By Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile
Ignorance is bliss. That exactly was the attitude of the Liberals on 19 September 1972. September 19 was a Tuesday. President Marcos, in the morning of that day, invited the Liberals once more, and for the last time, to meet him in the Palace. But they ignored him. They refused to attend. They had no idea that his patience was nearly gone. Days later, he signed the edicts that would place the country under martial law. They themselves were the mid-wives of the Marital Law regime. Their attitude validated in the mind of President Marcos that, indeed, they had an alliance with Joma’s NDF-CPP-NPA.
The military operation was, however, held back. He wanted and waited Congress to adjourn sine die. It was in session to pass the national budget for the fiscal year 1972-1973. At that time our fiscal year, unlike today, was from July of a prior year to June of the following year.
In 1972, the budget was already overly delayed. The majority Liberals in the Senate were in no mood to rush the 1972-1973 budget. They wanted to derail President Marcos’s program for the country.
Congress was scheduled to finish the budget and to adjourn sine die that weekend. But it did not. It only recessed. It failed to pass the budget. The Senators and Congressmen were in a hurry to go abroad. This situation created a problem for President Marcos.
In late afternoon of that Tuesday, September 19, President Marcos met the military leaders in the Palace. He informed them that he wanted the military operation for martial law to be carried out in the evening of Friday, September 22, right after Congress adjourned sine die. He ordered them to start deploying the troops quietly. In that same conference, the President instructed me to take charge of the operation in his behalf.
That Friday, September 22, all was prepared and ready. The only thing lacking was the President’s go signal. Every military unit that had an assigned task waited fretfully for the President to make up his mind.
It was almost five o’clock in the afternoon, but there was still no word from the President. Brig. Gen. Mario Espina – my senior military assistant – saw me. He whispered to me that news reporters were asking questions about troop movements in the metropolis. He was worried. He warned that the plan might be spilled in the press.
I called the President. I told him what Mario Espina said. I asked for his instruction. President Marcos said a problem cropped up. Congress did not adjourn sine die. It extended its special session.
I was alarmed. I told the President the situation had turned risky for us. We could no longer wait. The soldiers were restless. There was a distinct danger that the plan might be discovered if we waited for more days. It would place the regime in a dangerous political situation.
The President asked me, “What do you think?”
I said, “Mr. President, either we proceed with the operation or we dismantle it. There is no other option available to us. If we dismantle it, that will be the end of it.”
I told the President candidly: “There are no ifs and buts about it Mr. President,” I added. “It is your call. Time is the essence. And it is against us.”
There was a long pause. The President was silent. I waited anxiously for him to say something. Time was ticking off.
Finally he said, “Wait for Roland Pattugalan. I will send him to you now.” When he said that, I breathed a very deep sigh of relief. He repeated in Ilocano what he said in English: “Urayem ni Roland. Umay kenca dita.”
Roland Pattugalan, an Ibanag, was one of his two most trusted and loyal military Aide-de- Camps. The other was Arturo Aruiza who stayed with him all the way to the very end. He wrote the book Ferdinand E. Marcos Malacañang to Makiki.
Roland Pattugalan arrived in my office a little before sundown. He was an army Major. He brought three large sealed brown envelops. I opened the envelops in his presence.
The first envelop contained Proclamation No. 1081 – the document that would proclaim martial law in the country. The second envelop contained seven General Orders or (GOs). The third envelop contained seven Letters of Instructions or (LOIs). The documents were all signed by the President and dated September 21, 1972.
The documents were familiar to me. They were the very same documents I prepared in 1970, when he instructed me to study his commander-in-chief powers under the 1935 Constitution. I kept those documents in my vault in Urdaneta Village where I had my house then. I gave them back to the President in December 1971 after I lost my Senate bid in the national election held that year. I issued a receipt to Roland for the documents.
