5 facts about the Martial Law of the Marcos Era

5 Facts: Martial Law of the Marcos Era

The declaration and subsequent promulgation of Martial Law under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos marked one of the defining moments in the modern history of the Philippines. Grave abuse to authority characterized the Marcos Era according to common interpretations of historical accounts. Of course, other accounts have discussed arguments in favor of Martial Law alongside the accomplishments of the Marcos administration.

Diving into one of the great debates in Philippine politics requires a thorough understanding of the facts surrounding the entire presidential tenure of President Marcos. This articles lists down some basic albeit critical facts relevant to understanding the 1972 Martial Law.

Fact 1: Proclamation No. 1081 and general orders corresponded to the declaration of Martial Law in 1972

Proclamation No. 1081 was the particular presidential ordinance that corresponded to the declaration of Martial Law. President Marcos signed the proclamation around the third and fourth week of September 1972. He formally announced the proclamation in a live television and radio broadcast on the evening of 23 September of the same year.

Under Proclamation No. 1081 was six primary general orders that initially formed the operational framework of Martial Law. President Marcos issued additional general orders pertaining to social, economic, and political reforms.

It is also worth mentioning that President Marcos earlier assumed emergency powers and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971 following the bombing of a Liberal Party campaign rally in Plaza Miranda on 21 August of the same year. These two served as a prelude to declaring the Martial Law the following year.

Fact 2: The actual date of the signing of Proclamation No. 1081 remains disputed due to conflicting accounts from several sources

The Official Gazette mentioned that President Marcos probably signed Proclamation No. 1081 either on 17 September or on 22 September. The document was postdated to 21 September 1972 however.

Unverified sources claimed that Marcos postponed the declaration of Martial Law to prioritize his beliefs in superstition concerning numerology and the number seven. He favored the 21st of September because this date is divisible by seven.

The Gazette further mentioned how the former president built a cult around the date of September 21 as part of ongoing propaganda efforts. In fact, Marcos declared this date as a National Thanksgiving Day by virtue of Proclamation No. 1180 S. 1973 to commemorate Martial Law and the foundation of his New Society.

Fact 3: President Marcos justified the declaration of Martial Law based on seven threats to national security and stability

Marcos identified seven “grave threats to the existence of the Republic” in his “Notes on the New Society of the Philippines” published by the Office of the President in 1973.

These threats were the (1) communist rebellion, (2) the rightist conspiracy, (3) the secessionist movement of the Muslims; (4) prevalence of corruption in all levels of the society; (5) the criminal and criminal-political syndicates; (6) the deterioration of the Philippine economy; and (7) the increasing social injustice.

Communist insurgency was the most notable among the aforementioned threats. Note that the New People’s Army of the Community Party of the Philippines was already initiating armed assaults in different fronts. These included a raid in the PMA armory in 1970 and a series of bombing in 1972. Mainland China was also actively supporting and arming communist insurgencies across Asia.

The alleged assassination attempt on Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile on 22 September 1972 was also cited as the reason for declaring Martial Law. But journalist Raissa Robles recounted how Enrile publicly claimed in 1986 that the ambush was staged. In his 2012 memoir, Enrile seemingly retracted this claim, stating that those claims that he faked his ambush remain a malicious effort to attack and defame him. Note that Marcos had already signed Proclamation No. 1081 when the incident took place.

Fact 4: The Communist Party of the Philippines launched a series of assaults to provoke President Marcos

Critics initially attributed the Plaza Miranda bombing to President Marcos. Opposition politicians pressed the Marcos administration for accountability. However, subsequent accounts from sources have credited the incident to the communist insurgents.

A 1989 report from The Washington Post featured interviews with former CPP officials. It revealed that the communist leadership wanted to provoke the Marcos administration into adopting repressive measures by planning and staging the Plaza Miranda bombing and two other attacks.

The CPP believed that a stringent government response would stir more public hatred that in turn, would give them an opportunity to recruit more political activists. This would further enable the party to exploit the influx of financial aid and weapons coming from China.

Other sources corroborated this report. In his 1989 book, Retired AFP Brigadier General Victor N. Corpuz who subsequently joined CPP and became an NPA commander revealed that he was firsthand witness when CPP Chairperson José María Sison and other party leaders discussed the Plaza Miranda incident after it took place.

Prominent politician Jovito Salonga, in his autobiography, hesitated to blame the former president because he believed the CCP was behind the Plaza Miranda bombing. Note that Salonga was a primary opposition leader of the Marcos administration. He was also severely injured at the Plaza Miranda bombing.

Fact 5: Martial Law served as the foundation for the establishment of the “New Society” of President Marcos

Regardless of the actual date of signing of Proclamation No. 1081 and the veracity of supposed adherence to superstitions, and regardless of the validity of reasons for consolidating the powers of the executive branch of the government, President Marcos eventually operated Martial Law as a primary instrument for establishing a new sociopolitical order in the Philippines.

The New Society or the “Bagong Lipunan” was an envisioned nationwide sociopolitical initiative that was supposed to be similar with the “Great Leap Forward” of Mao Zedong in China, the “New Order Administration” of President Suharto in Indonesia, and the “Juche” of Kim Il-sung of North Korea.

Remember that the former president rolled out additional general orders pertaining to social, economic, and political reforms. Marcos championed a movement aimed at improving the socioeconomic situation of the Philippines. Martial Law was the prelude to realizing this vision.


  • Corpuz, V. N. 1989. Silent war. Manila: VNC Enterprises
  • Enrile, J. P. 2012. Juan Ponce Enrile: A memoir. Manila: ABS-CBN Publishing
  • Jones, G. 1989. “Ex-communist party behind Manila bombing.” The Washington Post. online
  • Marcos, F. E. 1973. Notes on the new society of the Philippines. Office of the President, Republic of the Philippines
  • Robles, R. 2012. “Enrile retracts ‘Act of Contrition’ he made when he thought he was facing death in 1986.” ABS-CBN News. online
  • Salonga, J. R. 2001. Journey of struggle and hope: The memoir of Jovito R. Salonga. Manila: U.P. Center for Leadership, Citizenship, and Democracy
  • Tablante, N. B. & Bonifacio, M. F. 1977. The role of social sciences in social justice: The Philippine experience. In ed. S. S. Hsueh, Social sciences and national development: The Southeast Asian experience. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications
  • The Official Gazette. n.d. “Declaration of Martial Law.” The Official Gazette. Republic of the Philippines. online
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