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A Timeline of Martial Law

On September 23, 2015, we remember the 43rd anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law on September 23. The Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) has put together a timeline leading up to Martial Law, up to the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship, taken from the point of view of the people who lived through the events that have unfolded. The timeline relies on two types of sources: (1) first-hand accounts, diaries, and memoirs; and (2) biographies, news articles, peer-reviewed journals and academic books.

This timeline also draws from President Ferdinand E. Marcos’ diaries, as featured in the Philippine Diary Project. For contemporary accounts, we relied on the articles of the Philippines Free Press, and on books (enumerated in the bibliography).

In 2012, to remember the 40th anniversary, the PCDSPO live-tweeted the events that led to martial law, in sequence  and timed to match the pivotal events four decades past. That session of live tweeting—and the research that went into it—has  expanded into an effort to publish an online timeline that will include more detailed accounts. This has since evolved into the collection of multimedia you can access below.  

We invite everyone to discuss and interpret Martial Law, based on the meticulous scrutiny of recent scholarship.

Start DateEnd DateHeadlines 
11/9/1965 0:00:001965 Presidential ElectionsSenate President Ferdinand E. Marcos defeats re-electionist President Diosdado Macapagal with a comfortable 700,000 vote margin. In the Senate, five Nacionalistas, two Liberals, and Senator Lorenzo Tañada of the Nationalist-Citizens Party (NCP) win. Overall, the Senate is split between 11 Nacionalistas and 10 Liberals with the two Progressives and one NCP member in caucus with the opposition. The House is won by the Liberals but will soon thereafter be under the Nacionalistas.

Click here to view a map of the Philippines showing the provincial breakdown of votes.
1/17/1966 0:00:006/17/1969 0:00:006th Congress of the Philippines
1/24/1966 0:00:00Ferdinand E. Marcos' First State of the Nation AddressWe must, for too long have we procrastinated as a people, be never daring to forsake, in the phrase of Rizal, “a humble present for a brilliant future.” But our people cannot wait and they ask us to act and I hear them say, there is no margin for pettiness. There are no reserves for partisan strifes. Our people look to Congress and to the Executive for effective, dedicated leadership for the attainment of greater freedom for all. I therefore call upon you and the rest of the nation join with me in a massive and unrelenting effort to translate these – and expectations into action and accomplishment. For our sur­vival, and beyond it, our progress is in our hands. We cannot look to anybody else. We can expect no help from any other sector. We must look to ourselves alone. Our nation can be great only according to the scale of our own labors, our self-abnegation.

Click here to read President Marcos' First State of the Nation Address
1/23/1967 0:00:00Ferdinand E. Marcos' Second State of the Nation AddressThe year just past shows that our people have this capacity for making the harder choice – which in the end is synonymous with the capacity for great­ness. As for me, I choose to put my faith and trust in our people’s genius to overcome. At the roots of this genius is the gift of courage. Victory seeks not the crave-hearted but the man of burning purpose and indomitable will; as with men, so with nations; as with war, so with the task of peace.

Today, the great epic of national development is working itself out in terms of a thousand acts of courage and faith day after day among our countrymen, and the whole society is the theater of action. Everyone sustains this great effort with his own acts of initiative and courage, which convert latent resources into opportunities for development. The whole nation thus, is involved; and every one is involved according to the measure of his commitment to the future of his country.

Click here to read President Marcos' Second State of the Nation Address.
5/21/1967 0:00:00Massacre of Lapiang Malaya rallyistsThe Lapiang Malaya, composed mostly of Southern Luzon farmers, marches from Taft Avenue to Malacañan Palace to overthrow President Marcos. 33 men die during the confrontation with the police, while the rest are charged with sedition and imprisoned.
11/14/1967 0:00:001967 Midterm ElectionsPresident Marcos’s Nacionalista Party wins the Senate by landslide with six of its bets winning as opposed to only one Liberal, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" S. Aquino, and one independent. This shifts the balance of power in the upper chamber to the administration party. After the elections, the Nacionalistas have 15 seats in the Senate, as opposed to only seven Liberals, one member of the NCP, and an independent who caucused with the NP.
11/14/1967 0:00:00Senators elected in 1967From left to right: Emmanuel Pelaez, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Jose Roy, Magnolia Antonio, Salvador “Doy” H. Laurel, Leonardo Perez, Helena Benitez, and Lorenzo Teves. Senator Aquino is the only member of the Liberal Party to secure a seat in the Senate.
11/14/1967 0:00:001967 Constitutional Plebiscite
1/22/1968 0:00:00Ferdinand E. Marcos' Third State of the Nation AddressHistory may not record what we say. But it will record what we do. Let us now discard the pernicious habits of the past.

I hope and pray that the high-minded and noble responsibility of lawmaking will prevail over partisanship and personal ambition.

To change their lives men must first change themselves. The challenge of nation-building is first of all a call to character-building.

