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By Dean Art D. Brion


In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony orated that “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”

I cannot help but think of these words as I read countless tales in the current media about the “evil” that the late President Marcos had done. But as it was with Caesar, so it has been with Marcos. Many would want to inter the good with the late president’s bones; some would even wish to disinter Marcos’ bones because they now lie at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

If indeed we are to disinter the late president whose 100th natal year comes this month, let us start the process with the “good” that we can attribute to him. Nobody can be so evil we cannot at least remember some “good” that he did during his lifetime.

To say otherwise may run counter to our national character as a nation guided by Christ’s teachings of love and charity. There, too, is the matter of history: we cannot close our eyes to our present-day realities, among them, the existence of current laws many of them passed as, or influenced by, presidential decrees and other issuances the late president promulgated during his tenure.

To quote Wikipedia, “From 1972 to 1986, the Marcos Administration codified laws through 2,036 Presidential Decrees, an average of 145 per year during the 14-year period. To put this into context, only 14, 12, and 11 laws were passed in 2015, 2014, and 2013, respectively. A large amount of the laws passed during the term of Marcos remain in force today and are embedded in the country’s legal system.” These numbers do not yet include the other issuances such as the Letters of Instructions, Letters of Implementation, General Orders, Executive Orders, Administrative Orders, Proclamations, and Memorandum Circulars that the Marcos administration issued.

The late president, more than anything else, was a lawyer, a man who for most of his life dealt with the law. He started his legal career by topping the Bar examinations of 1939. I hope that nobody would dispute this achievement or discredit it, or attempt to erase this achievement as an example of a unique and unusual bar review. The Bar examinations have their topnotchers every year, but none of them achieved the top slot under circumstances as adverse as those that the late president studied under.

Accounts exist that the late president engaged in the practice of law for some time, but for the most part, his acquaintance with the law was through the world of politics. He served in the legislature, both as a congressman and as a senator, for a substantial number of years.

That he eventually won the presidency is not disputed; the “evil” attributed to him came when he was already a president, in particular, after he declared martial law.

To some laymen with limited knowledge of the law, the term “martial law” carries an evil connotation because of the notoriety that the media has given this term, but the declaration of martial law is a legitimate recourse in the arsenal of actions that the Constitution provides to defend the state.

In 1972, the late president declared martial law to respond to the intensifying communist insurgency that not only disturbed the peace but also was at the point of causing massive unrest bordering on insurrection.

The disturbances included the bombing by communist partisans of the Liberal Party meeting at Plaza Miranda a year earlier (which then led to the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus); bombings in Metro Manila (at a time when the terrorist bombings we know today, were largely unknown); the raid and seizure of a substantial number of weapons from the Philippine Military Academy armory, led by an insurgent military officer; the landing of arms from China at the Digoyo Point in Cagayan; and the stepped up student and labor unrest in Manila and among the peasantry in the countryside.

Until now, some quarters still do not fully believe these accounts, but the latest disclosures relate that indeed the Communists did bomb the Liberal Party meeting and were sowing confusion in the metropolis through bombings. They or their former members now claim that they were indeed then an organized force that had the capacity to launch the attacks attributed to them. Those of us who lived through these times have no reason for disbelief.

In 1973, the late president secured the ratification of the 1973 Constitution through barangay plebiscites, a mode other than that prescribed by the then governing 1935 Constitution. The ratification became a controversial legal issue that was resolved in the president’s favor by an equally controversial Supreme Court ruling (Javellana v. Executive Secretary). A saving grace for the late president was that he did not simply impose the new Constitution on the nation as he could have dared to do then; he bothered to cover it with a fig leaf of legality – the consent of the governed, albeit through the barangays, themselves a martial law creation. (Incidentally, the Marcos “barangay” has been adopted by no less than the 1987 Constitution as the country’s smallest governmental unit.)

The presidential decrees that the late President issued touched almost all areas of law in ways that profoundly affect the marginalized sectors of our society. An early presidential decree was PD 27 on land reform; it decreed the emancipation of the tenants from the bondage of the soil. This decree became the root of the wider implementation of land reform in the country. PD 1517 started the country on the road to urban land reform.

Another milestone decree was PD 442, the Labor Code of the Philippines. Before the declaration of martial law, a series of labor laws led by the Industrial Peace Act (RA No. 875 on labor relations) governed the country. Various attempts were made to codify these labor laws, but all of them failed, until the opportunity offered itself after the declaration of martial law.

Notably, the Marcos Labor Code established in clear terms the rights of workers, among them their right to security of tenure in both public and private employment; it contains all the provisions needed to govern their working life, from pre-employment, to employment, labor standards, social benefits and wages, collective bargaining, strikes, labor dispute resolution, and general labor relations.

Forty-three (43) years after the Labor Code’s effectivity on November 1, 1974, it is still our governing law on labor and employment. Under this decree, our overseas employment program saw the light and flourished.

The current laws affected by the Marcos presidential decrees are too many to be discussed in a column article. But they undeniably affected the country then and their effects are still with us. I hope that someday these decrees can be catalogued and presented as a major study to the present generation of Filipinos so they can appreciate how many of our current laws came or have their origins from that period that those minded to see only the “evil that men do” refer to as the dark days of our history.


Readers can contact the author at jadb.legalfront.mb@gmail.com.

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