Gregorio Brillantes' Brief History of Martial Law

IMAGE courtesy of the Lopez Museum

IT WAS NOT SEPTEMBER 21, but September 22, 1972, that signaled the actual start of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime. To be exact, 9:11 p.m. on that day 17 years ago— a Friday, as is the 22nd of this the first “Marcos Month” to be proclaimed by the admirers of the deposed despot.[1] The correct date of what Canor Yñiguez, Turing Tolentino, and Annie Ferrer [2] should commemorate as “Thanksgiving Day,” and the exact hour of the commencement of that infamy, are provided us by I.M. Escolastico, our friend and press brod of long standing (though he prefers to take things sitting down). And perhaps only in our fraternal estimate: pal Esky or Lasty or Ticong is one of the smartest, most perceptive and penetrating observers of the Pilipinas scene.

Ticong cites as his primary source or authority for the martial law data no less than the extraordinary author of Proclamation 1081: Ferdinand Edralin (Ferdie, Andy, Apo, Tuta, Hitler) Marcos, who in 1980 or eight years after the event found the gall, cost, and ghost to write, in Notes on the New Society, now mercifully out of print, that “the instrument ‘Proclaiming a State of Martial Law in the Philippines’ had been signed on the 21st of September and transmitted to the Defense Authorities for implementation…clearance for which was given at 9:00 p.m., 22nd of September, after the ambush of Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile at 8:10 p.m. at Wack Wack Subdivision, Mandaluyong, Rizal.”

As for “implementation” being 11 minutes behind martial schedule—that, claims Ticong, ever the scrupulous student of history, was Enrile’s driver’s fault. The man, on learning that the defense chief was supposed to have been waylaid by Communist terrorists at Wack Wack, had called it a day and gone home to his second common-law wife, leaving Johnny driverless for crucial minutes on that fateful night. [3] As for the ambush, Enrile has since humbly confessed, under the tender gaze of Our Lady of Fatima at Edsa, that it was faked, to justify the desperate need—of his boss, as it turned out—for martial law.


As for the ambush, Enrile has since humbly confessed, under the tender gaze of Our Lady of Fatima at Edsa, that it was faked, to justify the desperate need—of his boss, as it turned out—for martial law.

So all that business about the Inglorious 21st had more to do with Apo Marcos’ superstitious obsession with numbers—dates divisible by seven were deemed most auspicious, until of course the 21st of August 1983—than with the facts of history, before which Esky can only bow down in reverent humility.

Anyway, that Friday night in September ‘72, Escolastico remembers sharing a convivial table at the Acapulco Bar of the Tower Hotel in Ermita with the Free Press’ Napoleon Rama, Pilipino Star’s Ruther Batuigas and the Economic Monitor’s Willie Baun, watching, together with two-thirds of Manila’s licentious press, an alleged fashion show of the latest-style lingerie. [4]

Nap Rama and some other connoisseurs of avant-garde fashion were nabbed on the way or when they got home in the pre-dawn darkness of September 23. To his surprise, dejection and eventual relief, Escolastico was spared the attentions lavished by the Metrocom on his subversive media colleagues. It seems his mother’s own cousin from Camiling, a rather short but high official close to Mr. Marcos, and a couple of Palace friends with no little influence at Camp Crame, had managed to have a few names, including his and that of a future National Artist then working on a biography of Ninoy Aquino, deleted from a colonel’s mission order. [5]

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Whatever the real lowdown, which has never been confirmed or denied, the net result for Escolastico was an injustice, one of the most dastardly in that long dark night—denying him accommodations among the brave, the true and the honorable in the Crame gym, and depriving him of such manly ordeals, such inspiring tales of faith, valor and egoism as Max V. Soliven hadn’t tired of recycling 'til the day he died. [6]

Denied that transfiguring encounter with destiny, Escolastico now reveals that he sought redemption and peace of soul by writing down his impressions of the martial law years, for the benefit, as the former Malacañang tenant was wont to say, of “our country and people, of all Filipinos and their posterity.” By the time Apo Marcos and Imelda got settled in Makiki Heights, our friend had produced more than two thousand pages of jottings, enough for a hefty volume that can brain a thick-skulled FM loyalist if dropped from, say, the top of the Imeldific Cultural Center.

But is Escolastico’s chronicle of martial law, like Soc Rodrigo’s in this distinguished journal, worth the telling? [7] What can he possibly recount that hasn’t already been recorded in far more vivid detail and memorable style since the Marcoses took that flight to Hawaii?

Nap Rama and some other connoisseurs of avant-garde fashion were nabbed on the way or when they got home in the pre-dawn darkness of September 23.

