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Martial law as an election issue

THE last election appears to have exposed a gap in our people’s perception of what martial law was all about. Year after year after 1986, the Philippines celebrated the EDSA People Power Revolution that “restored democracy” to the country. People gathered at EDSA to remember how in 1986, over a million people gathered around Camp Crame in support of then Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel V. Ramos and Secretary of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile who had declared they had withdrawn their support for the Marcos government.

But people today hardly know anything about why there was a People Power Revolution in the first place. Today’s school books have much to say about what happened at EDSA in February, 1986, but very little about what it denounced – the martial law that began on September 21, 1972, was officially lifted in 1981, but continued to permeate the whole of government and the nation until the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

There was an attempt by the Aquino administration to do something about this situation when it organized a Martial Law Museum early this year in Camp Aguinaldo where pictures of the era, audio-video documentation, even theatrical presentations of the prisons where so many – government officials, political leaders, newspapermen, young activists – were detained for months. One chamber of the museum showed children of those who had simply disappeared during martial law, carrying their parents’ pictures and asking passersby if they knew what had happened to them.

In the weeks leading to last Monday’s election, the administration came out with radio messages recalling the people’s experiences during that unfortunate period in our history, the shutting down of Congress, the closure of newspapers and other media, one-man rule, allegedly to keep the Communists from taking over the country.

The martial law experience was recalled in radio broadcasts apparently as part of a campaign against young Marcos’ son in his run for the vice-presidency. It was later also used against a presidential candidate who had threatened to close down Congress, like President Marcos did in 1972.

Not many people are alive today who lived through the martial law years. Today’s millennials who came into their own at the turn of the millennium in 2000 had just been born in 1972. And so when the talk, pro and con, about martial law came about during the campaign, many of today’s young adults found it difficult to understand what it was all about. Their old school books had much about the EDSA People Power Revolution, but hardly anything about what it condemned – martial law and the dictatorship that began in 1972.

It is time to correct this situation. The 44 years that have passed since 1972 should be sufficient time to provide a proper historical perspective that will complete our people’s knowledge of this past which even now, because of the recent election, is affecting their lives.