The Philippines had to contend with Martial Law for years until a popular uprising spearheaded by the Catholics forced the dictator Ferdinand Marcos to flee the country. The Church was instrumental in the return to democracy.
PUBLISHED ONAug 2021
Among the pernicious effects of Martial Law declared by Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1972 were increased militarization, insurgency, the absence of juridical procedures, the destruction of democratic processes, economic decline, and pervasive fear.
Prophetic Church stances during Martial Law were often met by military abuse, imprisonment and torture, and even deportation for foreign missionaries. The Church evolved a position of “critical collaboration,” cooperating with the regime on programs beneficial to the populace while criticizing government actions judged harmful.
An important 1977 pastoral letter, The Bond of Love in Proclaiming the Good News, addressed many social problems. It sought to enunciate a clear, holistic vision to guide the Church’s mission of integral evangelization:
This is EVANGELIZATION: the proclamation, above all, of SALVATION from sin; the liberation from everything oppressive to man; the DEVELOPMENT of man in all his dimensions, personal and communitarian; and ultimately, the RENEWAL OF SOCIETY in all its strata through the interplay of the GOSPEL TRUTHS and man’s concrete TOTAL LIFE…. THIS IS OUR TASK. THIS IS OUR MISSION.
Continuing Challenges. President Marcos announced the lifting of Martial Law on January 17, 1981. It was carefully timed three days before the inauguration of United States President Ronald Reagan, and exactly one month before Pope John Paul II’s scheduled visit to the Philippines. This was recognized by the Filipino people as a “purely cosmetic gesture.”
The papal visit brought two clear messages to Filipinos: a need for dynamic faith in their lives and an emphasis on justice and peace. John Paul II told the president and government leaders: “Even in exceptional situations that may at times arise, one can never justify any violation of the fundamental dignity of the human person or of the basic rights that safeguard this dignity.”
Tragedy and Aftermath. The assassination of Benigno Aquino on August 21, 1983 ushered in a period of national mourning and a widespread clamor for justice and truth. In this highly charged atmosphere, Jaime Cardinal Sin cautioned Filipinos: “If we allow his death to fan the flames of violence and division, then he will have died in vain.”
Events moved rapidly in the ensuing years. The Church asserted that if citizens agreed that the 1986 election had been “stolen,” they should oblige the regime to respect their will. The bishops added: “But we insist: Our acting must always be according to the Gospel of Christ, that is, in a peaceful, non-violent way.”