THE Yellow Cult’s narrative has been that Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972 in order perpetuate himself in power, as the Constitution barred him from running for a third term, as he was already on his second, which was to end in 1973.
But history, as has long been pointed out, is written by the victors. In our case, these were primarily the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and a faction of our ruling class, especially the Lopez and Osmeña clans that Marcos had persecuted and portrayed as his Exhibit A as the rightist oligarchs threatening the Republic.
But that was 30 years ago, and the Yellow Cultists are no longer in power, and their big-business allies don’t really care about them and their narrative, and as usual have sought more powerful political patrons. Only ABS-CBN and to some extent the Philippine Daily Inquirer remain, as the latter’s late editor had put it, as the torch-bearers of the People Power Revolution that the media in the 1980s had glorified.
Now, one of the leaders that brought down Marcos, his defense secretary two years before and during the entire martial law period, Juan Ponce Enrile. perhaps wants to put the record straight in his retirement years. In a speech last month at the Methodist Protestants’ Cosmopolitan Church in Manila, Enrile said:
“The most significant event that made President Marcos decide to declare martial law was the MV Karagatan [ship’s name – RDT] incident in July 1972. It was the turning point. The MV Karagatan involved the infiltration of high powered rifles, ammunition, 40-millimeter rocket launchers, rocket projectiles, communications equipment, and other assorted war materials by the CPP-NPA-NDF on the Pacific side of Isabela in Cagayan Valley. The CPP-NPA-NDF attempted a second effort – their MV Andrea project – but they failed. The MV Andrea sank in the West Philippine Sea on its way to the country.”
Enrile, to the credit of his sharp memory, related many details on the episode, which bolsters his narrative’s veracity, among them: that it was one Lt. Edgar Aglipay (who would become Philippine National Police chief 32 years later) who headed an eight-man police team that intercepted and boarded the MV Karagatan; that an Army platoon headed by one Lt. Arsenio Santos (who would be Enrile’s aide whom Marcos alleged was among the mutineers that plotted a coup against him in February 1986) was dispatched by helicopter to save Aglipay from the superior force of the New People’s Army of 300 men who were tasked to recover the arms; that Air Force fighter planes and even the Presidential Security Command soldiers were deployed to save the Army platoon; that the Liberal Party called the incident a “palabas” with the Lopezes’ Manila Chronicle headlining it as “a hoax”.
Enrile said that after several days, the NPA retreated, with the military recovering 1,000 M14 rifles and 166,000 rounds of bullets and magazines for those arms, and 564 rounds for 40-millimeter rocket launchers.
Perhaps feeling like a statesman, Enrile, however, was totally silent about where the arms shipment came from. It came from China, more precisely its Communist Party intelligence department headed by Kang Sheng, under orders of Mao Zedong himself.
Former ranking communists Mario Miclat (in his book Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions: A Novel) and Ricardo Malay (in an article on March 25, 2005 in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where he was an editor) had disclosed in the minutest detail how their group, dispatched to China by Sison, organized with Chinese Communist Party intelligence cadres how the arms shipment would be undertaken. That was the era when Mao Zedong didn’t hide from the world his intention to export communist revolution.
Enrile in his speech said:
“The MV Karagatan event affected President Marcos immensely. He wasted no time convening a military conference where he said: “The Karagatan presents a new and serious dimension to the insurgency problem of the country. It means the subversive elements have succeeded to open a supply line to support their operations.”
He asked the command conference to reassess all military plans. Ominously he added: “I will not allow the problem to go out of control. I will nip it in the bud.” I never saw or heard President Marcos talk or act that way before. He was grave, firm, and resolute. On my way out of that command conference, the thought flashed in my mind that martial law was nigh.
True enough, not long after, he convened another command conference. This time, he ordered the preparation of a plan for the declaration of martial law. No one in that command conference asked any questions or raised any objections.”
Martial law was publicly announced September 23, 1972, two months after the Karagatan incident. Perhaps Marcos would have declared it a week after the attempted arms shipment, if he had learned the scale of the Chinese Communist Party’s project to send arms to the NPA.
100,000 Chinese-made rifles
This was inadvertently disclosed only in the past several years by arms traders and enthusiasts who wanted to determine the quality of Chinese rifles, particularly an M14 clone called M305. The M305 was becoming popular in America as a cheap, but reliable rifle, with the Chinese firm Norinco aggressively selling it. Norinco is a huge manufacturing company whose many products include rifles and pistols that it clones known Western products such as the Smith & Wesson and Colt guns, which are also getting to be popular in our country because they cost a third of the American pistols.
As one of the blogs by an arms trader on this matter read:
“In the late 1960s, the Chinese government reverse-engineered the design for the US rifle M14 from weapons captured in Viet Nam. 100,000 M14 rifles and the necessary magazines and ammunition were produced by the Chinese for export, to arm rebels in other countries. These Chinese select fire M14 rifles were made to look just like captured American M14 rifles, including even the serial numbers. The rifles and ammunition were manufactured with US and British markings so as to avoid any connection to the People’s Republic of China, and possibly to serve a role in disinformation (propaganda) campaigns for the planned uprising.
The Communist Chinese government made two attempts to ship its select fire M14 rifles to the Philippines. The first attempt was largely unsuccessful and the second was a total failure. A source was recently shown the remainder of the approximately 100,000 Chinese-manufactured M14 rifles. The Chinese M14 rifles were packed in crates in one warehouse while the British-marked, Chinese-produced 7.62 x 51 mm NATO ammunition was stored in a separate warehouse. “
China had built a factory to produce 100,000 rifles to arm the NPA, which, if it had enough revolutionaries to carry and use them, would have resulted in a bloody civil war in our country. The arms shipment plan was such a huge operation that, ironically, when China embraced capitalism, it jump-started its small-arms industry.
What Enrile did not disclose was that the arms shipments from China made up just one of Sison’s two-pronged plan to foment revolution. Sison in June 1971 confidently told the executive committee of the party central committee, his innermost core of followers, about the arms shipment from China, with Karagatan and Andrea only to be the first, intended to debug the supply line. “But even if we get the rifles, we don’t have enough revolutionaries to carry them,” he said.
“So, we have a plan to trigger another revolutionary flow like the First Quarter Storm,” Sison said. As Miclat related it in his Secrets book, Sison explained what this was: The attack on the Liberal Party miting de avance at Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971.
Miclat quoted Sison as saying before the attack: “We will force Marcos to declare martial law… People will rise up in arms when he finally shows his fascist face.”
That plan of course didn’t quite work out. Instead of imposing martial law, Marcos simply suspended the writ of habeas corpus after the Plaza Miranda bombing. While that made it easy for government to detain for days suspected subversives, the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality, and Marcos used it only sparingly, arresting less than a dozen suspects, defeating Sison’s expectation that Filipinos would rise up in arms when he “showed his fascist face”.
Instead, what made Marcos decide to declare martial law was Sison and his operatives’ bungling nearly a year later: the interception of the MV Karagatan arms shipment from China.
Enrile ended his speech as follows:
“If President Marcos did not declare martial law, what could or might have happened to the country? I am sure every one of us has an individual opinion about that.”