Youth stand up against authoritarian rule on 47th Martial Law anniversary

Jaia Yap
Young people all over the Philippines amplify calls to uphold national sovereignty, fight for the rights of marginalized sectors such as farmers and the urban poor, and end attacks to government critics

FIGHT. Filipino youth take to the streets to protest against authoritarian rule to mark the 47th Martial Law anniversary on Friday, September 21. This is at Iloilo Sunburst Park. Photo by Carl Don Berwin/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Youth from all over the Philippines took a stand against injustices and a looming dictatorship under President Rodrigo Duterte through various protest actions on Friday, September 20, marking the 47th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law by the late ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

With the support of various groups including the United People’s Action coalition, the multi-sectoral front led by the youth highlighted their mobilization with a protest at Luneta Park in a bid to never forget the horrors of martial law.

Along with coordinated satellite mobilizations held in key regional cities across the country, protestors amplified calls to uphold national sovereignty, fight for the rights of marginalized sectors such as farmers and the urban poor, and end attacks to government critics.

The protest action called for resistance against what the multi-sectoral front said was increasing state repression under the current administration: from the red-tagging of activists and the harassment of student journalists, to the militarization of countryside communities and schools.

Youth against tyranny

Drawing the parallels between the tyranny of the Marcos’ dictatorship and the Duterte administration, various college and high school leaders from institutions such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University, De La Salle University, and St. Scholastica’s College shared how student populations are victims to intensifying militarization efforts.

LUNETA PARK. Photo by Ram Gironella

According to the youth leaders, the reimposition of mandatory ROTC in senior high school, encroachment of military forces into schools in the guise of randomized mandatory drug tests, the red-tagging of activists, and the spate of bomb scares showed the desperation of the Duterte administration in suppressing democratic dissent. 

Youth Act Now Against Tyranny’s Raoul Manuel asserted that the youth have witnessed the silencing of critics and the unabashed perpetration of injustices under the Duterte administration.

Kami pong mga kabataan ay hindi bulag sa mga nangyayari ngayon.Nakikita po namin na ang administrasyon ni Duterte ay isang tuta ng mga banyaga. Ang administrasyon ni Duterte ay pahirap sa mga magsasaka’t manggagawa…Walang pakialam sa mga karapatang pantao,” said Manuel.

(The youth are not blind to what’s happening now. We see the kowtowing of the Duterte administration to foreign powers. The Duterte administration oppresses farmers and laborers… It completely disregards human rights.)

LUNETA PARK. Photo by Ram Gironella

LUNETA PARK. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

Manuel assured that especially under the current administration, the youth would stand firm in resisting any attempt to bring back authoritarian rule in the country and prevent the horrors of martial law from occurring again.

Kami po ay nangangako na kami ay magpapatuloy ng laban. Dadalhin po namin ang responsibilidad na ito: na labanan ang isang diktadura na namamayani ngayon sa ating bayan,” he added.

(We promise that we will continue the fight. We will carry this responsibility: to fight dictatorship that’s prevailing in our nation.) 

LUNETA PARK. Photo by Ram Gironella

Manuel said that, with the veterans’ stories of valor and courage, the youth are enabled to meet the challenge to resist Duterte’s looming dictatorship. 

The ‘torch’ came in the form of a folded placard that initially read “Marcos Hitler, Diktador Tuta!”, a popular protest chant during the Marcos’ regime, which then opened up to read “Duterte Hitler, Diktador Tuta!”, alluding to how Duterte has now become a tyrant himself that must be resisted.

LUNETA PARK. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler


LUNETA PARK. Photo by Ram Gironella

LUNETA PARK. Photo by Ram Gironella

Intergenerational resistance

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno shared what he viewed as the deposed strongman’s playbook to suppress democratic dissent. 

According to Diokno, the Marcos regime frequently invoked a “favorite” set of laws and decrees to silence critics. Among these was Republic Act 1700 or The Anti-Subversion Law, which was recently almost revived by Duterte’s administration.

Diokno said that President Duterte is now using the “old playbook” to quell civilian dissent to his rule.

Walang forever sa Malacanang. Baka nakalimutan nila na our democracy and our freedom is worth fighting for. Lalong lalo na kayo, mga youth: you, are worth every drop of my blood, sweat, and tears,” he added.

(There’s no forever in Malacanang. Maybe they (would-be dictators) have forgotten that our democracy and our freedom are worth dying for. Especially for you, the youth: you are worth every drop of my blood, sweat, and tears.)

ASSERT. Chel Diokno speaks at Luneta Park for a united Martial Law commemoration, where protesters showed opposition to contentious government policies and intensifying militarization under President Duterte on September 20, 2019. Photo by Jaia Yap/Rappler

Meanwhile, Neri Colmenares shared the importance of recognizing those who had fought the Marcos dictatorship, particularly the thousands of students like him who were imprisoned and tortured because of their condemnation of human rights violations.

He lamented how young activists are treated as criminals as he shared his pride on how today’s youth are slamming President Duterte’s oppressive policies, just as the youth of his era also fought Marcos’ dictatorship.

“It is but proper for the youth and students to continue the struggle,” Colmenares said.

From those who remember

Kami po ay mga super senior citizen, na kami ay buhay na noong Martial Law (We’re super senior citizens, that we were alive [and resisting] during Martial Law),” said Sister Mary John Mananzan alongside Satur Ocampo and other members of an elder generation of freedom fighters that fought the Marcos dictatorship. 

Mananzan asked forgiveness from the youth, saying that Martial Law veterans should have documented more of the regime’s many atrocities.

Sana nilagay namin iyon sa mga libro, at sana ginawa nating obligatory textbook sa lahat ng eskwelahan. Kasi po, dahil hindi natin ginawa iyon, kaya nagkakaroon ng tinatawag na historical revisionism. Binabago nila ang istorya. Pinapakita po nila na ang ganda noon. Hindi po,” Manzanan said.

 (We should’ve made it into a book, which should’ve been an obligatory textbook in all schools. Because we have not done that, historical revisionism persists. They (the Marcoses) are changing the story. They’re showing that it was a good era. It was not.)

Since Marcos was kicked out 33 years ago, his family has steadily climbed back to the heights of Philippine politics. Many have attributed the return to power of the Marcoses’ to online disinformation campaigns primarily aimed at whitewashing their late patriarch’s dictatorship.

Ngayon, kahit mayroon kaming kasalanan, mayroon din naman kaming legacy sa inyo. Dahil noon, kami ay nanindigan, lumaban, kahit may peligro sa aming buhay — ay talaga po namang nagpursige kami na lumaban sa Martial Law. Ayun po ay ang ipinapamana namin sa inyo, kayong mga kabataan.

(Now, even if we have been lacking, we also have a legacy to you. Because before, we have risen and fought, even at the riskof of our lives. We have persevered to fight Martial Law. This is our legacy to you, the youth.)

Here are other protests across the Philippines that were done to observe the 47th anniversary of the 1972 martial law declaration:

UP DILIMAN. Photo by Nicolas Czar Antonio/Rappler

MENDIOLA, MANILA. Photo by UPLB Perspective

MENDIOLA TO LUNETA. Photo by UPLB Perspective

TAFT AVENUE. Photo by Jaia Yap/Rappler


Jaia Yap is a Rappler intern with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines Diliman. He tweets at @jaiayap.