People have a point there, he concedes; but not one to be so quickly squelched on the subject, he offers us this condensation of his massive work—a history of martial law, all in one paragraph:


“Contrary to oft-repeated allegations, it wasn’t honest-to-goodness one-man rule. Like any good dictator’s wife, Imelda helped ruin the country.” Johnny, Danding, Bobby, Hermie, Disini, Rudy, Jun, Laya, Ongpin, de Venecia, and other business-minded busy buddies pitched in, too. So did Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Michael Armacost.[8] Not to be forgotten are the contributions to the erection of the New Republic from Kokoy, Bejo, Pacifico, Elizabeth, and other hard-working relatives. Marcos & Co. indeed had a lot to do—to our people and country, our history, government, economy, posterity, etc.

The 1973 Constitution, delayed by the abrupt disappearance of many Con-Con delegates, had to be finished, naturally in 1973. A group of diligent delegates, led by somebody who looked like Diosdado Macapagal, worked overtime in the Malacañang library, often forgoing dinner and floor show, to complete the Charter. The self-appointed constitutional authoritarian liked the results especially the provisions that would make him president for life. Marcos thought the Filipino people should, too. Multitudes expressed their approval by cheerfully raising their hands as they were photographed. The photo industry, along with other trades favored by the First Couple, was thus given a big boost.

The Muslims, who had been requested to surrender their guns, had to be placated, also with guns.[9] Generals added the mortuary business to their portfolio of lucrative sidelines. The Department of Public Information promoted developmental journalism. This led to some interesting developments in the media, anyway in the newspapers and publications that had replaced the Manila Times, Chronicle, Herald, Free Press, etc. Doroy Valencia developed Rizal Park and environs and was hailed as the Dean of Philippine Journalism. The cultural scene was enlivened by visiting artists like Van Cliburn, George Hamilton, Gina Lollobrigida, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, George Frazier, and Muhammad Ali.

Marcos and Meldy didn’t neglect to bring Philippine-American relations to new heights or old depths, as the case may be—FM by entertaining Hollywood starlet Dovie Beams with bedside renditions of Ilocano love songs, and Imelda discoing all night long with the billionaire heiress Cristina Ford. Ninoy Aquino, the regime’s most famous detainee, and Soc Rodrigo, Tany Tañada, Tito Guingona, and other irrepressible souls ran for the Interim Batasan. They lost to Imelda, Cesar Virata, Vicente Paterno, and other beloved figures of the Kilusan Bagong Lipunan. The ensuing noise barrage failed to shatter Marcos’ eardrums or his equanimity.


Then, Francisco Tatad [10] resigned as information minister to campaign for the Opposition’s surprised presidential candidate, the heroic and semi-senile Alejo Santos. The old guy was trounced, too, but that didn’t seem to depress him or his pious campaign manager, who kept his job as media psychology consultant to the Office of the President. Marcos went on making speeches, something he had always liked to do since his UP days. [11]

What did martial law, Marcos, Imelda, Enrile, Danding, Ver, EDSA, and all that teach us Filipinos? What have we learned?” He answers his own momentous query: “Next to nothing.”

Florentino “Yen” Makabenta, not Adrian Cristobal, as was long wrongly assumed, wrote for Marcos something like 1,769 speeches, on subjects ranging from Absolutism to Zoning, without pronunciation guides. Consequently, Marcos kept saying ‘le-jeés-lah-tive,’ and ‘towárds’ and ‘Sar-tre,’ things like that, until aggravated Ateneans just had to launch the Light-a-Fire movement to stop the atrocities in conference halls, auditoriums, theaters, not to mention on radio-TV. Imelda also delivered her quota of speeches, with titles like "City of Man in the Kingdom of God" and "The Moral Dimensions and Aesthetic Parameters of the Green Revolution." On the side, with the audio-visual assistance of Dr. Jolly Benitez, she gave lectures on the "Synergy of the Good, the True and the Beautiful," and the "Bountiful Hole in the Sky."

The gap widened between the very rich and the very poor, with more and more of the latter tumbling into it or below the poverty line or along railway lines. The NPA featured Marcos’ portrait on its recruitment posters, with unprecedented results—9,743 more Joemao guerrillas roaming the countryside and chanting, “Down with the US-Marcos dictatorship, and expose and oppose US imperialism, domestic feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism!”