It is the business of a free people to develop habits proper to freedom to be purposeful, active, energetic and strong. We must at the very least, continue the pace that has been set in the past two years, the pace and tempo that mark a nation of achievers.

Thus may our people achieve their own development and write their own story of nation-building.

Click here to read President Marcos' Third State of the Nation Address.
12/26/1968 0:00:00Founding of the Communist Party of the PhilippinesOn the 75th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birth, Jose Maria Sison, one of the founders of the Kabataang Makabayan, and several others from the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas establish the Communist Party of the Philippines, with a total of 75 members.
1/27/1969 0:00:00Ferdinand E. Marcos' Fourth State of the Nation Address[...] our goal is nothing less than the complete transformation of our social, economic, and political milieu, the reorientation of our people’s idea of themselves and of their capability, and the complete change of the assumptions that govern our relations with other nations.

To carry them out, it was necessary to make bold decisions. We did not hesitate to make these decisions because we know that they go to the heart of the matter and that they will change permanently the character of our national life. Our aim is clear: to set the nation on a firm and unchangeable course towards progress and independence.

This is the New Filipinism. This is the turning point.

Click here to read President Marcos' Fourth State of the Nation Address.
2/10/1969 0:00:00Ninoy Aquino criticizes Imelda Marcos and the Cultural Center of the Philippines in front of the Senate
3/29/1969 0:00:00Founding of the New People's ArmyThe New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is established, signifying the CPP's intention to gain power through armed struggle. Kumander Dante is its first commander.
5/17/1969 0:00:00President Ferdinand E. Marcos addresses the PMAPresident Marcos addresses the PMA Alumni during the closing dinner program of the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association.

During his speech, President Marcos says:

One of my favorite mental exercises, which others may find useful, is to foresee possible problems one may have to face in the future and to determine what solutions can possibly be made to meet these problems.

For instance, if I were suddenly asked, to pose a given situation, to decide in five minutes when and where to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, I have decided that there should be at least five questions that I would ask, and depending on the answers to these five questions, I would know when and where to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

The same thing is true with the declaration of martial law…. It is a useful mental exercise to meet a problem before it happens.

Click here to read the whole speech.
9/11/1969 0:00:00Demonstration at Agrifina CircleThe Federated Movement for Social Justice and Reform leads a huge crowd composed of students, teachers, farmers, workers and religious individuals in a demonstration in front of the Bureau of Lands at Agrifina Circle.

Source: Juan Ponce Enrile, Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir (Quezon City: ABS-CBN Publishing Inc., 2012), p. 267
9/23/1969 0:00:00300 demonstrators march to Malacañan PalaceAround 300 demonstrators march from Agrifina Circle to Malacañan Palace.

The protesters forcibly open the gates of the palace and storm Maharlika Hall (now Kalayaan Hall). Then, they climb the stairway and interrupt a meeting between President Marcos and the leaders of the Nacionalista Party.

The demonstrators go on a rampage. They yell, overturn tables, and throw chairs.

President Marcos and the leaders of the Nacionalista Party simply watch and “[leave] the demonstrators to do their worst.”

Source: Juan Ponce Enrile, Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir (Quezon City: ABS-CBN Publishing Inc., 2012), p. 268
11/11/1969 0:00:001969 ElectionsPresident Marcos runs for re-election and faces Senator Sergio Osmeña, Jr. of the Liberal Party (LP). The Nacionalista Party (NP) sweeps the Senate again, 5-2, further solidifying the administration party’s grip on the upper chamber with 18 Nacionalistas, five Liberals, and one member of the Nationalist Citizens Party (NCP). In the House, the Liberal Party (LP) is also soundly defeated by the administration NP.

Click here to view a map of the Philippines showing the provincial breakdown of votes.
12/1/1969 0:00:00President Marcos summons Justice Secretary Enrile for a feasibility study on martial lawSometime in December, President Marcos summons then Justice Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile in the Malacañan Palace. President Marcos orders Enrile to study the powers of the president as commander-in-chief under the provisions of the 1935 Constitution.

Enrile will later write in his memoir that President Marcos foresees an escalation of violence and disorder in the country and wants to know the extent of his powers as commander-in-chief. President Marcos tells Enrile that, “The study must be done discreetly and confidentially.”

Source: Juan Ponce Enrile, Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir (Quezon City, ABS-CBN Publishing Inc., 2012), p. 275.
12/30/1969 0:00:00President Ferdinand E. Marcos begins his second term.President Marcos wins his re-election bid against Sergio Osmeña Jr. This is the first time under the 1935 Constitution that a President has won a second full term. His running mate under the Nacionalista banner, Fernando Lopez, wins as Vice President.

According to Primitivo Mijares, confidential pressman of President Marcos who will later switch sides and expose the Marcoses, President Marcos overspent public and privately supplied funds for his “win at all costs” reelection campaign. The overspending will result in inflation in 1970, when the exchange rate drops from P3.90 - $1.00, to P6.85 - $1.00.

Source: Primitivo Mijares, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976), p. 134.