manolo quezon rightly points out that martial law did not begin on the 21st. in the explainer The big lie manolo tells us how things unfolded over the 21st and the 22nd to the 23rd of september 1972. as a matter of fact we were still a free people on the 21st. in fact marcos gave the GO signal only after enrile was ambushed kuno, that is, on the evening of the 22nd. and yes we only found out on the 23rd when we awoke to a multimedia blackout that lasted almost all day, and we went to sleep with tv images of marcos declaring that martial law was in place, like it or not.
… martial law was announced with silence: people woke up to discover that TV and radio stations were off the air. Later in the day, some stations started playing easy listening music and some stations aired cartoons. But Marcos’ speechwriters were slow, then the teleprompter broke down, and the speech had to be hand-written on kartolina. So it wasn’t until dinnertime that Marcos finally appeared on TV and the country found out martial law was in place.
So, why do so many people who actually lived through martial law, misremember when it was proclaimed?
Marcos once said that the people would accept anything so long as it was legal. Marcos said he’d imposed martial law on September 21. We know this wasn’t true, because the document itself was co-signed, not by Alejandro Melchor, his executive secretary, but by a presidential assistant. This was because Melchor had left for abroad before Marcos actually signed the martial law proclamation sometime between the evening and early morning of September 22 to 23.
marcos was known to believe in the occult, and in the magic of the number 7 and its multiples such as the lucky 21, which could be why proclamation 1081 is dated sept 21 even if it was not signed until sept 22, or maybe 23.
Marcos went further to wipe the public’s memory clean. He later proclaimed September 21 as Thanksgiving Day. And in every speech, every documentary, every poster, September 21 was the date enshrined as the birth of the New Society. So much so that the public forgot what it had actually lived through. This is the power of propaganda. By altering the date, Marcos helped erase not only September 21 as the last day of freedom, but also how that freedom was lost between September 22 and 23. His lawyerly piece of paper, his Proclamation 1081, became the ultimate instrument for national amnesia.
So, remember September 21 by all means. Not as the fake news date Marcos wanted you to remember, but for the things he wanted you to forget: a still-independent Senate, freedom of assembly, and a free press. But remember what he wanted you to forget: that it was on September 23 that the nation woke up to discover all these things were suddenly gone. And that the next day, the last institution standing, the Supreme Court, received the warning: play ball, or be abolished. They played ball.
indeed 21 worked for marcos but only in the early years of martial law. parang 22’s vibe kicked in towards the end, but that’s another story. anyway, 21’s vibe is good for people getting together, rising above self-interests, reconciling differences for the good of the whole.
and it’s not all that inappropriate, marking the 21st as a day of infamy, the day that marcos marked as thanksgiving day, the day marking the birth of “the new society” — THAT was the big lie. the promise of “bagong lipunan” didn’t pan out, except for the crooks.