Unknown or forgotten facts that belie 'golden age' under Martial Law

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 21 2022 04:03 PM | Updated as of Sep 21 2022 04:25 PM

Human rights advocates commemorate the EDSA People Power Revolution in Quezon City on February 20, 2022, five days before its 36th anniversary. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File
Human rights advocates commemorate the EDSA People Power Revolution in Quezon City on February 20, 2022, five days before its 36th anniversary. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Philippines commemorates this week the 50th anniversary of the Martial Law declaration by the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. that marked the start of a dark chapter in the country's history.

Despite official data, documents and analysis presented by historical and educational institutions about the country's economic plunge and poor human rights situation due to the military rule from Sept. 21, 1972, supporters of the Marcos family claim, particularly on social media, that the former president's regime was the Philippines' golden era.

Some groups say misinformation and disinformation about his father's administration helped incumbent President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. succeed in his election campaign last May.

Among the claims of their supporters were economic growth supposedly reaching record highs and the Philippine peso almost at par with the US dollar during Marcos Sr.s' incumbency from 1965 until 1986.

A lot have already been made known to the public as to what Martial Law did on the economy, the basic rights of the people, and the press.

But here are some relatively unknown or forgotten facts during that period:


Based on data from the Martial Law Museum, an Ateneo de Manila University project, Filipino farmers earned P42 daily in 1972. When Marcos Sr. was ousted in 1986, they were only earning P30, a P12 decline in just 14 years.

"The wages of farmers even went as low as nearly half of the pre-Marcos values in 1974, right after the declaration of Martial Law," the museum said.

Martial Law Museum data also showed that daily wages of skilled and unskilled workers drastically went down during the Marcos Sr. regime. Skilled laborers' daily earnings went from P127 in 1962, to P35 in 1986. Unskilled workers' daily wages plummeted from P89 to P23 in the same period.

What made living then worse was the rise of prices of goods in a time of salary devaluation.

Data from the National Economic and Development Authority consumer price index from 1978 to 1986 showed that prices of basic commodities tripled. What cost P100 in 1978, was worth more than P300 in 1986.

According to a previous ABS-CBN News article, gross domestic product (GDP) growth peaked right after Marcos Sr.'s declaration of Martial law, reaching nearly 9 percent in 1973 and 1976, partly driven by a commodity boom when the prices of major Philippine commodity exports like coconut and sugar went up.

However, it was also under Marcos Sr. when the country hit the worst recession in history: a 7.3-percent contraction for two successive years in 1984 and 1985, as his grip on power waned.

Average GDP growth during the Marcos Sr. years was at 3.8 percent, compared to 2.8 percent in the 1990s, 4.5 percent during the following decade, and 6.3 percent from 2010 until 2017.

“From a purely historical record, you will see that the economy underwent great changes. The worst recession that the economy experienced in the post-war period. And it was his (Marcos’s) creation," UP School of Economics Professor Emmanuel de Dios said in 2017.

More facts about the impact on the economy by the Martial Law declaration can be learned HERE.


Philippine forests and woodlands were massively reduced during the Marcos Sr. era, according to the Martial Law Museum.

It said forest cover in 1966 spanned nearly 11 million hectares. By 1986, just over 7 million hectares of forest area remained.

At the same time, Marcos Sr. and his cronies were conducting "uncontrolled exportation of timber", according to the museum.

Its data showed that around 5 billion board feet of log and lumber exports were recorded in 1966. Twenty years later, nearly 50 billion of board-feet of wood were being shipped out of the Philippines.

"This cascades into dire environmental impacts including flooding, landslides, and even the worldwide phenomenon of global warming," the Martial Law Museum said.


The hometown of former President Rodrigo Duterte, a known Marcos family ally, was among areas in Mindanao that experienced abnormal violence, besides the usual brutality in other cities and municipalities during Martial Law.

Based on the book "The Philippines: Human Rights After Martial Law", published by the International Commission of Jurists, Davao City and nearby areas in Mindanao were "the scene of exceptional violence in 1983." 

The book cited the paper "The Davao Star", which reported on December 23-25, 1983 that “bodies of dead persons found along deserted highways, canals and rivers in the city also marked the extent of the violence Davao went through" that year.

"At least ten cadavers of persons suspected to have been ‘salvaged’ by either cops, dissidents, or military men during the last 12 months were found scattered all over this city. Some bodies were found to have been hogtied before being peppered with bullets," it read.

"Some bodies had no heads, no arms, and no legs. Most of these bodies remain unidentified up to press time. Local journalists have no easy way of knowing the progress or result of investigations by authorities, if any, into all these bloody incidents since the military here have not been very open with the press," it added.

