The nation remembers martial law today with protesters staging a rally against corruption particularly in the pork barrel system. Proclamation 1081 was dated Sept. 21, 1972, but it was announced to the nation by Ferdinand Marcos’ information chief, Francisco Tatad, only two days later.
Martial law was supposed to serve as a foil against the spread of communism. Instead years of human rights violations and social injustice under the dictatorship served as the biggest recruiters of the communist movement. Today the communist insurgency is still around – the longest running of its kind in the world.
Also still active in national life are many of the principal players during the martial law regime, led by Marcos’ widow Imelda, who is serving a fresh term as a member of the House of Representatives, and Marcos’ only son and namesake, currently a senator who has made no secret of his hope of becoming president. None of the late dictator’s heirs has been convicted of any offense related to ill-gotten wealth or human rights violations during martial law.
The man who signed the piles of ASSOs or arrest, search and seizure orders that sent scores of people to torture chambers and even to their death during the dictatorship is also ensconced in the Senate, this time as minority leader. Juan Ponce Enrile, who recently came under fire for trying to rewrite martial law history, is now preoccupied with fending off accusations of large-scale corruption or plunder in connection with his pork barrel.
In the past 41 years, the country plunged from being Asia’s second most promising economy after Japan to being the regional laggard. The economic outlook has improved in the past three years with the emphasis on the fight against corruption. But the ongoing scandal over the pork barrel, which could implicate even administration allies, shows the fragile state of reforms and how much work still lies ahead.
Democracy, restored in 1986, did not put an end to cronyism and corruption at the top levels of government. Even human rights violations persist, although torture, summary executions and enforced disappearances are no longer systematic. Peace remains elusive. The corrupting culture of political patronage is deeply entrenched. Remembering the start of martial law should intensify the national resolve to institutionalize reforms.