He owned, through various dummies, from 10% to even 100% of most companies.

Economic Crises. The Marcos years was also the time of the oil price increases (1974 and 1979). This caused economic crises all by themselves. But Marcos made things worse. Because the government was unpredictable at best, and at worse it favored Marcos cronies above other companies, foreign companies avoided the Philippines as an investment site. Many Japanese companies were relocating to Southeast Asia at that time, but they avoided the Philippines and decided to locate in countries like Thailand and Malaysia instead. The foreign companies who invested in the Philippines then did so by dealing with Marcos cronies, and this meant that a lot of money was wasted in the process. An example of this is the Bataan Nuclear Plant deal with Westinghouse. This is an enormous waste of money – which the country is paying for even up to today.

Because of the dangerous investment climate, Filipinos with money did not invest in productive enterprises either. You had to have crony connections to have a business, or suffer from an enormous handicap if you don’t. So, with less local and foreign investments, things were rather grim economically.

And then came the EDSA revolution, which was actually a coup d’ etat gone haywire and then saved by a massive mobilization of people at EDSA.  It was generally peaceful, and for that we were all thankful. But most of all, EDSA freed us from martial law, freed us from the dictator Marcos. And for most Filipinos then, that was quite a big deal.


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