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Will This Be the 70s All Over Again?

Of all my recollection of that ROTC formation on Saturday, September 23, 1972, the day we were informed Martial Law had been declared all over the land, there is always one major element I kept forgetting about. This was the day - when there was no record it seems exist - when all the Springfield rifles and a few Garand, the semi-automatic rifle that served the US during World War II and the Korean War, disappeared after having been taken away from the small armory located beneath the bleacher of the present-day Ateneo de Naga Gym.

As ROTC cadets, we were proud to be one of the few colleges in the country that had their students carried real, heavy rifles. That pride had a price to pay: during parades we suffered more than the other cadets who bore on their young shoulder guns made of wood.

When classes resumed under martial rule, and by the time we got back to the Jesuit school, the rifles were gone.

Forgetting, it seems, is the order of the day when it comes to popular history. One needs to consult the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines to find out that Martial Law was really announced on the 23rd of September, two weeks after the Colgante Tragedy. Proclamation 1081 is dated September 21, 1972 and became the anniversary of that fateful decision years and years after. The date stuck.

With all the media outlets banned, its editors either incarcerated, on house arrest (like the Jesuits then of the Ateneo de Naga), or having escaped to far-off hometowns or up the mountains, there was only one newspaper that carried the next day, September 24, the declaration of martial rule.

The Official Gazette cites the following quotes: “FM Declares Martial Law” - the headline of the September 24, 1972 issue of the Sunday Express, which was the Sunday edition of Philippines Daily Express. The Daily Express was the only newspaper allowed to circulate upon the declaration of Martial Law.”

You may wonder why this column seemed to be on a time warp, back in the 70s, in September?

Days from now, a Marcos is going to be in Malacañang and that is most bittersweet for generations who were young in the 70s, including those who grew older in the years succeeding.

What happened in those years? What happened in September 1972, and the months that followed?

As with my own little problem of remembering, memory cannot be relied on. We must find documents - like that Daily Express. We have to lay our hands, not only go back in time with our heart and mind, upon documents that tell us unequivocally, with lucidity, with elegant diction to boot, what really transpired within those spaces. It could be a journal or a diary. Do not trust the newspapers - they were under the control of the government. It could be a book.

There is a book, now much sought after. It has assumed the mystery of the Holy Grail, without its sacrality perhaps but with its rarity, its mysterious inaccessibility. It is called ``The Conjugal Dictatorship” by Primitivo Mijares.

Mijares was “the top confidential press man of then President Marcos. He would later head the Media Advisory Council and, much later, escape to the US and testify against Marcos. Then, he would disappear.

In his book, under the chapter, “The Era of Thought Control,” Mijares writes: “During the first few days of the martial law regime, Marcos’ [sic] media policy was erratic. However, he was sure of one thing: the government needs media [sic] to disseminate its propaganda. So, the Marcos-owned Daily Express and radio-TV network, the Kanlaon Broadcasting System, which consisted of television Channel 9 and two radio stations, were allowed to operate less than 10 hours after they were closed down (underscoring mine). The resumption of the operations of the tri-media was in accordance with Letter of Authority No. 1 signed by Marcos.”

The book is rife with memories, but allow me to be selective, the way our mind in its capacity to remember can be selective. Let us snoop on what was happening in our media backyard (I am particularly curious what our veteran journalist, Ernie Verdadero, has to say).

Mijares talks of the Media Advisory Council [MAC] and how it was not spared from intrigues either. The journalist continues: “This time Tatad and Enrile appointed themselves as guardians of the new council on the pretext that they wanted to help me run the press regulatory body. Tatad interfered in the choice of MAC personnel. Whatever semblance of unity he and I had on information work for Marcos disappeared. With the encouragement of all three Marcos presidential assistants - Clave, De Vega, and Tuvera - I resisted Tatad’s interference. He resented the most an appointment I made to fill up a position in Naga City. He didn’t want me to appoint Salvador Dacer, his compadre and former pimp, to the Naga City post. Tatad viewed this as a declaration of war. I told him Dacer was a man of Gimo [Guillermo de Vega, the censor chief, then a powerful post].”

So much for the New Society.

The book by Mijares, aside from all the insider’s account, offers what I believe to be the most insightful observation, when he writes: “Before the imposition of martial law, there were no laws or decrees regulating the operation of the press. The Constitution guaranteed that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press.” Mijares also states how “no government license or permit was required to publish a newspaper. He was merely accountable under the laws of libel and sedition. But he could not be arrested without a warrant.”

I need to look into this. I need to check my memories of governance and law. If these claims are indeed true, then I believe writers should reclaim that space for the good of this nation, or what appears to be one, and the benefit of its wise and good men of letters.


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