The true marking of Martial Law

By Herman M. Lagon

AS THE nation commemorates the 51st anniversary of Martial Law, it is imperative that we reflect on this tumultuous chapter in our history with a commitment to truth and a clear understanding of the dark consequences that followed the declaration on September 23, 1972, rather than the deceptive date of September 21.

For years, many of us have been taught, and even believed, that September 21 was the day when Martial Law was declared by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. This misconception was perpetuated by Marcos himself, who used superstitions and numerology to choose a more auspicious date. However, historical records, notably the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, clarify that the proclamation occurred on September 23, 1972.

The choice of September 21 was solely based on Marcos’ belief in seven as his lucky number, as it was divisible by seven. This numerological decision should not overshadow the reality of the events that transpired. Democracy was still functioning in the Philippines on September 21, with Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. delivering a privilege speech in the Senate, the legislative bodies in session until September 23, and a significant protest march taking place. The declaration occurred on September 23 when Marcos, on radio and television, announced that he had placed the country under Martial Law as of 9 p.m. on September 22, citing Proclamation No. 1081, a document whose actual signing date remains uncertain.

The significance of this historical correction is not merely about pinpointing dates; it is about rejecting the revisionism that Marcos initiated from the start and which continues to persist today. It is about acknowledging the dark days and deadly nights that began two days after the false date of September 21, 1972. To remember this truth is to denounce the return to power of the Marcos family and their supporters who have propped them up over the years.

It is also a reminder that history can be manipulated and distorted, especially in the face of power and authoritarianism. The lessons of Martial Law are not confined to the past; they are timeless and resonate with the present. We must remain vigilant against the attempts of those in power to use the dictator’s playbook by suppressing critical voices, undermining democratic institutions, violating human rights, and consolidating power at the nation’s expense.

As we remember the true anniversary of September 23, 1972, we honor the memory of those who suffered during those dark years. The countless victims of human rights abuses, the brave individuals who dared to speak out against the regime, and those who paid the ultimate price in their pursuit of truth and justice deserve our respect and remembrance.

The significance of this date extends beyond historical accuracy; it serves as a stark reminder of the value of safeguarding democracy and protecting human rights and the horrors of authoritarian rule. We must not let the lessons of the past fade away or allow the shadows of authoritarianism to obscure the truth.

In commemorating September 23, let us stand together to demand accountability for the injustices committed during Martial Law. Our collective responsibility is to ensure that the truth about this period is preserved and that our nation remains a beacon of democracy, free from the influence of those who seek to rewrite history for their benefit. It is a commitment to truth, social justice, and the enduring spirit of democracy that will guide us forward, as we say, “Never again. Never forget.”


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.