In 1971, the military establishment was rocked by a controversial thesis presented at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP). The thesis dealt with the emergence of China as a world power and recommended the following policies for the Philippines – official recognition of China, abrogation of the military agreement between the Philippines and the US, non-alignment in foreign relations, and the formulation of a new defense concept.
The thesis was picked up by the national dailies and became a cause célèbre, coming as it did from a ranking officer of the military. The thesis and its recommendations were met with hostility by the military establishment. The author was harassed and persecuted, given tongue lashings by the head of the college, the Navy chief and by the AFP Chief of Staff himself.
The thesis was written by then Navy Captain Danilo P. Vizmanos.
Vizmanos was then being groomed for promotion and a higher responsibility in the Philippine Navy. The course at the NDCP was a prerequisite to star rank, to commodore, in his case. The thesis ended his military career, in his words, his “premature retirement from the service.” Colleagues with more senior positions offered to help him get back on track but Vizmanos declined. He had begun to think that thoughts of promotion or career advancement were mere “trifles,” and that it was time to find more meaning in his work in the military.
Dan, as he was known among friends, was born and reared in Naic, Cavite. Relatives on his father’s side were active participants in the Philippine revolution against Spain. His grandfather regaled him with stories of battles and of his friendships with revolutionary personalities. On his mother’s side, an uncle who graduated from the US Military Academy nurtured in him a yearning for a military career and an admiration for things American.
His high school education was interrupted during the Japanese occupation. He was young but he worked for the guerillas’ intelligence network. After the war, he was one of 50 Filipinos admitted to the US Merchant Marine Academy.
He came back in 1951 and got a commission to serve in the Philippine Naval Patrol (now the Philippine Navy). Dan found himself part of a support unit in the government’s anti-dissident campaigns in the Quezon-Bicol area. Insurgency led by the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan was then growing.
In the course of this campaign, he became bothered by how military personnel would flaunt their authority over the civilian population. He foresaw what would be serious problems in military discipline and military-civilian relations. He also became critical of military surplus coming from the US, as provided in the RP-US Military Assistance Agreement. He saw how the navy was using donated military equipment and arms, including navy vessels that needed frequent repairs and often led to mishaps, equipment so old they should already have been sent to the scrapyard.
Later at a stint at the Office of the Inspector General, he became exposed to irregularities and anomalies inside the military organization – deep corruption, professional intrigue, rivalry, and power play between PMA and non-PMA graduates, and even among PMA batches. He found the situation discouraging and was not at all surprised when things became worse during martial law, when the military lorded over the country. When he became aide-de-camp to the Navy Flag Officer in Command, he saw how decision-makers on military and national security issues closely followed the wishes of the American government. He learned to admire Sen. Claro M. Recto for the latter’s courageous stance on nationalist issues and especially on “RP-US neocolonial relations.”
Dan Vizmanos was a soldier who had become a serious critic of Philippine-American relations. This became very evident in his controversial thesis.
History of political activism
In the aftermath of the controversy created by his thesis at the NDCP, and with the US war in Vietnam at its height, Dan started receiving invitations to speak before groups engaged in an anti-Vietnam war campaign. Because he was a soldier, he was also sometimes asked to speak on the rumors that President Marcos was planning to implement martial law.
When Marcos did declare martial law in September 1972, Dan filed for early retirement, knowing his convictions as a soldier were incompatible with the dictatorship. It took five months for his application to be approved. Dan began writing a diary, where he noted down his observations on the worsening political situation, on his meetings with journalists and members of the political opposition and the revolutionary underground. He read up on history and revolutionary warfare, particularly in Asia.
On May 25, 1974, his house was raided by a team from the notorious 5th Constabulary Unit. He was taken in, blindfolded, and brought to a safehouse, where he was interrogated, given truth serum, and kept in solitary confinement for three months. He was kept in prison for more than two years, being moved to various detention centers – from Camp Crame, to the Youth Rehabilitation Center and Ipil Detention Center in Fort Bonifacio, and finally at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center. No charges were ever filed against him. On his release in August 1976 no less than the martial law defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile offered him a job at the defense ministry. Dan declined the offer.
Later, Dan would write that this two-year political detention was “a period of enlightenment” for him. It gave him a new meaning in life. He met and came to know many individuals who had resisted the dictatorship. He saw a contrast in how political prisoners and security forces thought and behaved. While political detainees were organized and cooperative in doing daily work assignments, he noted how security personnel would often quarrel even over trivial matters.
After his release, Dan kept in touch with the martial-law opposition and became much more active in joining protest rallies and demonstrations, as well as writing critical and thought-provoking articles for the alternative media. He had become one of the opposition’s leaders by the time Marcos and his family fled during the 1986 People Power revolt.
After the dictator was ousted, Dan pursued his progressive politics, serving as chair of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya (SELDA) which spearheaded the filing of the class suit against Marcos in behalf of 10,000 victims, and becoming one of the leaders of the Partido ng Bayan and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. He also continued to write political articles.
Circumstance of death
Throughout his senior years, Dan continued to engage actively in issues of freedom and democracy. He died on June 23, 2008, from complications due to prostate cancer.
BORN November 24, 1928 in Naic, Cavite
DIED June 23, 1998 in Metro Manila
Occupation: Captain of the Philippine Navy (retired)
PARENTS: Paterno Trias Vizmanos, journalist, and Nieves David Poblete, teacher
SPOUSE: Alicia Vizmanos Children: Six
Elementary Naic Elementary School, Naic, Cavite
High School Cavite High School
Western Cavite Institute
Jose Abad Santos High School, Pasay
College FEATI Institute of Technology
US Merchant Marine Academy, New York, USA (1947-1950)
Graduate Studies National Defense College of the Philippines
Danilo P. Vizmanos, Through the Eye of the Storm, KEN Incorporated, Quezon City, 2000
Danilo P. Vizmanos, Martial Law Diary and other papers, KEN Incorporated, Quezon City, 2003
Final salute to Capt. Danilo Vizmanos, by Ronalyn V. Olea, Bulatlat, Vol. 8, No. 9, June29-July 5, 2008
“Danilo Vizmanos: From Right to Left,” by Emily Vital, Bulatlat, Vol. VIII, No. 14, May 11-17, 2008
Cruz, Tonyo, “Retired Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos is dead,” found in tonyocruz.com, WordPress, June 24, 2008. Accessed June 28, 2016