Manila, Philippines, Thanksgiving Day
Over two months ago, President Marcos proclaimed martial law, really the absence of law, and when asked for his assessment of the "new society," he replied, "We have crossed the hump on the first problem of peace and order, and we are maintaining prices which is the second problem. We are now on the third problem which is land reform." (All these noble goals could be found in the platform planks of nearly any presidential candidate.) According to the controlled press, crime has almost been eliminated. Manila's first major crime was a bank robbery that was quickly solved within two weeks; the criminals were jailed. With the suspension of opposition news media, no one really knows if there is crime or there isn't—except the victims.
But martial law has an appeal that seduces most Americans living here and many Filipinos. The streets of Manila are cleaner. This is hard to believe. The cops operating the Filipino version of the "speed trap" are forced to return the 20 peso fine (about $3.20) and will probably be fired next week. Since martial law took effect on 23 September 1972, the President has ordered a nationwide roundup of suspected subversives, political warlords, and crime czars; he has also fired nearly 5,000 "notoriously undesirable" bureaucrats. But he has also jailed 26 newsmen (including the publisher of the MANILA TIMES, Joaquin Roces), TV journalists, and others critical of him and his policies. There are "political detainees," estimated at more than 100 persons, confined in two military military camps outside Manila—holding at present three senators, several congressmen, provincial officials, two publishers, and more than 20 journalists. Their trials are being delayed by Marcos to give them a chance to return to the fold and support his "new society." If they don't, they rot.
By presidential proclamation we may not criticize the new martial law or the "new society," but there is a seductiveness in this that has all the appeal of a George Wallace speech to hard hats. The appeal is based on what is seen and not seen.
In Manila when the rich are robbed (this is especially true for Americans), most often the police will lend their support but seldom, if ever, is the robber caught and the loot returned in sort of "Robin Hood theory" of the rich being able to afford donating to the poor. Now, however, when the P.C. (Philippine Constabulary) are notified, the chances are very good that the items stolen will be returned. This is seen. It is impressive. As impressive as the elimination of crime in Boston. What is not seen are the bloodied heads of those suspected of participating in the crime. Under martial law, there is no "fine grind" for the wheels of justice, only "coarse."
Stories abound in Manila's American community about how the wife's car was broken into, all the Christmas packages stolen, and the P.C. returned every one of them the following day; and people smile and feel safer. They do not see the jails nor hear the silent opposition.
Somebody once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The seductiveness of martial law is just the opposite, nonvigilance. One must close one's eyes and return to the infant state in which the benevolent father made all the difficult decisions and gave you permission to go out and told you when to return (we have curfew from midnight until 4 a.m.). Dictatorship has a strong appeal; it gets things done, makes trains run on time, and is not hampered by lengthy trials or a search for justice. But very few people who say they believe in democracy, as the citizens of the United States and the Philippines do, would admit they adhere to the concept of sending opponents to jail without habeas corpus or a foreseeable trial, or of curbing free speech, or of making criticism in any manner of the acts of the administration punishable by fine and jail sentences. But at the same time, they are seduced by martial law, including a good many "liberals."
And the seduction will continue for a long time, at least until the Constitution Convention proclaims both a parliamentary form of government and Marcos as premier. If they refuse this option, he can always throw them in jail (one of the delegates, Napoleon Rama, is in jail now), or refuse to recognize the new constitution. There has been no condemnation of the reversion from so-called democracy to martial law by either the United States or other "free" governments. Martial law will continue to seduce "freedom loving peoples" who are concerned with efficiency and "law and order" at any price, as opposed to those who care for freedom and equal rights for all, not just for some.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Foreign Correspondent: The Philippines".