48 hours leading to the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos in September of 1972

September 22, 1972 (Friday)

Before 9 p.m. Then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, on his way home to Dasmariñas Village in Makati, is “ambushed” by “communist terrorists” who peppered one of the cars in his convoy with bullets. Enrile escaped unharmed.

He would later admit at a press conference with Fidel Ramos in February 1986 that the ambush had been staged. He and Ramos were part of the “Rolex 12,” the group of military advisers who had helped Marcos plan martial law.

Among the 12 were

  • Gen. Fabian Ver; then Armed Forces Chief of Staff
  • Gen. Romeo Espino; then Army chief
  • Maj. Gen. Rafael Zagala;
  • Maj. Gen. Ignacio Paz, head of Army intelligence;
  • Air Force Maj. Gen. Jose Rancudo;
  • Navy Rear Adm. Hilario Ruiz;
  • Brig. Gen. Tomas Diaz, head of a key Constabulary unit;
  • Brig. Gen. Alfredo Montoya, head of the Manila Metropolitan Command;
  • Col. Romeo Gatan, commander of the constabulary in Tarlac; and,
  • Eduardo Cojuangco, the only civilian in the group.

9 p.m. President Ferdinand Marcos calls the attack on Enrile “the last straw,” signs Proclamation No. 1081, which puts the entire country under martial law.

The actual document was dated September 21. Due to his “obsession” with numerology, Marcos had wanted the fateful date to be divisible by his lucky number 7. When Proclamation No. 1081 was actually signed it is still the subject of debate. Other accounts say it was signed on Sept. 17. In accordance with the proclamation, Marcos would rule by decree, general order and letter of instruction, functioning both as President and Congress.

Midnight. First on the list to be arrested is opposition Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. He is arrested at the Hilton Hotel in Manila by members of the military led by Col. Romeo Gatan. Aquino had been discussing tariff matters with colleagues when invited to “step outside” the hotel. Upon returning to the group, he says, “I’m sorry I can’t address the meeting. I’m being arrested.”

Earlier, on Sept. 13, Aquino exposed “Oplan Sagittarius”, said to be a blueprint for martial law, in Congress.

September 23 (Saturday)

1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Marcos orders his political opponents rounded up, all schools closed and all communications and public utilities placed under government control. Without warning, the military seize and seal media establishments, walking into their offices and posting announcements that say, “This Building is Closed and Sealed and Placed Under Military Control.” They also order the staffers to leave.

1 a.m. Sen. Jose Diokno is arrested at his residence.

2 a.m. Sen. Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo is arrested.

4 a.m. By dawn, the Camp Crame gymnasium is starting to get crowded with the 100 of the 400 listed subversives already rounded up. The list of detainees included Ramon Mitra and Sergio Osmeña Jr., businessman Eugenio Lopez Jr., teacher Loretta Ann “Etta” Rosales, lawyer Haydee Yorac, journalist Amando Doronila, and other prominent Marcos opponents, outspoken journalists, labor union organizers and delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention.

6 a.m. Radios are silent, television sets are blank and newspapers are off the streets as nation wakes. Journalists remember the first months of martial law as among the darkest. Airline flights are suspended indefinitely and overseas telephone operators refuse to accept incoming calls. There is no immediate official announcement, but news about what had happened while the nation was sleeping spreads like wildfire. Rumors circulate that Senator Aquino’s major crime was his opposition to Marcos, and that declaring martial law was a way for the President to stay in office beyond the constitutional limit of two terms.

3 p.m. Press Secretary Francisco Tatad goes on air over television and radio for the first time and the country comes to know of Proclamation No. 1081.

7 p.m. Marcos himself goes on air for the formal announcement of the proclamation. He imposes curfew and bans public demonstrations.

Reference: Kate Pedroso, Inquirer Research via
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