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Martial Law For Millennials: So You Want The Rule Of Law?

Be careful what you wish for
by Ayla Ramos | Mar 21, 2016
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The dearth of political candidates untainted by past infractions, or even the lack of a standout candidate that can truly usher real change is not just disheartening; it’s alarming.

What makes us cringe, however, is when kids these days say “Mabuti pa nung araw...” In light of who are running for key government posts, why shouldn’t we fret? Who are telling them these idealized stories is just as distressing as what they are being told?

In an episode of Word of the Lourd, young students spew out idealized scenarios of discipline, beautification, and low crime rate under Martial Law in the ’70s with the bravura of those in the know. Like they were there to witness it. Well, older folks did witness it—a few more personally than most. It wasn’t pretty.

In a case of “be careful what you wish for,” the only thing we hope is that for this and the future generations’ sake, kids can Google it just a little bit before truly buying into it.

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What discipline really means

Pinoys badly need to be disciplined, and we all know it. From the wayward pedestrian who insists on crossing the street on a green light and motorcycle drivers who wantonly weave in and out of traffic; to rich, powerful folks who get away with almost anything and erring politicians accused of corruption and all sorts of thievery. However, if you think you’d like to revisit the past because people are more “disciplined” back then, get off your SnapChat for a few minutes and consider this:

Back in the ’70s Martial Law days, people weren’t necessarily afraid of breaking the law. They were afraid, period. As kids, we used to hear warnings that if you spoke out against the government, the Metrocom will get you. That was our version of the bogeyman—we didn’t know if it really existed, but older folks swear by it. The warning wasn’t a joke, however. The only regime that had the audacity to declare Martial Law—because the president wanted to rule forever—saw to it that people followed its own interpretation of the rule of law. Those that didn’t, meaning those that spoke out or fought against atrocities, were silenced in ways kids probably think only existed in Tarantino movies.

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Under the 20-year regime of Ferdinand Marcos, Amnesty International reported more or less 70,000 people were jailed; 34,000 people were subjected to torture; and over 3,000 were killed.

Torture isn’t something out of a superhero movie

Back in those days, people had friends who were picked up and sent to military camps, presumably for questioning. What nobody knew, until years later, was what kind of torture they went through to make them reveal information or name their companions. Sadly, this isn’t a Hollywood production. At least in Marvel movies like Deadpool, the dude comes out of it with superhuman strength and accelerated healing powers; he could avenge himself.

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In real life, people aren’t so lucky. Pete Lacaba, a journalist at the time, recalled in his column on Philippine Graphic in 1995 the time authorities surrounded his house and banged on his door. Once inside, they pushed him down, kicked him in the ribs and hit the back of his head with their rifles. A 111-pound weakling, as he described himself, he was also hit on the chest with a closed fist by an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type man in command.

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Things probably weren’t as cinematic as the movies when he was taken to Camp Crame and tortured some more—a flurry of fists to the chest and stomach, and even karate chops to his head. He even remembers being injected with “truth serum.” Somehow, while reading his story, you kind of want Daredevil (the Netflix version, not Ben Affleck) to just pop in and go ape-shit on those torture-happy military officers.

Then again, this is real life. If you still don’t believe it happened, Lacaba’s story can still be found online.


Who does the crime

The crime rate these days have gone so high it’s impossible to feel safe. Do you think people back then felt safe?

The documentary Batas Militar (Martial Law) released by the Foundation for Worldwide People Power in 1997, included a story of a woman named Nene Fajardo. She was only 19 years old—yes, barely out of her teens—when she and her husband were illegally detained under suspicion of communist ties. She lost her baby in detention, and her husband was killed shortly after they got out.

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If you can’t empathize because it happened a long time ago, think of it this way: Imagine marrying the boy that finally made you believe “may forever” and this is your “tamang panahon,” but instead of happy kiddie photos and cute emojis on your Facebook feed, your life is turned upside down when you both are thrown in jail for trumped up charges. Later, you watch helplessly as the people who are supposed to protect you—yes, the military—kill the love of your life in cold blood.

“Hindi ko malaman kung anong pakiramdam ko noon,” Fajardo said in the docu. “Nakita ko talaga sa TV ang asawa ko na binubuhat na parang baboy.”

The incidence of crime may be low then but it doesn’t mean there weren’t any. Also, there is no way you would want your own government to perpetuate crimes against you, right? Think!

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What social media?

Do kids honestly think they can enjoy liberties such speaking their minds in a public forum under Martial Law?

If freedom of speech is such a vague concept, consider this: What you are doing now—saying nasty things on Facebook, making memes of corrupt politicians, responding to posts by legitimate media organizations with clueless rants under fake names—will not fly under that regime and Martial Law. This article wouldn’t, either. There was no such thing as free press.

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And if you think social media cannot be stifled, think China. A BBC News article online dated February 2015 on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, said people were being warned to “tone down their Weibo activity.” Apparently, users face jail time if their controversial posts are “viewed more than 5,000 times, or is forwarded more than 500 times.” That sound cool to you?

Per the Batas Militar documentary, only newspapers and TV/radio stations owned by the then-ruling family and their relatives were permitted to air; no news against the regime came out. Those who could report were given the directive to propagate slogans about the new society, or Bangong Lipunan.

“Sinikil ng rehimen pati ang mga biro at pinarusahan ang sinumang nangahas na gawing katawatawa ang anumang aspeto ng bagong lipunan (The regime stifled jokes and persecuted anyone who puts any aspect of the new society in a ridiculous or hilarious light),” the documentary noted. So, you funny people on YouTube, back then you’d have been food for worms.

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Life was peachy then

The high Peso-Dollar exchange rate seem atrocious to many young’uns so it follows that life must have been better then when rates were super low. Right? Not really.

Perhaps we should revisit the concept of inflation, the “sustained, rapid increase in prices, measured by some broad index, over months or years, and mirrored in a corresponding decreasing in the purchasing power of the currency,” says Prices of goods and services are higher these days, and that affects the Peso-Dollar exchange. So the “good life” doesn’t solely depend on one factor, least of all on one man (or his family) that happens to run a government.

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Still unclear? Maybe this helps. Life wasn’t as hard then as it is now due to a variety of reasons, but back then, those in power also abused their position—the difference is, they were the only ones allowed to do so; corruption didn’t seem as widespread among government officials as it seems now.

To simplify and illustrate, check out the infographic released by GMA News Online in September 2014. According to that, President Marcos—the Martial Law instigator—had a total ill-gotten wealth amounting to $4 billion (P167.6 billion) recovered by the PCGG from 1987 to July 2014 allegedly from assets and properties connected to Marcos’ Swiss accounts, his relatives and their cronies (defined as close friends working under someone in power who may not be honest). We shudder to think how much more could not be recovered.

Still peachy?

A freelance writer with over 20 years experience in publishing, Ayla Ramos is a "Martial Law baby," who was born on the year it was declared. She may have been too young to witness things first hand then, but she had experienced gradual enlightening to the goings-on in the country, just as the masses had, in the '70s all the way to the Edsa Revolution in 1986—a time seared in her memory having lived near Camp Crame and touched the tanks at ESDA on the day the dictator fled. She's been writing lifestyle and pop culture stories for the last two decades, some under different names, and contributing articles to and editing stories for newspapers and magazines.

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