ADVOCACY MINDANOW: Remembering Martial Law

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/20 Sept) – Forty years ago, in September 1972, I was in Manila undergoing orientation and preparing to take on a new job at the Philippine Press Institute as assistant to the Executive Director, the late Ed Sanchez. At that time, the Press Foundation of Asia headed by Johnny Mercado (who’s still hacking it out today at the Philippine Daily Inquirer) had one umbilical cord and staying at the towering Ramon Magsaysay Bldg. at Roxas Blvd.

I was into my fourth year of Law at the Ateneo de Davao and editing the then weekly Mindanao TIMES but for one reason or another, I decided to forego of my last Law semester due to the tempting offer of the late Manila TIMES publisher Chino Roces, telling me that exciting and challenging times were in store for me in Manila. I was Davao correspondent of the Manila TIMES, which was the leading newspaper at that time and had adventurous coverage assignments in the early years of the Mindanao conflict. Being a journalist consumed me.

So I packed my bags, planned on postponing my becoming a lawyer in the meantime and in tow with Chino, went the rounds of meeting Manila media persons in preparation for my October 1, 1972 assumption into the new job.

On September 19, I was shocked to learn that journalists I had meet and talked with were being rounded up and arrested. Everyone was speaking in whispers and telling about arrests and closure of TV and radio stations and newspaper offices. Military vehicles with soldiers were running down Roxas Blvd. For the next two days, I decided to stay home. Then on September 21 President Marcos went on TV and announced the declaration of martial law. Sen. Ninoy Aquino was arrested while entering a hotel. Max Soliven, Armando Doronila and others were rounded up. My benefactor Chino Roces was initially not heard from.

I was so frightened of being arrested as I was in the company of many of them during the meetings I attended during the past days. In fact, I then recalled that there was already talk of martial law and emergency presidential powers around the table during my orientation.

I stayed put indoors for several days. When I learned that airline flights already resumed, I repacked my bags, took the plane back to Davao posthaste, returned to the Mindanao TIMES desk and to the Ateneo Law School to finish the remaining semester. And resolved again to become a lawyer. The rest is history.

I can’t forget my biggest dilemma at the time I was entering the Manila airport for my Davao flight with swarm of soldiers accosting everyone: get rid of my PRESS ID or hide it in my socks and take the chance of being arrested. I opted for the latter.

My throwing away of my PRESS ID would have meant I would betray my calling.

But I thank martial law. Were it not for martial law declaration, I would not have become a lawyer today!

(Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and is now publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW.)