Filipinos remember Martial Law: ‘Dictatorship is back’

Paterno Esmaquel II
Filipinos remember Martial Law: ‘Dictatorship is back’
Thousands of protesters gather to denounce a 'creeping dictatorship' as the Philippines marks the 46th anniversary of Martial Law

MANILA, Philippines – “Tingin ‘nyo ba, Sister, bumabalik tayo sa diktadurya?” (Do you think, Sister, that we’re going back to a dictatorship?)

Sister Cho Borromeo, a 72-year-old veteran of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, was asked this question in an interview on Friday, September 21. It was the the 46th anniversary of Martial Law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Borromeo’s response was chilling. Matter of factly, she said, “Bumalik na, hindi bumabalik.” (It is back, it is not only returning.)

Borromeo explained: “Whatever Duterte wants, Duterte gets. And anybody who opposes Duterte is harassed, imprisoned, removed from position.”

“We have to join forces, all sectors of society, we have to join forces. Fight,” she said


Borromeo was one of the thousands who joined rallies against dictatorship on Friday, as Filipinos remembered the horrors of Martial Law. In Manila, police said around 3,000 people joined the rally at the iconic Rizal Park or Luneta, while organizers pegged their numbers at 15,000.

Borromeo – and personalities such as Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox – had joined a Mass at San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila, which was followed by a march to Luneta.

DESPITE RAIN. Protesters take shelter from the rain during a protest to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Manila on September 21, 2018. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

Borromeo, who was with other elderly nuns, did not join the march to Luneta. Neither did Fox, who is facing possible deportation for allegedly joining political activities. (READ: Crackdown on missionaries fuels dictatorship fears)

Those who marched to Luneta included people of different political colors, from priests and nuns to leftist groups to Duterte critics such as former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Different though they were, protesters had a similar cry: Resist a creeping dictatorship.

Growing discontent

Rallies were held not only in Luneta but also in other places in the Philippines.

The protests come in the face of growing discontent under Duterte – prices of goods have been rising, thousands have died in a drug war that has failed to eradicate drugs, and critical voices such as Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Sister Fox face threats of either arrest or deportation. Duterte’s public trust and satisfaction ratings also continue to fall.

Duterte also wants to put a Marcos back in power.

Duterte – who earlier said the dictator’s daughter, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, donated to his presidential campaign – wants the dictator’s son and namesake, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, to be vice president so that Marcos can succeed him. Marcos has a pending protest against the election victory of Vice President Leni Robredo, leader of the opposition.

Protesters on Friday voiced outrage against these, and more.

Sereno: Never again to Martial Law!

Sereno was one of the loudest voices in Luneta on Friday.

In a raised pitch and with impassioned gestures, Sereno said onstage: “Naghirap kami sa martial law, kaya’t nilalabanan namin, at itinataguyod ang katarungan at katuwiran para hindi na maulit ‘yan. Kaya mga mamamayan, lalong lalo na mga bata: Uulitin po ba natin? Papayagan ba natin ang martial law uli?”

(We suffered during martial law. That’s why we’re fighting for and upholding justice and righteousness to avoid a repeat of that. My fellow citizens, especially children, will we permit Martial Law to happen again?)

FIERY SPEECH. Former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno speaks before protesters commemorating the 46th anniversary of Martial Law on September 21, 2018. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Sereno – who for years kept the “dignified silence” of the Supreme Court until Duterte had her booted out – found herself leading a chant before a crowd on Friday. “Never again to Martial Law!”

Ex-DSWD chief Taguiwalo speaks

Below the stage where speakers like Sereno spoke, a tired Judy Taguiwalo, who marched from Mendiola to Luneta, was seated on a monobloc chair as she granted an interview.

Taguiwalo was an activist whom Duterte named social welfare secretary, only to be rejected by the Commission on Appointments in August 2017.

Taguiwalo, who suffered during the Martial Law years, also said “never again to Martial Law.”

Nakulong ako sa panahon ng batas militar. Maraming namatay, na-torture,” she recalled. (I was imprisoned during the the period of military rule. Many people died and were tortured.)

Ngayon nagbabadya na naman ang usap-usapan na magkakaroon ng batas militar. Ang sabi natin, hindi para sa mamamayan ‘yan. Para ‘yan sa mga nasa poder,” Taguiwalo told Rappler. (Now we can hear again talks that military rule will return. We say that is not for citizens. That is for the people in power.) 

Rising prices, human rights abuses 

Father Gilbert Billena, spokesperson of the group Rise Up for Life and for Rights, said it is important to recall the horrors of Martial Law.

Ito rin ay paraan upang labanan ang creeping dictatorship na nangyayari sa ating bayan (This is also a way to fight the creeping dictatorship happening now in our country),” Billena said in an interview with Rappler.

Sa kasalukuyan, ang pagtaas ng presyo ng bigas, lahat ng mga bilihin, at lahat ng klaseng paniniil sa mga karapatang pantao ay isang manipestasyon o pagpapakita ng isang creeping dictatorship ngayon na dapat labanan (Currently, the rising prices of rice, of all basic goods, and all kinds of abuses against human rights manifest a creeping dictatorship that we must all fight),” Billena said.

Julieta Wasan, president of the Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas, said Filipinos cannot move on from Martial Law if the sufferings of the masses continue.

Hindi tayo makaka-move on hanggang hindi napapawi ang pang-aapi at paghihirap ng nakakarami (We cannot move on until we haven’t eradicated abuses as well as the sufferings of most people),” Wasan said in a speech during Friday’s Mass at San Agustin Church.

 Robredo, Aquino hit dictatorship

In her own speech on Friday, Robredo urged Filipinos to take a stand now that democracy is in danger.

Former president Benigno Aquino III, meanwhile, took a jab at the architect and implementer of martial law, former defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who recently claimed there were no abuses under the Marcos dictatorship. 

Earlier, two of the Philippines’ leading Catholic schools – traditionally rivals in basketball – joined forces to denounce dictatorship. The Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, which is run by the La Salle brothers, released a joint statement for the 46th anniversary of Martial Law.

“Let us not allow those who seek to suppress our rights and freedom to hold sway over our future as a nation,” Ateneo de Manila University president Father Jose Ramon Villarin and De La Salle University president Brother Raymundo Suplido said in their joint statement.

GUILTY VERDICT. For the Martial Law anniversary on September 21, 2018, activist groups carry a photo of President Rodrigo Duterte, whom the International People's Tribunal recently declared guilty of crimes against humanity. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

The two schools, which have also opposed the drug war killings under Duterte, also warned about the “evil tentacles of Martial Law.”

“In these present times, when our hard-fought freedom, love for democracy, and inalienable human rights are again being challenged – even by those mandated to protect them – we must bear in mind and take to heart the devastating events of that dark period in our history.” –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at