Proclamation No. 1081 was the official declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos at midnight on September 23, 1972 on live television. The declaration of martial law through Proclamation No. 1081 came amid a time during which an armed communist movement spearheaded by the NPA grew in villages across the Philippine countryside. Although not limited to just threats by communist rebels and Muslim fighters in Mindanao, President Marcos utilized the Cold War fear of communism spreading around the globe and in the region as a front from which to consolidate his power through martial law. One prominent claim Marcos used for implementing Proclamation No. 1081 was the attempted assassination of Minister of Defense, Juan Ponce Enrille, by alleged communist gunmen. However, after Marcos’ exile in 1986, Enrille would later admit that the car he was supposedly in was empty and fired at by his own men for Marcos’ benefit.
Proclamation No. 1081 contained a number of general orders which stipulated changes to the existing state of political and social life at the time. Among them was General Order No. 2 which gave the Marcos and the Secretary of National Defense the power to arrest, cause the arrest, and take into custody any individuals deemed a threat to the state. The cessation of habeas corpus led to the imprisonment and torture of 30,000 detainees within Philippine military and police installations. Among those detained were thousands of journalists, labor activists, student dissidents, as well as political opponents such as Senator Benigno Aquino. Other general orders were numbers 4 and 5, which respectively declared that a curfew be maintained from midnight to 4am, and that all protests, rallies, demonstrations, or group actions were prohibited. In addition, this atmosphere of a police state was enhanced by the pervasive censorship enforced by the government on newspaper and other media outlets.
The declaration of martial law by Marcos was predicated on his intended plan to build a “New Society” based on social and political values that would help the Philippines to rises to prominence like its neighbors South Korea and Taiwan. Among those programs Marcos sought to use to help build his New Society were land reform programs. However, the programs only served to place Marcos family members, friends, and loyal followers in charge, which only led to a consolidation of wealth and resources within the Marcos family circle. The result was the persisting poverty that plagues many Filipinos in the countryside. Such programs and orders contained in the Proclamation led to and foreshadowed years of abuse, censorship, torture, human rights violations, and disappearances for years to come. Despite the official end of martial law in 1981, the social and political climate during martial law remained intact, and change was only superficial. Proclamation No. 1081 is important in Philippine history in that it was the cause for the growing dissent within Filipino society, and the future People Power Revolution in 1986.
– Lex Duey