Maj. Pattugalan said, “The President wants you to convene the Chief of Staff and his J-Staff with the commanders of the armed services and tell them that the military operation shall proceed as scheduled by the President and that starting tonight at nine o’clock the country shall be under martial law. The President wants you to take charge of the operation tonight in his behalf. He will be in the Palace and available for consultation when needed.”
Then Maj. Pattugalan left. I called up General Romeo Espino. I informed him that the President sent me the martial law documents. I asked him to convene the service commanders and his J-Staff. “I want to meet them immediately before I leave the Camp,” I said.
After awhile, I drove to the nearby headquarters of the AFP in Camp Aguinaldo. All the commanders of the armed services and the J-Staff members were there. They were waiting for me.
I opened the envelops again one by one in their presence. I delivered the documents to General Espino and told everyone to proceed with the military operation right away. I informed them of the orders and instructions of the President as relayed to me by Maj. Pattugalan. I told them that I would be at home where they could reach me anytime.
When I finished, I drove home. While I was inside Wack-Wack subdivision my convoy was fired upon by a speeding car. My official car was riddled with bullet holes. Luckily, I was not inside my car. I was in my security car behind my official car. The only ones in my official car were my driver and my military aide, PC Captain Tirso Gador, baron of his class in the Philippine Military Academy. Both were unhurt.
After Edsa Uno – especially when I was no longer with the Cory regime – my political enemies and critics used the Wack-Wack incident to vilify me. They accused me of faking my ambush to justify the declaration of martial law.
That was a silly. Why would I fake my ambush to justify the declaration of martial law? I prepared Proclamation No. 1081. It contained all the incidents, events, grounds, and reasons that led President Marcos to declare martial law. No one ever doubted or disputed them to this day. Not by the rabid ideologues. Not by the CPP. Not by the NPA. Not the NDF. Not by their fellow travellers. And not by the Yellow hordes.
They were the perpetrators of the troubles in the country. They were rebels. They were the bomb throwers, ambushers, and killers of our soldiers and policemen, and other law enforcers. They were the rallyists, the demonstrators, and the transport strikers that created the violence, bloodshed, and traffic paralysis in our streets. They were the indoctrinators that poisoned the minds and hearts of our young in schools, colleges, and universities. And they were the importers of guns, bullets and war materials and supplies for the overthrow of our legitimate democratic government.
They could not deny those incidents, events, grounds and reasons because to deny them would be tantamount to denying their own very existence,
They were working together to subjugate the country, to topple its legitimate democratic government, and to capture the innocent, unknowing, helpless Filipino people so that they could convert them into serfs and slaves of the NDF-CPP-NPA under the yoke of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”
Furthermore, as far as I was concerned, when I left Camp Aguinaldo that evening, martial law in the country was already a matter of fact. I already ordered the military to operate. The troops were already deployed. Whether I was ambushed or not, whether I was alive or not martial law in the country was already imposed and irreversible. So, what for was the need, the necessity, to fake an ambush, mine or someone else’s, to justify the declaration of martial law?
That same evening of the ambush, Marita Manuel of the Philippine Daily Express met Ninoy. She interviewed him. Ninoy, as always, was bragging and lying. Marita said Ninoy told her about his “celebrated series of meetings with Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Brig. Gen. Fidel Ramos, PC chief . . the circumstances behind these meetings, and how Enrile could have concluded that he (Aquino) met with Chairman Jose Ma. Sison of the Communist Party of the Philippines on the night of Sept. 7 (1972) in Dasmariñas Village, Makati.”
In the same interview, Marita said Ninoy bragged that he said to me: “I’ll never be around for martial law. If you don’t get me in the first few hours, you’ll never get me.”
I never heard those words from Ninoy. I never had any “series of meetings” with him. I had only one meeting with that man. And that was in the evening of September 7 in the house of Ramon Siy Lay in the presence of his younger brother Paul Aquino.
As for Brig. Gen. Ramos, I doubt that there was ever a meeting between them. Ramos was too busy in those days to meet him or anyone else. Ninoy obviously fabricated those fake stories. He was lying again.
