THE PENITENTIARY DURING MARTIAL LAW
The country had experienced the effects of martial law twice in its storied historical perspective. Although during the Spanish times, the country was virtually under martial governance through the infamous guardia civil, it was the clergy however that ruled. The first formal declaration of martial law was during the short lived Japanese regime. The country was governed by a puppet regime, composed mostly of Filipino politicians as administrative front of the Japanese Imperial Army. The second was during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos.
In all these instances of martial imposition and experience, the penitentiary literally served as reservoir of people with heroic background. During the Spanish regime, the propagandists were systematically arrested and the most famous prisoner then was Jose Rizal. Later, when the country was under the American regime, Rizal would be declared as national hero. During the Japanese regime, nationalists were conscripted into government and under pain of extreme penalty were compelled to administer the bureaucracy. For a while, the penitentiary was a restricted zone for those accused of rebellion but for those unfortunate few who never reached the calaboose were executed out rightly like what happened to Jose Abad Santos and other prominent leaders of equal standing. Martial law during the Japanese regime was cut short of World War II however. It only lasted 3 years corresponding to the period of Japanese occupation. Thereupon, in 1945, after the formal declaration of Philippine Indenpendence, a continuity of constitutional republicanism came into light.
27 years later, in 1972, the country would revert back to Martial law, that time, not instigated by a foreign power but pursued locally. Then President Ferdinand Marcos believed that he could save the country from the clutches of violence and foreign based ideology by placing the entire archipelago under military rule with him at the helm. Other countries in Asia would have a similar undertaking, applying strong man rule to extricate their respective countries from the clutches of poverty. There was no need for economic reforms then for the country since at that time, the Philippines was already second to Japan in terms of prosperity.
There were oppositionists when Martial law was declared and they were swiftly thrown into the pit of the penitentiary. These prisoners, also called and referred to by international observers as “prisoners of conscience” became a new class in the penitentiary and were known as political prisoners. Yearly, the military governed bureaucracy would churn out several suspects and were immediately discarded by military courts. Convicted accordingly, the penitentiary became a community where the principled and unprincipled would co-exist. Among its famous denizens were Benigno Aquino, Jose Diokno, Alejandro Roces, Joma Sison, Nilo Tayag among others, they comprise a virtual list of who’s who in the firmament of nationalist reformation. But military rule does not reckon anyone bearing resistance; hence any state apparatus designated penitentiary is the better place for them.
For a time, to be imprisoned was a badge of honor. To be given a prison number likewise was to be conferred with a status of hero. The penitentiary, for a specific period of history, became an enclave of statesmen and reformers. It was also the dumping ground of rebels, activists and non conformists. Martial law during the Marcos regime lasted for 9 years, from 1972 to 1981.
The penitentiary changes its complexion depending on government state of affairs.