On this day, 50 years ago, former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. signed Proclamation 1081, effectively declaring martial law in the Philippines. What followed was one of the darkest periods in the country’s history, full of egregious corruption and human rights abuses.
But even though these transgressions were well documented, myths about the Martial Law era are still being perpetuated, tarnishing the memory of those who suffered greatly during it.
Today, another Marcos is president. Social media is rife with distorted truths about Marcos Sr’s regime. But for those who want to know the truth, there are many films you can watch online depicting the experiences and voices of that era’s victims, whose stories have largely been swept under the rug.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of martial law, we’ve put together a list of the best of these films that you can stream right now for free.
Lauren Greenfield’s critically acclaimed documentary The Kingmaker centers on infamous first lady Imelda Marcos and her desire to restore the Marcoses to glory after protests against her husband’s decades of corruption and human rights violations forced their family to flee the country. The documentary debuted at the 76th Venice International Film Festival in 2019 and depicts Imelda as an “unreliable narrator”; you see the Marcoses’ ascent to power through her lens and then through the lens of martial law survivors.
Ahead of the May elections, Greenfield announced they had worked out a deal with streaming partners ABS-CBN and iWantTV to offer the movie for free in the Philippines.
You can watch it here.
Treb Monteras’ first award-winning film, Respeto (“Respect”), which was also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, sees an aspiring young rapper, Hendrix (Abra), who dreams of making it big in the rap battle scene and breaking away from his abusive family, strike an unlikely friendship with Doc (Dido de la Paz), an old and crabby bookstore owner who turns out to be a former revolutionary poet during the martial law era.
You can stream Respeto via MOOV here.
Before The Kingmaker, there was Imelda: the award-winning documentary by Ramona S. Diaz that takes a closer look at the life of the infamous former First Lady. The 2003 documentary chronicles her childhood, her marriage to Ferdinand Marcos Sr, and the luxurious life the Marcoses led during the martial law era. Like The Kingmaker, Imelda’s narratives are challenged by opposing views from victims and survivors of that era.
Watch the documentary here.
Liway, directed by Kip Oebanda, centers on a boy named Dakip, who lives in a prison camp with his mother, a martial law dissident known as Commander Liway (Glaiza de Castro). Distracting him from the difficulties of living in a prison camp, Dakip’s mother tells him stories to protect the child from the realities of a political prisoner’s life.
The film is based on the director’s real-life experience with his mother, Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, aka the “real-life Liway.”
Stream it here.
Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon
Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What is Before), directed by acclaimed filmmaker Lav Diaz, follows the struggles of a remote town in the Philippines and the strange and mysterious events that happen when Ferdinand Marcos Sr announces Proclamation 1081. The film is over five hours long but remains gripping throughout with its insights into the difficulties ordinary people faced during that period.
You can stream the movie on Youtube here.
Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahaghari?
The 1994 “never-ending documentary” Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahaghari? (Why is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow?), directed by National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik, compresses 10 years of filmmaking into a 175-minute long “cinematic essay” that touches on aspects of the Philippines’ culture and history interspersed with snippets from his everyday life — proving that the personal is political.
Stream the documentary here.
The 2013 film Barber’s Tales by Jun Robles Lana tells the story of a widow named Marilou (Eugene Domingo) who inherits her husband’s barbershop, the only one in a rural town at the height of the Marcos dictatorship. Watch the movie here.