The maturity of a nation, it has been said, can be gleaned from how its people treat its painful past — with brave acceptance of what happened and a strong conviction to prevent it from happening again.

However, an overwhelming number of Filipinos (31 million) have recently decided that the pain the country suffered during the dark years of martial law is no reason to prevent the election of the son and namesake of its perpetrator. And this after the election of Rodrigo Duterte, who exceeded the elder Marcos in brazen violence. Many have tried to come up with a suitable description for the behaviour: collective amnesia, social denial and dissonance, masochism, even sheer stupidity.

Exactly 50 years ago on September 23, 1972, the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. announced on television that he had signed Proclamation No. 1081 earlier in September 21, putting the Philippines under military rule.

That regime would last for ten gruesome years, with waves of torture, extrajudicial killings, and other appalling human rights violations against ordinary citizens. Amnesty International estimates that about 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, and over 3,200 were killed outright.1 Hundreds of desaparecidos, people who were abducted by state actors, were never seen again dead or alive by their families and loved ones.

Marcos apologists and paid trolls however are quick to point out that these atrocities are necessary payment for the economic “golden age” at that time. The purported golden age however is a methodical disinformation, churned into chewable fake news and used effectively in May 2022 election.2

From 1972 to 1985, the average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate was 3.4 percent, and the per capita GDP grew every year by less than 1 percent. In contrast, the average annual GDP growth from 2003 to 2014, despite the political chaos, was 5.4 percent.3

But why would such a thing happen under the watch of a brilliant Marcos? Because the economy under him was suffering from a post-war recession and the response was largely to secure foreign loans that financed ambitious big-ticket projects with huge percentage of kickbacks going to his cronies that eventually ended in his own pocket. With debt as foundation, that economy started to tumble like a house of cards in 1982, crashing in 1985 when the government could no longer pay its debt obligations.4 And just like what recently happened in Sri Lanka, what ensued was debt crisis, unemployment, untold poverty, and even famine.

For many of the surviving victims of Marcos’s martial law and their loved ones, justice and reparations remain incomplete. On February 25, 2013, the late former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III signed the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act, or Republic Act 10368, which created the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. When the claims board ended in 2018, it received over 75,000 claimants. Unfortunately, the board assessed that only around 11,000 fully met the requirements to claim reparation, which was sourced mainly from the Marcoses’ ill-gotten Swiss deposits.5

Some tried to have a new law enacted to include other martial law victims who failed, for various reasons, to make it on the successful list of claimants in 2018. But in 2019, former President Rodrigo Duterte made a series of statements contrary to Supreme Court ruling6 alleging that the elder Marcos did not amass ill-gotten wealth from his long rule. The effort for additional reparations is now in limbo, if not totally impossible.

After half a century, the declaration of Martial Law has come full circle: all-time high oil price, record-breaking weak peso coupled with a dwindling dollar reserve which is being drained by debt payment and imports. There is twist to the circle however-—the son and namesake of its perpetrator is now sitting as president. History sometimes could be so cruel.

And the question has to be asked again: Why did Filipinos, including many workers, vote for another Marcos?

There is more than a few answer to such an enigma. But for this piece, suffice it to say that the ousting of the Marcos regime was an incomplete project. Except for Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Benigno Aquino III, all succeeding presidents, from Joseph Estrada to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and to Rodrigo Duterte were proved to be Marcos allies. The Marcoses, except for few years, never lost their grip to power.

1Amnesty International. (2018). Philippines: Restore respect for human rights on 46th anniversary of martial law. Public statement.
2Salazar, C. (2022). Marcos leads presidential race amid massive disinformation. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
3De Dios, E. (2015). The truth about the economy under the Marcos regime. Introspective. Businessworld. 16 November 2015.
4Montesa, AJ. (2022). The economic legacy of Marcos. Yellow Pad. Businessworld. 6 March 2022.
5Amnesty International. (2022). Five things to know about Martial Law in the Philippines.
6Aguinaldo, C. and Balinbin, A. (2019). Duterte signs law extending use of ill-gotten wealth for human rights-abuse victims. Businessworld. 28 February 2019.