Amnesty International discovered that there were now many more human wrongs than rights. Metro Aides lent zest and color to often flooded streets and June 12 parades. Earlier, the Afro-Asian Writers Conference had for a special guest the famed punctuation poet, Jose Garcia Villa, [12] who, without really trying, almost caused the confab to lapse into a coma. Enrile and Danding put up a non-profit foundation for the coconut industry—to collect and invest the coco levy, research on stem borers, worms and other pests, and boost export production and the gross income of coconut planters playing the stock market. [13]

All this time, Marcos and his spouse were amassing a fabulous fortune by venturing into hidden wealth areas. This single-minded interest in matters financial would have some negative effects on the Philippine economy and the international banking system. Justice Secretary Ricardo Puno improved the syntax of the laws on detention. Chief Justice Ikeng Fernando penned his landmark annotations to the jurisprudence on Imelda’s official umbrella. On the third or fourth anniversary of the declaration of you-know-what, the Supreme Court Justices in special session rose as one chorus to sing the Hymn to Constitutional Authoritarianism that sounded more than a bit like Handel‘s Hallelujah. [14] Imelda borrowed at least five 747 jumbo jets from PAL (for her junkets round the world) and several millions from the GSIS (for building heart and lung centers and buying shoe stores), all without collateral and just by phoning Roman Cruz, Jr. which all involved some use of farce, as the First Lady had by then seized the airline from Benny Toda, and Marcos of course owned GSIS, SSS, PNB, and all the rest.


Around this time, Marcos decided to lift martial law, transferring the decree to a higher drawer in his Malacañang study, and throwing in some fresh mothballs to boot. This was before Ninoy Aquino came back from exile, [15] despite General Fabian Ver’s solicitous warning that some people would shoot him in the head if he wore a bulletproof vest. This was exactly what happened, at the airport, as Ninoy was gingerly helped down the passenger tube stairs. He was shot dead, in the head from behind and above, although his shorter assassin was seen standing on the tarmac several feet away in front of the tube stairs. [16]

The gap widened between the very rich and the very poor, with more and more of the latter tumbling into it or below the poverty line or along railway lines.

This led to a lot of confusion and bad feelings and angry demos throughout the land. Storms of yellow confetti donated by Bea Zobel and Ting-Ting Cojuangco blocked traffic on Ayala Avenue, while Butz Aquino and Nikki Coseteng alternately marched, skipped, and jogged from Tarlac to Tarmac. Then Marcos snapped at the chance of winning his sixth or seventh mandate from the people. But faced with the popular and saintly Cory, he found his macho appeal failing him, followed by his kidneys, or vice versa. He tried to do a repeat of his ‘69 election victory complete with guns, goons, gold, silver, and stuffed ballot boxes. That was when, as they say, ‘the shit hit the fan,’ which is more graphic, rhythmic and onomatopoeic in Ilocano. [17]

Finally, God, Enrile, Ramos, RAM, and Cardinal Sin brought about the EDSA Revolt, which gave the gringos the chance to repay Marcos for being their right arm or hand or whatever appendage in Asia. In a semi-comatose state the toppled constitutional authoritarian, together with his wife and kids Imee, Bongbong, and Irene, [18] was flown out by the U.S. State Department or the CIA or the Green Berets to involuntary exile, and retirement in Hono-lulu, [19] with Imelda on the plane singing ‘Killing Me Softly’ and ‘New York, New York,’ looking and sounding like Tessie Tomas, only “heavier, mournful and melodramatic.”

“Now,” says Escolastico as he looks us reprimandingly in the eye, “what did martial law, Marcos, Imelda, Enrile, Danding, Ver, EDSA and all that teach us Filipinos? What have we learned?” He answers his own momentous query: “Next to nothing.” [20]



“17 years ago” in 1989 when this historical paper was first written. About FM’s fans, as of 5 p.m., Aug. 22, 2012: there were 3, 147,568 card-carrying Marcos loyalists (as distinct from auxiliaries), roughly 57% from Ilocos Norte and/or Leyte, three from the Senate, 17 in the Lower House. (Ref. Marcos Forever Directory, KLB Club, Barangay Kalentong, Mandaluyong, MetroManila.)


Rep. Yñiguez and Sen. Tolentino have since gone to their reward. Actress Annie was last seen in Rizal Park chasing after or being chased by the riot police in ‘89 or ‘90. If located, Esquire might consider a photoshoot.

The driver, Joker or Jocar Nalundasan, was fired the next day and reportedly went back to Sarrat or Batac or Tuguegarao and turned NPA or OFW before or after EDSA.

Star of the show was Ruffa’s mom, Anabelle Rama. As Nap Rama, Bulletin publisher after EDSA, was heard to say: Time really fugits, bai!

