Martial law on film: Here’s a list of documentaries and movies about that dark time in Philippine history

“How many of our esteemed colleagues are privately ashamed of what is happening and yet praise the dictator openly and on radio and television as if he were the greatest Filipino ever born?” 

These words were written by former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., in a letter addressed to Sen. Francisco Rodrigo while he was detained at Fort Bonifacio. Ninoy, a vocal activist against the Marcos regime, was incarcerated for seven and a half years, and was assassinated on August 21, 1983 upon his return to the Philippines. 

His words still ring true today, more so especially among the Filipino youth who have vague knowledge about the Martial law era, apologists who highlight the “good” aspects of the Marcos regime, and revisionists who claim that the dictatorship and its atrocities never happened. Even President Duterte reduced this fact into mere “allegation from the other side,” as he said during an interview in Peru for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on November 18, 2016, attempting to justify the burial of Ferdinaned Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. “Whether or not (former President Marcos) performed worse or better, there’s no study, no movie about it, just the challenges and allegations of the other side,” he added.

In commemoration of the declaration of Martial Law and to counter claims that it didn’t happen in reel or real—here’s a list of movies and documentaries you need to watch to remind us about this abuse of power and never let it happen again:

Batas Militar, documentary

A brief story on how the former president planned the declaration of Martial Law during his term as president of the Republic of the Philippines. Marcos administration has been experiencing a crisis during the 1969 elections as protesters and activist have become more aggressive due to some speculations that government is plotting a plan to further extend the Marcos regime. And as the election campaigns continue, more and more people were killed in bombings which lead in blaming the Communist Party as the mastermind. Martial was declared at height of this staged chaos and assassination of government officials. Proclamation No 1081 was formally announced on September 21, 1972, but have been originally signed on the 17th of September which confirmed how Marcos planned the declaration of Martial Law. After Martial Law was declared, thousands of innocent people were, scrutinized, arrested, violated, tortured and killed by the military and the government. Martial Law continues until 1981 and Marcos was exiled in 1986 due to People Power Revolution. – The Martial Law Chronicles Project

Portraits of Mosquito Press, documentary

The dark days of Philippines’ history under dictator Ferdinand Marcos was also the dark days in the history of Philippine Press.  The State controlled the media.  Those critical of the government were either jailed or silenced.  Portraits of Mosquito Press brings to screen the missing page in Philippines history when one man and a bunch of college editors braved dangers to publish real news.  – Portraits of Mosquito Press

Maynila sa kuko ng liwanag, 1975

Júlio Madiaga, a ‘provinciano’, arrives in Manila to search for Ligaya, his loved one. It was a love story at the time of the military rule in the Philippines.


Batch 81, 1982

The film is about the titular fraternity’s harsh initiation of a new batch of members in 1981 as seen from the eyes of Gil’s character, Sid Lucero. The movie portrayed the harsh conditions of hazing, torture, and power struggle within a fraternity, but it mirrored the tumultuous time of Martial Law.

Sister Stella L, 1982

A nun becomes involved in an on-going labor strike. She starts out non-politicized, but later learns about the plight of the simple working man and inevitably, the government’s neglect of the poor masses.

A Dangerous Life, 1988

Husband-and-wife journalists watch events leading to the overthrow of the Marcos government in 1986 Philippines.

Dekada 70, 2002

A middle-class Filipino family struggles to survive in the era of dictatorship.

Imelda, 2003

A “beyond the shoes” documentary on the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos.


Batas Militar, movie, 2006

After the alleged suicide of his younger brother in the Army and death of his mother, Capt. Miguel Cortez is court- martialed and dishonorably discharged from the Army. Cortez is spurred on to transcend revenge, uncover the truth and bring justice to his brother’s death.

Sigwa, 2010

This movie details the atrocities during Martial Law, as experienced by six activist students.

Source: IMDB

About Dianne Pineda 394 Articles
Magazine and online writer based in South Korea. Nerdy news writer by day, Korean pop culture writer by night.

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