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Martial law by the numbers

By Arielle Yapchiongco Published Sep 19, 2022 12:00 pm Updated Sep 21, 2022 12:06 pm

Amid attempts to revise history and the onslaught of paid internet trolls, let these numbers be an objective reminder of what actually transpired during Marcos' military rule.

Fifty years ago, the late Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081, placing the country under martial law, indefinitely extending his rule as President. This proclamation began a dark period in Philippine history. 

In memory of the elder Marcos’ declaration of martial law, let’s take a look at some of the most important figures that haunt our history today. 

Years Marcos stayed in power: 20

Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. served as the 10th president of the Philippines for 20 years from 1965 to 1986. He ruled under martial law for nine years from 1972 until 1981 but kept most of his martial law powers until he was deposed in 1986. Under his regime, violence was used to enforce civil control over the citizens of the Philippines, resulting in thousands of documented cases of human rights violations.

Infographic: Martial law in numbers.

Number of approved claims on human rights violations: 11,103

The Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) currently recognizes 11,103 victims of the Marcos regime. Out of over 75,000 claimants of martial law victims, 11,103 were processed by the board as eligible persons for financial assistance.  

The financial assistance depends on a point system of 1 to 10 which was established based on the degree of violation against the victim. The highest point was awarded to those who were killed, disappeared, and still missing. 

Poster for 11,103, a film about martial law survivors in the Philippines.

This Board is an independent quasi-judicial body tasked to receive, evaluate, process, and investigate reparation applications for the victims of human rights violations. The numbers for each approved claim are as follows: 

  • Killing and enforced disappearances - 2,326
  • Torture (Rape and forcible abduction) - 238 
  • Torture (Mutilation, sexual abuse, involving children and minors) - 217 
  • Torture (Psychological, emotional, and mental harm) - 1,467 
  • Cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment - 182 
  • Detained (More than 6 months) - 699 
  • Detention (15 days to 6 months) - 1,417 
  • Involuntary exile (Violence and illegal takeover of business) - 579 
  • Involuntary exile (Intimidation and physical injuries) - 2,739 
Official list of Martial Law 1972-1986 era victims.

In addition, the trauma caused by these abuses is something that sticks to the victims for a lifetime, and not all of them have been given the chance to receive justice and reparations that they deserve. 

Estimated strength of AFP during martial law: 60,000 

Following the late dictator’s declaration on September 23, the estimated strength of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was 60,000 personnel. From there, the strong presence of the military became Sr. Marcos’ tool for taking the country under his full control. 

By the time martial law was in effect, the Philippine Army had an estimated strength of 17,600; the Philippine Navy with 8,000; Philippine Air Force with 9,000; and the Philippine Constabulary with 25,500. 

Armed Forces of the Philippines. Infographic: The Day Marcos declared martial law.

Closed media outlets upon ML declaration: 392  

While Marcos assumed all government controls, he also authorized the closure of media outlets in the bid of incapacitating press freedom and democracy. His declaration forced 392 media outlets to shut down.

This included 82 newspapers (16 national daily newspapers and 66 community newspapers), 11 English weekly magazines, 7 television stations, and 292 radio stations.  

Screenshot from "Sa Kapit ng Kamao." YouTube. Documentary about martial law era.

Media outlets allowed to operate: 3

Only three media outlets were only permitted to run during martial law, all of which had to exercise censorship in delivering the news: the Daily Express, TV Channel 9, and the Kanlaon Broadcasting System.  

Media outlets exempt from martial law. Infographic: The Day Marcos declared martial law.


Filipinos detained by 1977: 70,000 

Amnesty International estimates that about 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed during martial law. 

Taken without warrants of arrest and illegally detained, Filipinos who were branded ‘enemies of the state’ were taken into safe houses where they would be subjected to fear, intimidation, and abuse.

The first case of death under detention was 23-year-old student activist Liliosa Hilao of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). According to the Martial Law Museum, Hilao was beaten up and illegally taken away by drunken soldiers from the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit where she was severely tortured and sexually molested. The military claimed that Hilao died by suicide. 

Infographic: Martial law in numbers.

Number of people tortured: 34,000 

Records of physical and mental torture during forced detention became the horror stories of martial law, many of which had been experienced by Filipino activists and journalists who only sought to make a difference during the time. 

Among the horrific cases of torture were rape, electric shock, severe mutilation, and beating, which has led victims to become physically incapacitated and traumatized.   

Number of killings: 3,240 

Also known by the term “salvage,” 3,240 people were victims of the bloodshed of Marcos’ military rule. While the typical narrative of online trolls would take to red-tagging and paint the killings as a work of justice, many of these victims were people who merely wanted to fight for their rights and the country’s democracy. 

Among those who suffered the killings committed by the authorities was Edgar “Edjop” Jopson. According to the Martial Law Museum, Jopson was an active member of many societal reforms who once demanded the elder Marcos to promise that he would not seek a third term. In 1979, Jopson was arrested and tortured before he managed to escape after ten days of capture. He wrote a detailed account of the mental and physical abuse that he endured. 

During Jopson’s final years working in Mindanao while having a P 180,000 bounty on his head, he was captured during a military raid on September 10, 1982. Shot and arrested for questioning, Jopson was executed after claims of his refusal to cooperate. 

Enforced disappearances: 398 

From 1965 to 1986, 398 people were taken from the streets, their homes, and away from their families without trace or confirmation of their whereabouts. As if their existence had been wiped away from reality, with no one to be held accountable, enforced disappearances became the strongest tool of inciting fear and terror amongst Filipinos.  

Filipino families below the poverty line: 6 out of 10

A typical narrative for misinformation involves painting martial law as an era of the Philippines’ booming economy. While there are records of abuse during Marcos’ dictatorial rule in the country, those who did not oppose the government claim to have lived  quiet and comfortable lives. But data from the 1960s up to the 1980s say otherwise. 

Assessing the impact of martial law through the lens of economic data, the Martial Law Museum laid out evidence to debunk the claims that view Marcos’ rule as a ‘golden era’: 

From 1965 to 1985, poverty took a turn for the worse. Before Marcos was seated in the presidency, about four out of ten families were poor in the country, but by the end of his rule, six out of  ten Filipino families fell below the poverty line. This was due to the drop in wages and the dramatic increase in prices over time.

Infographic: Percentage of poor families in the Philippines during the Marcos era.


Agricultural workers were the most affected sector during the Marcos era. Factoring in inflation, real wages of farmers deflated by 30% from P42 in 1962 to P30 in 1986. Skilled workers' earnings plummeted from P127 to P35, while unskilled workers’ wages dropped from P89 to P23 in 1986. 

Philippines' external debt in 1986: $28.26 billion
Infographic: Outstanding external debt from 1961 to 1968.

While the government sought to satisfy its so-called ‘edifice complex’, its critics’ term for growth through the continuous building of infrastructure, the Philippines’ external debt increased from $360 million in 1961 to a whopping $28.26 billion in 1986. The country and the Filipino people are still paying off this debt today.

Numbers do not lie. While it is easy to make claims that martial law was an era of peace and a prosperous economy, the numbers point toward a regime of debt, atrocities, and abuse of power. 

Sources: Inquirer Archives, Official Gazette (Infographic: The day Marcos declared martial law and Infographic: Martial law in numbers) , Amnesty International, Martial Law Museum, Human Rights Violations Victims Memorial Commission, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP)