Opinion

Marcos Knows Best

Absolute power corrupts absolutely...and makes awful laws, apparently.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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When President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, among the first things he did was grant himself, and only to himself, the power to make the laws of the Philippines. With great power comes great responsibility. With absolute power, ah fuck it.

Creating military tribunals to try pornography cases. To be accurate about it, the military tribunals created during Martial Law by Presidential Decree No. 39 had jurisdiction over any offense where the penalty exceeded six years in prison. When the penalties for creating or distributing obscene literature were increased in 1976 to at least six years in prison, the power to seize and examine those smuggled Playboy magazines now fell with the military generals.

Grant Philippine citizenship to Ronnie Nathanielsz. In 1973, Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 192, granting Filipino citizenship to Ronald Fredrick William Nathanielsz, formerly a citizen of Ceylon, as a reward for “his long and continuous service to the Filipino people, in the field of journalism.” While Nathanielsz has confined himself to sports journalism in the last 25 years, his greatest notoriety came as the anchor and booster-in-chief of the egregiously pro-dictator government TV network MBS-4.

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Criminalizing rumor-mongering. According to Presidential Decree No. 90, the spread of rumors, false news, or information and gossip undermined the stability of the government and the objective of the New Society. The penalty for offering, publishing, distributing, circulating, and spreading these rumors—a prison term of between six months to six years.

Criminalizing wang-wang. Presidential Decree No. 96 professes care for your mental stability, noting that “much of the chaotic conditions from which our people have suffered are the direct result of indiscriminate and unregulated use of sirens, bells, horns, whistles, and similar gadgets that emit exceptionally loud or startling sounds.” Marcos made it a crime for private citizens to install these devices on their motor vehicles, punishable by imprisonment for six months.

Jailing doctors who don't report treatment of injuries to the police. Presidential Decree No. 169 imposed a one-to three-year jail term on doctors who failed to report to the Philippine Constabulary “by the fastest means of communication” if they had treated any person for serious or less serious physical injuries. While such a law ostensibly could serve the public good (such as ensuring punishment for those who inflict domestic violence), it also dissuaded Marcos-era “subversives” from seeking proper medical care.

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Jail time for exporters of abaca seedlings. Perhaps exporting abaca seedlings is, as Presidential Decree No. 216 states, “detrimental to the abaca industry and the overall economy of the country.” But imprisonment for between six months to 12 years?

Requiring ROTC grads to notify military before leaving country. Under Presidential Decree No. 183, all reservists of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (i.e. ROTC graduates) were required to notify the Armed Forces of the Philippines before leaving the country, otherwise their passports or travel clearances would not be validated. The same decree also curiously (given this was in 1973) required the National Computer Center to “render such technical assistance as may be necessary in the updating and analysis of records of reservists.”

The crime of beggging and giving to beggars. The Mendicacy Law of 1978, while remaining in place, is among the least enforced laws of the land. The penalty for an adult who uses “begging as a means of living” instead of applying themselves “to some lawful calling” may run as high as imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years. A person who gives alms to beggars is punished by a fine not exceeding 20 pesos.

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Outlawing pinball and slot machines. The reason for the ban, according to Presidential Decree No. 519, was that “the proliferation of these gambling devices adversely affects the moral regeneration program of the Government under the New Society, especially the youth.”

The better appreciation of the laws of nature and the efforts of man to conquer space. If you ever wondered why we have a National Planetarium, BALNEMCS is the reason invoked by Presidential Decree No. 804-A.

Tax exemptions for 1974 Miss Universe contestants. These days, Congress has to pass a law to grant tax exemptions. Back in 1974, Marcos could dictate who would be exempt from what taxes. He used that power through Presidential Decree No. 486 to exempt “all prizes in cash or in kind, including talent fees and gifts” given to participants of the Miss Universe pageant held that year at the Folk Arts Theater.

Two hours of daily public service prime-time programming for TV/radio. Presidential Decree No. 576-A required all radio and TV stations to allocate two hours of their prime-time programming to “programs rendering public service.” “Public service” referred to “news, educational, and cultural presentations and other programs informing the people of advances in science, industry, farming, and technology; of policies and important undertakings in government designed to promote or safeguard the public welfare; of matters related to the physical, intellectual, and moral development of the young; or of traditions, values, and activities which constitute the cultural heritage of the nation.” In short, featuring Imelda in a lab coat touring the kabukiran surrounded by children bearing garlands.

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This article originally appeared in our December 2015-January 2016 issue.

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About The Author
Oliver X.A. Reyes
Oliver X.A. Reyes is a writer and a lawyer. He teaches at the Institute of Law at Far Eastern University Institute of Law and at the College of Law at the Lyceum of the Philippines University.
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