Anniversary of Martial Law Sparks Nationwide Protests in the Philippines

In the weeks leading up to the September 21 anniversary of the declaration on Martial Law in the Philippines in 1973, President Rodrigo Duterte mulled the possibility of declaring a holiday in the province of Ilocos Norte, birthplace of the late dictator, former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

National outrage ensued with many interest groups voicing their disapproval of the President celebrating the date which initiated the most brutal regime in the nation’s history.

In response, various groups staged large rallies and protests all around the Philippines. President Duterte initially declared it a national holiday but apparently when influential private schools refused to comply with the directive, the administration instead limited the scope to public schools.

Under President Marcos’ authoritarian rule, it has been estimated that there were 3,257 extra judicial killings, 35,000 incidents of torture and more than 70,000 incarcerations.

President Marcos signed Proclamation Order 1081 declaring Martial Law on 21 September 1973 as a counter-measure to the perceived threat of communist forces.

It was triggered by the ambush of his Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile. During the People Power Revolution of 1986, Enrile, who defected from Marcos’ cabinet was supposed to have said the ambush was all staged to justify the imposition Martial Law.

President Duterte has been open about his admiration for Marcos. He is well aligned with the late dictator’s son, Ferdinand Jr., a Senator who is contesting the results of last year’s Vice-Presidential election which had him losing to Liberal Party Candidate Maria Leonor Robredo by a slim margin.

Duterte also actively campaigned and pushed for the transfer of the remains of Marcos from Ilocos to the Libingan ng Mga Bayani or “Heroes Memorial”.

With the Supreme Court’s decision challenged by Martial Law victims with motions for reconsideration, the Philippine National Police (PNP) orchestrated the burial complete with full military honours to the surprise of the nation on 18 November 2016.

Duterte’s administration has been hit with allegations it carried out summary killings of suspected drug pushers while coddling known drug lords. The President declared a “War on Drugs” citing a 2012 Dangerous Drug Board (DDB) report that showed there are 4 Million drug users in the country.

However, the DDB report showed that drug addiction in the Philippines has been in decline since 2004. On the year quoted by Duterte, the study revealed there were only 1.3 Million drug users in 2012 not 4 Million as reported by the President.

To date, an estimated 13,000 alleged drug pushers have been killed by the PNP and vigilante groups. Most of those killed come from the poorest sectors of the Philippines including children as young as 8 years old. There have been reports that many were summarily executed; handcuffed behind then shot.

Duterte has also been known to have close ties with communist groups in the country. During the presidential campaign, he has voiced out his support to have communist advocates in his government, most notable Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Sison and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari.

His administration’s foreign policy has pivoted away from the United States and toward China. Although China’s globalist policies have eroded some of its communist ideology, the Communist Party of China still remains highly influential.

In 2016, Duterte’s state visit to China secured a $24 Billion loan including $9 Billion in soft loans, a $3 Billion credit line and $15 Billion in economic investments. However, he has refused to disclose the interest rate or terms of the loan package.

Duterte also refused to acknowledge the landmark United Nations decision to grant the Philippines territorial rights in the Spratly islands located in the West Philippine Sea. These islands have been at the center of a contentious dispute with China.

Instead of enforcing the UN ruling, Duterte has allowed China to set up military outposts and an air strip in the disputed islands.

Duterte’s blatant support of the Marcoses, the rise in extra judicial killings, the administration’s constant harassment of officials who oppose the President and the increased presence of China in Philippine territory has fanned the flames of fear that Martial Law may once again be imposed in the country.

Rallies and protest marches were well organized and attended by students, businessmen, labor groups and those from the opposition from all over the Philippines.