Now it can be told: that highly influential official was the great CPR, this magazine’s editor-in-chief’s grand-uncle; the Palace friends were FM’s Special Assistant Juan Tuvera and wife, writer Kerima Polotan—all three from the loyal and ever noble province of Tarlac. That “future National Artist” was Nick Joaquin, whom the author had succeeded as editor-in-chief of Asia-Philippines Leader.

Max co-founded The Philippine Star with Betty Belmonte. That middle initial V., he used to say, didn’t mean Ver but valiant, vigilant, venturesome—and sometimes vociferous, verbose and voluminous, haha. A genuine, great Ilocano.

The Times-Journal was owned by Kokoy Romuladez, bless him—he never censored Soc or Escolastico. There was press freedom in that nook and cranny of Port Area—ask Jullie Yap Daza.

Macoy would never have declared martial law without U.S. O.K., thanks to special relations, Clark, Subic, etc.—until EDSA. As for those cronies, there’s Ricardo Manapat’s must-read Some Are Smarter Than Others (which in retrospect was putting it mildly).

One offshoot of the Mindanao MNLF wars—Imelda became roving Ambassador of the New Society. She and select Blue Ladies flew to Libya for peace talks with Nur Misuari’s mentor Muamar Khadaffi—and then on to Rome, Paris, London, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York, Cancun, Rio de Janeiro.

10 Yeah, the same Opus Dei minister who sparked People Power II by sitting on that sealed envelope which contained Erap’s laundry or jueteng list. Not to be confused, as happened once too often at news desks, with the celebrated Iglesia ni Cristo rapper and heavy metal sculp-tor, Kitch or Itlog Taccad.

11 FM had always had a special relationship with his alma mater—and the UP studentry. The First Quarter Storm that so discombobulated him was mostly a UP production, as was the Diliman launch of The Apo’s cassette tape, “Pamulinawen Lovie Dovie.”

12 Doveglion was one of Ma’am Meldy’s National Artists—for Pwetry. At a Malacañang state dinner, JGV shucked off his slacks to show his butt to Russian poet Yevtushenko and company, whereupon the First Lady had Villa hustled out by the Presidential Guard, never to be seen again.

13 They are still at it—or rather the stock-playing coco farmers—though the research on stem borers, worms and other coconut industry pests continues to this day, thanks to the agribusiness foundation founded by JP Enrile and E. Cojuangco.

14 No truth to the rumor that one Renato Corona was seen singing along—this Supreme Court choral performance was in 1979 and the recently impeached Chief Justice was then still in the Ateneo Grade School and hadn’t met Marcos, let alone Gloria, nor any dollar trader.


15 This was in August 1983—some months after Ninoy’s court martial and death sentence—and Imelda’s permission for him to leave for the U.S., to see his heart doctor in Boston.

16 Correction: Rolando Galman was never seen standing on the tarmac—he was pushed out stiff and dead from the Aviation Security Van as Ninoy was shot, from behind going down on the tube stairs. The mastermind or at least two of the conspirators are still alive and at large.

17Nagparsiak ititakki nga impurwak didiay bentilador—translation courtesy of Sonny “Saluyot” Bangloy, VP for entertainment of the Laoag Press Club.

18 Imelda has since served as Leyte representative, and is now governor of Ilocos Norte. Imee too has been to Congress. And Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is even now gearing for a run to Malacañang a few years hence. And those loyalists in Congress and out are clamoring louder than ever for their refrigerated idol in Batac to be enshrined in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. So what else is new?

19 To be exact, in Makiki Heights—in the residence of Bienvenido Tantoco. The Marcoses stayed in Tantoco’s villa till the dictator’s demise from lupus and extraconstitutional complications in September 1989, age 72.

20 Next to zero or what? Ask Cory, or rather her KAMAGANAK, Inc. and the tenants of Hacienda Luisita. Ask Fidel Ramos and top officials and generals and old Cha-Cha troupe. Ask Joseph Erap Estrada, the popular plunderer and convicted charmer. Ask Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo…Ask P-Noy—Benigno Simeon Aquino III...They just might all agree.

Gregorio C. Brillantes’ “A Brief History of Martial Law” first appeared in the Times-Journal in 1989, and was later collected in his non-fiction collection The Cardinal’s Sins, the General’s Cross, the Martyr’s Testimony and Other Affirmations (Ateneo de Manila Press, 2005). It was then published in the September 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines.

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Gregorio C. Brillantes
Gregorio Brillantes was born in Camiling, Tarlac, in 1932 and was educated at the Ateneo de Manila. He was executive editor of the Philippines Free Press and editor-in-chief of Asia-Philippines Leader, and since 1972 has been an editor and writer for various other publications, including Veritas newsmagazine, National Midweek and Philippine Graphic.
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