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Should we commemorate martial law on Sept. 21 or 23?

By AYIE LICSI Published Sep 22, 2021 6:13 pm

Every year, Filipinos commemorate the anniversary of martial law on Sept. 21st, remembering and honoring the struggles, injustices, and human rights abuses under dictator Ferdinand Marcos' regime. But as some historians contend, we might be getting the date wrong.

It was on the night of Sept. 23, 1972, when Marcos went on air to declare the Philippines under martial law, so the anniversary should be on the 23rd, right? But Proclamation 1081, which contained the formal declaration of martial law, was signed two days earlier on Sept. 21, thus the confusion.

The first revisionism
I would say it was the foundation of revisionism: the first revisionism of all. Marcos proved even people who lived through it can misremember if influenced by the government's version of events.

For historian and columnist Manuel "Manolo" Quezon III, having the anniversary on the 21st is historical revisionism.

"I would say it was the foundation of revisionism: the first revisionism of all," he told PhilSTAR L!fe. "Marcos proved even people who lived through it can misremember if influenced by the government's version of events."

Quezon had also previously discussed how changing the date erases the last days of freedom before martial law. “By altering the date, Marcos helped erase not only Sept. 21 as the last day of freedom, but also how that freedom was lost between Sept. 22 and 23. A piece of backdated paper became the instrument for national amnesia," he wrote in a 2019 column.

Historian Kristoffer Pasion, meanwhile, created a thread on Twitter about the matter saying that it's time to remember history correctly.

"Before we can come to terms with #NeverForget, to get to #NeverAgain, I think it is high time to correctly remember our history," he tweeted. "By insisting on this truth, we show that the truth is uncompromising, and the Marcos lie stops here."

Pasion echoed Quezon's sentiments emphasizing democracy in the Philippines was still functioning on that day. "Buhay pa ang demokrasya noong Sept. 21 hanggang 22."

Going by the Official Gazette's timeline, democracy was still alive and well on that day. Ninoy Aquino gave a privilege speech in the Senate, warning the public about martial law, and 30,000 people attended a protest march in Plaza Miranda.

On the 22nd, newspapers were still coming out featuring the Plaza Miranda rally that happened before.

It was 7:15 p.m. on Sept. 23rd when Marcos announced that he had placed the entire country under martial law. It was on that day when journalists and opposition leaders were rounded up and arrested. It was on that day media outlets, TV stations, and public utilities were shut down.

Daily Express issue on Sept. 24. Photo from the Martial Law Museum.
Stories over the date

For De La Salle University professor Jose Victor Torres, the discussion of dates is an intellectual matter. He believes that the stories of events that transpired during the period are more important than the date.

"I think whether or not it is commemorated on the 21st or 23rd is moot and academic. What is important is to know the historical events and consequences of what Marcos and the people behind him did," he said.

It is also important that we agree on dates especially if involves a contentious and politically charged event.

But for University of the Philippines Los Baños history professor Jeffrey Agustero Asuncion, getting the date for the martial law anniversary is important. "I think the narratives and stories matter," he noted. "But it is also important that we agree on dates especially if involves a contentious and politically charged event."

Marcos claimed that he declared martial law because of communist threats. The fake ambush of Juan Ponce Enrile on Sept. 22, staged in Wack-Wack, allowed the dictator to justify his decree the next day.

"Though dates will still be contested in the future, I think the legacies and the abuses that occurred during the period (1972-1986), and their effects until now, will be the main points of contention in the future," the UPLB professor added.

The declaration signature. Photo from wsws.org.
The push for 23

The Official Gazette stated that Marcos had an obsession with the number seven—and since 21 was divisible by seven, Marcos chose Sept. 21 as the official date Proclamation 1081 was signed, backdating the declaration. Conrado de Quiros also pointed out the dictator's favor for the date in his book Dead Aim.

Marcos also wanted to build up the cult of Sept. 21 by proclaiming it as National Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the foundation of his "new society."

'Never again' is based on demanding truth, which requires justice, which in turn, is made possible by accountability. So dates matter, especially since Marcos was so fixated on the date,

For Quezon, muddling the timeline affects our commemoration, adding thatthe date matters as much as the stories from this dark period in our history. He also said that acknowledging the 23rd as the martial law anniversary would not be an easy process.

"It starts with each of us confronting how basic the deception was and how to accept that deception undermines remembrance efforts. It starts with asking every person alive then to confront their own memory to see how Marcos substituted his version for what actually happened.

"It's a long and sometimes painful step as some people might lose face. 'Never again' is based on demanding truth, which requires justice, which in turn, is made possible by accountability. So dates matter, especially since Marcos was so fixated on the date," he remarked.

"We always aim for accuracy," Pasion wrote on Twitter. "Saka mahirap lang din isipin na tatlong dekada na pagkatapos niya mamatay, eh nasunod pa rin natin ang gusto niya based on numerology. #NeverAgain to being duped tayo."