I stayed awake most of the time during that night. The military operation was precise. Thanks to the careful and skillful planning of the AFP. Everything went smoothly and efficiently.
The whole nation became suddenly quiet. Radios were silent. Television screens were blank. The only thing one could hear over radio or television was martial music. There was no traffic in the streets and on the roadways in Metro-Manila.
Hardly any bloodshed occurred during military operation. The only exception was when a unit of the Philippine Constabulary went to the Iglesia ni Kristo compound in Quezon City to close a radio station there. The security guards of the Iglesia ni Kristo resisted. A gun battle erupted. A constable was shot and killed. This nearly led to a bigger and graver encounter.
Brig. Gen. Fidel Ramos called me up and asked my permission to use a recoilless rifle to hit the security guards in the compound of the Iglesia ni Kristo. I told him not to. I called Bishop Eraño “Ka Erdie” Manalo, head of the Iglesia ni Kristo. I asked him to allow the soldier to close his radio station temporarily. He agreed. The radio station was closed. And a bloody carnage was averted.
Thus, before daybreak everything was under military control. I was tired and exhausted. I fell asleep.
After an hour or so, my wife woke me up. My phone was ringing. It was past seven o’clock. Malacañang was calling. I lifted my phone. The one at the other end of the line said “Sir, the President wants you to come to the Palace.”
I closed the phone and rushed to my bathroom for a quick cold shower. I dressed up quickly and had a cup of coffee and bread for breakfast. Then I boarded my car and told my driver to take me to the Palace.
It was Saturday morning – September 23, 1972. It took me no more than fifteen minutes to reach the Palace. The roads were empty and the whole Metro-Manila was quiet. There were no vehicles and people in the streets. It was like a ghost town.
When I arrived in the Palace the first person to meet me was the First Lady. She said to me while I was climbing the stairway to the second floor of the Palace, “Ang dali pala nang martial law.”
I just smiled. She had no ides about the amount of work we did and the effort and time we spent to prepare the military operation for the declaration of martial law. All she knew was the ease with which the military operation was carried out.
I walked to the office of the President. When I entered, he was with Press Secretary Francisco “Kit” Tatad. He was preparing his public statement about the declaration of martial law.
The Palace was swamped with calls from Senators and Congressmen who were going abroad. They were stranded, along with others, in the airport. The military people controlling the airport refused to allow them to take their flights. All domestic and international flights were cancelled and disallowed.
The President asked me to handle the problems of the Senators and Congressmen. I ordered the military controlling the airport to allow international flights and to let the members of Congress to depart.
The President also asked me to remain in the Palace that day. He ordered me to attend to some matters of administration while he was preparing his public statement and attending to his other responsibilities. He directed me to meet the other Cabinet members and inform them about the military operation and to acquaint them about the new martial law regime.
I met the Cabinet members at four o’clock in the afternoon at the Executive Building. During that meeting, some of the members of the Cabinet expressed their misgivings about the wisdom and validity of the declaration of martial law. Arturo “Bong” Tanco of the Department of Agriculture asked me bluntly, “How sure are we that the declaration of martial law was valid and lawful?”
Bong Tanco was not a lawyer. He was somewhat brash. I answered him tactfully. I said, “Bong, it is too late to ask that question. The decision was made. The act was done. It could not now be reversed. Whoever among us entertains doubt on the wisdom, validity, legality, propriety, or morality of the declaration of martial law is free to leave the Cabinet. Nobody is forced to stay. Everyone of us is free to decide for himself whether he wants to remain in the Cabinet or not. No one is obliged to remain.”
No one of the members of the Cabinet resigned. All stayed until they left the service, or until they were assigned to other posts in the martial law regime.
Such was the saga of the first day of martial law in the country. It was a tiring, exciting day for me. When I was done with President Marcos in the Palace, I went home and slept. I was so tired. I thought I would never wake up. After that day, my life and the life of my family was never the same again. And a national story began to unfold and its march to the future.