September 21 rallies: ‘Resist the creeping dictatorship’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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September 21 rallies: ‘Resist the creeping dictatorship’


Filipino protesters on September 21, the 46th anniversary of Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos, seek 'to disallow another dictator to rise or an old one to return'

MANILA, Philippines – Protesters on Friday, September 21, stage what could be the most widespread barrage of protests against President Rodrigo Duterte, as Filipinos mark the 46th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

A running list by Rappler shows rallies scheduled across 14 regions in the Philippines, including Metro Manila, and even overseas. 

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 Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox face threats of either arrest or deportation. Duterte’s public trust and satisfaction ratings also continue to fall.

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.

Meanwhile, Marcos on Thursday evening, September 20, launched a new campaign to revise history through a “talk show” with former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, architect and implementer of Martial Law as the elder Marcos’ defense minister. Marcos is selling the idea that no abuses happened under his father’s regime.

Protesters on Friday refuse to take this sitting down.

Roads lead to Luneta

In Metro Manila, all roads lead to the iconic Rizal Park, also known as Luneta, for a protest mounted by various groups. Groups marching from San Agustin Church, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and University of the Philippines Diliman, among other assembly points, will gather at Rizal Park to fight the return of a dictatorship. 

The Catholic Church, which was instrumental in toppling Marcos in 1986, is one of the groups helping mount the September 21 rallies. A Mass for Dignity and Peace will be held at San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila, at 2:30 pm on Friday, followed by a 3:30 pm march to Luneta with other religious denominations.

“Let us celebrate the gift of life as we uphold its dignity and resist the creeping dictatorship,” said Catholic leaders from the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas, Promotion of Church People’s Response, and the Religious Discernment Group, in a letter dated September 17. 

The groups also want to express their “disdain and firm stand against the ongoing human rights violations, historical revisionism, and our commitment to disallow another dictator to rise or an old one to return.”

The City of Manila suspended classes on Friday as it anticipates “numerous and massive demonstrations” on the anniversary of Martial Law. 

Ateneo, La Salle join forces

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.

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,” Villarin and Suplido added. 

The September 21 rallies have alarmed Duterte even days earlier.

In a live television interview on September 11, Duterte claimed there were plans to “assassinate” him on September 21. Duterte met with representatives from the government’s intelligence agencies two days before the September 21 rallies. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email