Forty-seven years ago, if the political narrative is to be believed, we had the choice of becoming a communist state. The Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, supported by the Communist Party of China, were ready to take over the Marcos government upon any show of weakness. Ferdinand Marcos rejected the idea, suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and declared martial law to turn back the communist challenge. This was not without its cost. The communist leaders were arrested and jailed as Marcos cracked down on the Left, he closed down Congress, suppressed the free press, and used a new Constitution to restructure the government.

In 1978, he called parliamentary elections for the interim Batasang Pambansa, followed by a presidential election in 1980, where he ran virtually unopposed. In 1986, under pressure from the Americans, he called a snap presidential election, but the opposition rejected its results, and  he was ousted in a civilian-supported revolt by the same forces that broke the back of the communist dissidence. The military mutineers installed Cory Aquino as revolutionary president, and one of her first acts was to release all the jailed communists and allow them to travel to Utrecht to resume their anti-government activities.

Since then the outpouring of public sentiment on every Sept. 21 had always tended to denounce martial law as the problem, never the communist threat that had made martial law necessary, not just possible. Had Marcos not acted swiftly, the country might have gone down the garden path as a puppet communist regime. It made Marcos a dictator, but a communist dictatorship would have been unbearable.

This word “dictator” did not always have a pejorative ring to it. In ancient Rome, the people sometimes turned to someone to fix a particular problem, in times of trouble. This was how the old patrician and military leader Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus earned his title. Cincinnatus worked his own small farm until an invasion led his fellow citizens to his door. He took leave of his plow to take command of the state in suppressing the invasion. Upon achieving victory, he relinquished his powers and perks and returned to his plow.

Under General Order No. 1 of September 22, 1972, Marcos invested himself with dictatorial powers. In a four-paragraph document, he declared:

“Whereas, it is imperative for the undersigned President of the Philippines to assume greater and more effective control over the entire Government, to have the broadest latitude and discretion in dealing with the affairs of the nation, and to exercise extraordinary powers in my capacity as Commander-in-Chief of all the Armed Forces of the Philippines in order to enable me to restore within the shortest possible time thereafter to maintain the stability of the nation and to safeguard the integrity and security of the Philippines and to insure the tranquility of its inhabitants, by suppressing lawlessness and all subversive, seditious, rebellious and insurrectionary activities throughout the land, with all the resources and means at my command, and by adopting other measure as I may deem necessary and expedient to take to contain and resolve the existing national emergency and for the interest of the public.

“Now, therefore, I, Ferdinand E. Marcos, President of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, do hereby proclaim that I shall govern the nation and direct the operation of the entire Government, including all its agencies and instrumentalities, in my capacity and shall exercise all the powers and prerogatives appurtenant and incident to my position as such Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

Many assumed he would take over all three branches of government, including the Judiciary, which was composed of independent, if not opposition-minded, members of the Supreme Court.  In the end, he left the High Court untouched, free to rule independently on all cases, without fear of, or favor for, the President and Commander-in-Chief. And the magistrates ruled according to the law, as written in the law, not according to what Marcos said the law was.

Marcos used his presidency to turn back the frightening advance of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front. In contrast, DU30 assumed the presidency to promote an open partnership with the CPP-NPA-NDF, whose members he named to sensitive Cabinet positions without the consent of the people or Congress or the benefit of a peace agreement.

Marcos declared martial law in order to use its legitimate powers to strengthen the center and flanks of government. Without a formal martial law edict, DU30 has used powers well beyond those granted by martial law to put himself above the Constitution and the law and set aside all niceties within our tripartite system of government. Clearly there is something woefully wrong in a society, where the young and the not so young are so eager to march against the ghost of a long-buried dictatorship, but are mortally afraid to breathe half a word against the undeclared but infinitely more dangerous dictatorship of the day.