The book also bared that in Davao alone, an average of three policemen were killed every month by elements suspected to be members of the New People's Army during that time.


Residents of some rural areas, particularly farmers, were herded by military or civilian authorities to "special camps" during Martial Law—a procedure also known as hamletting, according to the ICJ-published book.

"The authorities inform the farmers that they should vacate their homes and relocate in special grouping centers, in order to be protected from the rebels of the NPA. It has been estimated that 500,000 Filipinos have been forced into such hamlets since 1981," it read.

The book noted that following protests against hamletting, then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile—who is now Marcos Jr.'s legal counsel—issued a 1982 memorandum stating that it "had not been authorized by the national government, ordering a stop to the practice, the dismantling of existing hamlets and the allowing of victims to go back to their farms with specific instructions to give financial assistance to the victims."

"Despite the Enrile memorandum, it is reported as recently as November 1983 that forced evacuations are continuing in Mindanao. In addition, many of the persons in Mindanao who were forcibly moved before the Enrile order are remaining in hamlet centers out of fear that if they return to their homes, they will be treated as subversives. In some cases, the military order the people not to move back," the book read.


The general health situation of Filipinos struck concern among foreign experts in the early 1980s. The ICJ-published book cited government statistics in 1982, which showed that infant mortality in the first year of life was 60.55 per 1,000 live births while 17.2% of children of ages under 7 years old were "moderately or severely underweight". 

"Acute malnutrition was found in 9.5 percent of children. Severe malnutrition was found in 18.4 percent of children below six years old. Tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases and nutritional diseases are
among the ten leading causes of death. Malaria is widespread," the book read.

"In some regions of the Philippines, more than 50 percent of the population do not have safe drinking water; 35.46 percent of the country as a whole does not have safe drinking water. Only 53 percent of households have sanitary toilet facilities while almost one-fifth (19.2 percent) are with­ out any toilet facility," it added.

Health experts from US-based medical and scientific organizations reportedly visited the Philippines in late 1983 to observe the health situation in the country. 

They made the following conclusion, according to the book: "For the majority of Filipinos, access to primary health care, as in many underdeveloped countries, is a luxury. Often those in greatest need live in desperate poverty where living conditions foster illness and disease."

"Inadequate transportation and communication systems hamper the ability of rural residents to reach health facilities in central towns and cities. Even in urban centers the high cost of prolonged institutional medical care often is far beyond the means of the average wage earner."

According to the publication, the US experts painted the health picture of the Philippines then as "grim".

"Well over half of all Filipinos live in rural areas where communicable diseases, which are preventable and curable, account for 43 percent of total deaths. According to government statistics, pneumonia and tuberculosis have consistently been the first and second causes of death for more than thirty years," it said.

"The country has the highest incidence of TB, schistosomiasis and polio in the Western Pacific. Sadly enough, children suffer and die from pneumonia, nutritional deficiencies, gastroentiritis, and colitis at such a rate that they make up nearly 25 percent of total deaths in the country," it added.

The foreign observers also noted that at the time, about 1.1 million Filipinos were blind, "one of the highest rates in the world."


Then senatorial candidate Imee Marcos, the eldest among the children of Marcos Sr and former First Lady Imelda Marcos, said in a DZMM TeleRadyo interview in December 2018 that millennials or the younger generation have reached out to their camp to ask "what really happened."

"Kung minsan, tawag sila nang tawag sa amin. They're very curious. They keep asking, 'ano ba talaga nangyari?' Sapagkat, yung naririnig nila sa media o sa eskwelahan ay iba naman sa sinasabi ng lola, na sinasabi naman 'Mas magaan yung buhay nun; mura lang yung bigas; napakadaling lumabas, kahit gabing gabi hindi ka natatakot'," she said.

She also said she had apologized a number of times to those who suffered during her father's rule, although it is not tantamount to admitting the mistakes of that administration.

"Sa totoo lang, ilang beses na akong nag-apologize. Ang sinasabi ko talaga, paulit-ulit, na sa hindi inaasahang pangyayari, kung may nasaktan, yung mga nadali o kung papano, natanggal sa trabaho, nasaktan, namatayan ay talagang kami'y nagpapaumanhin," Imee said.

"Subalit, yung sinasabi na admission, na tantamount sa pagsasabi na kasalanan namin, mahirap naman. Kasi hindi ko alam yung mga pangyayari noon. Batang bata pa kami, at wala naman sa awtoridad na akuhin yun," she added.

Imee, who is two years older than Marcos Jr., was about to turn 17 when their father declared Martial Law, and was 25 when it was formally lifted. She was 30 when Marcos Sr. was removed from office and the family flew on exile to the United States.


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