By Severino C. Samonte

Memories of the Sept. 21, 1972 martial law

September 21, 2023, 4:19 pm

Exactly 51 years ago on this day, or on Sept. 21, 1972, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. signed Proclamation No. 1081 that placed the entire country under a state of martial law which, he said, "was a final recourse to combat two principal sources of grave danger to the Philippine society and the government."

He cited such dangers as a rebellion mounted by a strange conspiracy of leftist and rightist radicals, and a secessionist movement supported by foreign parties.

"Martial law, together with the New Society that has emerged from its reforms, is in fact a revolution of the poor, for it is aimed at protecting the individual, helpless until then, from the power of the oligarchs," Marcos said in the preface of his book, "The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines" (Third Edition) published by the Marcos Foundation, Inc. in 1977.

Although dated Sept. 21, a Thursday, the proclamation of martial law in accordance with the provision of the 1935 Constitution was officially announced by the President in a radio-television address beamed nationwide two days later (Sept. 23, 1972).

Although described as a "smiling martial law" by the Marcos government, its imposition became very controversial and deeply divided the nation.

Since a national election was scheduled in November of the following year, political opponents of Marcos accused him of just wanting to prolong his reign beyond the two presidential terms of four years each allowed by the Constitution.

On the other hand, most of the Filipinos welcomed the proclamation, saying it paved the way for the existence of peace once more across the country and restored discipline among the people. The threats posed by the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM), as well as the secessionist move of the Moro National Liberation Force (MNLF) were somehow decimated and the fragmentation of the country was prevented.

As a result, the barangays councils nationwide petitioned the President to issue a proclamation designating Sept. 21 of every year as National Thanksgiving Day for the Philippines. Marcos agreed and signed Proclamation No. 1181 of 1973 to that effect.

For a number of years, the Filipinos used to celebrate Thanksgiving Day on Sept. 21 until the outbreak of the Feb. 22-25,1986 "People Power Revolution," which forced the Marcos family to flee to Hawaii.

Meanwhile, being the night or graveyard shift editor then of the Philippine News Service (PNS), this writer became fortunate to be among the first Filipinos to know about the implementation of the martial law proclamation on the night of Sept. 22, 1972.

I had just arrived at the PNS office at the National Press Club (NPC) building in Intramuros, Manila when I got an urgent telephone call from Jaime Panesa, our reporter who was then covering the Ministry of National Defense, Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame for the night shift.

Panesa informed me that a three-vehicle convoy of then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed moments ago by unidentified gunmen somewhere in Mandaluyong. He said Enrile was on his way home to Makati from Camp Crame when his convoy was fired upon.

Nobody in the convoy was hurt, Panesa said, adding that he was rushing to Mandaluyong from Camp Crame to get more details. As all of the other PNS editors and deskmen had already gone home by then, I advised Panesa to call me again as soon as he had the facts.

He did so shortly after 10 p.m. and dictated to me through the telephone the story, which I immediately edited and transmitted by the so-called “takes” on the PNS wires. In news agency language, the term “take” refers to the first paragraph of a major story, which is labeled as “bulletin” and accompanied by bells; the second as “urgent," then followed by other details as they become available.

After moving the first three paragraphs of the story I headlined “Enrile unhurt in ambush,” I decided to call up a deskman friend at the Manila Times, located at Florentino Torres St. in Sta. Cruz, to inform him about the urgent news. There was no answer from the other end, so I tried two other numbers, but like the first, there was no response.

Wondering why, I tried the Manila Chronicle telephone, but just the same, there was no answer from it.

I was about to tell our night-duty messenger to deliver copies of the story to the Manila Times and the Manila Chronicle, then situated along Aduana St. (now A. Soriano Ave.) near the Manila Cathedral, when the PNS telephone rang.

That was shortly after 11 p.m. and I heard from the other end the voice of Orville Mauricio, then publisher-editor of the weekly Metropolitan Mail being published in Caloocan City.

Orville was a younger brother of then Philippine Graphic magazine executive editor Luis Mauricio. He informed me that his brother, also a former executive editor of the pre-martial law Manila Chronicle, was picked up by military men and taken to Camp Crame. I took note of the information and began going over the files of past PNS stories for a possible background on a news item I was thinking of writing about the arrest of Mauricio.

Graphic magazine and the Manila Chronicle were among the arch critics of the then six-and-a-half-year-old Marcos administration, together with the Manila Times and the Philippines Free Press, among other publications.

Shortly after midnight, I officially learned that martial law had been imposed nationwide and almost all media establishments, including radio and television stations, shut down.

This time, the information came from then radio broadcaster Rafael “Paeng” Yabut, who used to come to the PNS office to pick up the latest wire stories he would use in his early morning news-musical program at Radio DZRH, then located at the former Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) building along Arroceros St. near the Manila City Hall.

Yabut, who was then also a major in the Philippine Constabulary-Metropolitan Command (PC-Metrocom), told me that many other critics of the Marcos administration had been arrested.

In the case of PNS, there was no closure order, but just the same, we had to stop transmission of stories by wires since our subscribers – mostly newspapers and radio-TV stations -- were already shut down.

I learned later that a fellow editor of PNS, Atty. Manuel F. Almario, was among the media personalities arrested, together with contributing editor Juan L. Mercado, former chief executive officer of DepthNews Asia. They were released from detention after a week.

Almario later worked at the Bureau of Internal Revenue and became editor of the Graphic magazine, while Mercado was taken in by the United Nations Population Commission for assignment in Bangkok, Thailand.

On the morning of Sept. 23, 1972 (a Saturday), I left the PNS office at 6 a.m. Unlike the previous mornings, I was not able to read the first edition of national newspapers that day before going home.

When I arrived in Novaliches 45 minutes later, I found many people wondering why there were no newspapers in their favorite newsstands and their radio and TV sets were silent.

One newspaper dealer who knew me said that the first copies of newspapers that arrived for him were confiscated by soldiers.

Although I already knew the reason, I preferred to proceed home, sleep and wait until President Marcos announced officially on the evening of Sept. 23 the effectivity of martial law. He appeared on the TV screen together with then Information Minister Francisco S. Tatad. 


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.

He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.