Remembering the passage of the Soto-Enrile Accords

January 21, 2021

The Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission remembers the struggles of students and the youth for their civil rights and liberties.

From 1972-1986, at least 11,103 persons became victims of state-induced human rights violations. Countless instances of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances were inflicted upon the citizens of the Philippines upon mere suspicion of criminal character – sometimes upon mere criticism of the government. Many of them included students and teachers – some arbitrarily arrested, abducted and detained from within their own campuses.

A constant stream of reports from both local and international organizations would result in increasing foreign pressure on Marcos to improve the situation and uphold promises for democratic reform. To present his compliance, the President formally lifted Proclamation 1081, which had placed the country under Martial Law, on January 17, 1981. This was timed with the inauguration of Ronald Raegan as the new president of the United States of America, and the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Philippines in the following month.[1] The lifting of Martial Law however was only made in name. Marcos retained all martial law decrees, orders, and law-making powers granted to him by the 1973 constitution.[2] He also retained the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for crimes “related to subversion, insurrection, rebellion,” including conspiracy to commit such crimes.[3]

Challenging this status quo, members of the youth were mobilized into a series of protests. A nationwide boycott was successfully organized with the help of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), then led by Sonia Soto, to challenge what was called a “paper-lifting” of Martial Law. The cost of education was still rising, and those who expressed opposition or criticisms against the government were still subject to arrest and detainment.[4]

Nationwide protests continued despite the jailing and arrest of many student activists during the boycott. Following the arrest of nine others at Liwasang Bonifacio, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile alongside military officials entered into a dialogue with the students on October 21. The position of the Department of National Defense vis-à-vis their meeting was put on record in a document addressed to Soto as Chairperson of the LFS, to Manny Ceneta as Chairman of the Youth for Nationalism and Democracy, and to J.V. Bautista as President of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.[5] The document was also sent to the University of the Philippines Student Council – which had only just been reestablished in the previous year.

The Department agreed to pull out police detachments inside school campuses. These would be kept outside of campuses instead to enforce law and order and protect the premises and students from criminal elements. Police authorities may only enter campuses to deal with crimes actually being committed. Only uniformed policemen may be employed if entry into school campuses becomes necessary or justified.

They also committed not to interfere with peaceful student protest actions inside of campuses. No force or violence would be employed by both sides in such actions – only reasonable force would be employed by lawmen if warranted. Only uniformed policemen would be employed to enforce the law during demonstrations and rallies. It was also agreed upon that the parties would coordinate and give due notice to police authorities regarding plans to hold demonstrations or rallies, and formalize guidelines to govern their relationship during demonstrations.

The document ends acknowledging that law enforcement authorities had been formally appraised in writing of the same policies, to which the Department of National Defense binds itself. The same would be reiterated when the U.P. Campus and DND entered into accords in 1989 under Fidel V. Ramos.[6] Based on the language on record, it should be noted that the Soto-Enrile agreements applied to all school campuses in general.

The passage of the 1981 accords under Martial Rule is a feat that ought to be remembered and respected. It is a reminder that students, the youth, and by extension we as a nation have rights which the state is bound to uphold. They are protections for succeeding generations to live and develop our country’s future. The same youth and future have the most to lose if such protections are shoved aside as was done in the past. To this end, we remember the role which the youth continues to play at the forefront of human rights advocacy – the bedrocks of a free and democratic nation.


[1] Celoza, Albert F. (1997). Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: The Political Economy of Authoritarianism. Greenwood Publishing Group.

[2] Robles, Raissa (2016). Marcos Martial Law: Never Again. Quezon City: Filipinos for a Better Philippines.

[3] Celoza (1997).

[4] Interview between Rappler Correspondent Bonz Magsambol and Former LFS Chairperson Sonia Soto, conducted January 19, 2021. Video released online at

[5] Enrile’s letter to Soto, Bautista, and Ceneta, dated 28 October 1981, was published in the October-December issue of the UP Gazette in 1981
(UP Office of the Secretary of the University, The University of the Philippines Gazette Vol. XII(4), p. 110-111).
Sonia Soto would share screencaptures of the excerpt on her facebook account on January 19, 2021 following the recent abrogation of the U.P. – D.N.D. accords. The News5 agency would recirculate these on the same day alongside a screencapture of the October 22, 1981 headline of the Times Journal – noting and showing images of the dialogues conducted.

[6] The 1989 accord has been freely circulated online by the Philippine Collegian. They may be found at