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Battle of Mendiola and Martial Law

Although Marcos was elected to a second term as president in 1969--the first president of the independent Philippines to gain a second term--the atmosphere of optimism that characterized his first years in power was largely dissipated. Economic growth slowed. Ordinary Filipinos, especially in urban areas, noted a deteriorating quality of life reflected in spiraling crime rates and random violence. Communist insurgency, particularly the activity of the Huks--had degenerated into gangsterism during the late 1950s, but the Communist Party of the Philippines-Marxist Leninist, usually referred to as the CPP, was "reestablished" in 1968 along Maoist lines in Tarlac Province north of Manila, leaving only a small remnant of the orgiinal PKP. The CPP's military arm, the New People's Army (NPA), soon spread from Tarlac to other parts of the archipelago. On Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago, violence between Muslims and Christians, the latter often recent government-sponsored immigrants from the north, was on the rise. In 1969 the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was organized on Malaysian soil. The MNLF conducted an insurrection supported by Malaysia and certain Islamic states in the Middle East, including Libya.

The carefully crafted "Camelot" atmosphere of Marcos's first inauguration, in which he cast himself in the role of John F. Kennedy with Imelda as his Jackie, gave way in 1970 to general dissatisfaction with what had been one of the most dishonest elections in Philippine history and fears that Marcos might engineer change in the 1935 constitution to maintain himself in power. On January 30, 1970, the "Battle of Mendiola," named after a street in front of the Malacaang Palace, the presidential mansion, pitted student demonstrators, who tried to storm the palace, against riot police and resulted in many injuries.

Random bombings, officially attributed to communists but probably set by government agents provocateurs, occurred in Manila and other large cities. Most of these only destroyed property, but grenade explosions in the Plaza Miranda in Manila during an opposition Liberal Party rally on August 21, 1971, killed 9 people and wounded 100 (8 of the wounded were Liberal Party candidates for the Senate). Although it has never been conclusively shown who was responsible for the bombing, Marcos blamed leftists and suspended habeas corpus--a prelude to martial law. But evidence subsequently pointed, again, to government involvement.

Government and opposition political leaders agreed that the country's constitution, American-authored during the colonial period, should be replaced by a new document to serve as the basis for thorough-going reform of the political system. In 1967 a bill was passed providing for a constitutional convention, and three years later, delegates to the convention were elected. It first met in June 1971.

The 1935 constitution limited the president to two terms. Opposition delegates, fearing that a proposed parliamentary system would allow Marcos to maintain himself in power indefinitely, prevailed on the convention to adopt a provision in September 1971 banning Marcos and members of his family from holding the position of head of state or government under whatever arrangement was finally established. But Marcos succeeded, through the use of bribes and intimidation, in having the ban nullified the following summer. Even if Marcos had been able to contest a third presidential term in 1973, however, both the 1971 mid-term elections and subsequent public opinion polls indicated that he or a designated successor--Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile or the increasingly ambitious Imelda Marcos--would likely be defeated by his arch-rival, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.

On September 21, 1972, Marcos issued Proclamation 1081, declaring martial law over the entire country. Under the president's command, the military arrested opposition figures, including Benigno Aquino, journalists, student and labor activists, and criminal elements. A total of about 30,000 detainees were kept at military compounds run by the army and the Philippine Constabulary. Weapons were confiscated, and "private armies" connected with prominent politicians and other figures were broken up. Newspapers were shut down, and the mass media were brought under tight control. With the stroke of a pen, Marcos closed the Philippine Congress and assumed its legislative responsibilities. During the 1972-81 martial law period, Marcos, invested with dictatorial powers, issued hundreds of presidential decrees, many of which were never published.

Like much else connected with Marcos, the declaration of martial law had a theatrical, smoke-and-mirrors quality. The incident that precipitated Proclamation 1081 was an attempt, allegedly by communists, to assassinate Minister of National Defense Enrile. As Enrile himself admitted after Marcos's downfall in 1986, his unoccupied car had been riddled by machinegun bullets fired by his own men on the night that Proclamation 1081 was signed.

Most Filipinos--or at least those well positioned within the economic and social elites--initially supported the imposition of martial law. The rising tide of violence and lawlessness was apparent to everyone. Although still modest in comparison with the Huk insurgency of the early 1950s, the New People's Army was expanding, and the Muslim secessionist movement continued in the south with foreign support. Well-worn themes of communist conspiracy--Marcos claimed that a network of "front organizations" was operating "among our peasants, laborers, professionals, intellectuals, students, and mass media personnel"--found a ready audience in the United States, which did not protest the demise of Philippine democracy.



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