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September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos Placed the Philippines Under Martial Law

President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 on September 21, 1972, placing the Philippines under Martial Law. Some sources say that Marcos signed the proclamation on September 17 or on September 22—but, in either case, the document itself was dated September 21.

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Throughout the Martial Law period, Marcos built up the cult of September 21, proclaiming it as National Thanksgiving Day by virtue of Proclamation No. 1180 s. 1973 to memorialize the date as the foundation day of his New Society. The propaganda effort was so successful that up to the present, many Filipinos—particularly those who did not live through the events of September 23, 1972—labor under the misapprehension that martial law was proclaimed on September 21, 1972. It was not. September 21 is the official date of the declaration but was formally announced on TV and radio live by Mr. Marcos on September 23.

Marcos who was president for more than 20 years — from 1965 to February 1986, explained that martial law was intended to suppress civil strife and the threat of communist takeover following the series of bombings in Manila.During those times, the threat to the country’s security intensified following the re-establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1968.

Declaration of Martial law in the Philippines

At the onset, the imposition of martial law was supported by majority of Filipinos. It was viewed as a change that solved the massive corruption in the country. Gradually, however, martial law became unpopular due to human rights abuses and excesses by the military, not to mention the incarceration of opposition leaders critical of the martial law.

Businesses owned by the oligarchy were confiscated and were taken over by Marcos’ family members and close personal friends, and were allegedly used as fronts to launder proceeds from institutionalized graft and corruption in the different national governmental agencies.

Martial law was lifted on Jan. 17, 1981, although the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus continued in the autonomous regions of Western Mindanao and Central Mindanao.

Excerpt from the diary of Ferdinand Marcos on September 22, 1972. From the Philippine Diary Project. The supposed ambush of then Defense Secretary Enrile was used as a pretext to the declaration of Martial Law. (

Read Proclamation 1081


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