I always tell stories to my children about high school and college life during martial law. I was 15 years old when Proclamation 1081 was declared by former President Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972. My folks seemed overjoyed by the news. The administration did a great job brainwashing the old folks that the country was in turmoil and thus, Martial Law needed to be declared. I didn’t know it then, of course.
I felt a bit alarmed that any house could be raided for “subversive materials. Any reading material might be “subversive in the eyes of the military. Dad probably wanted to protect us so he bought books and magazines that were pro-Marcos. Soon after Marcos declared martial law, one American high-ranking official described the Philippines as a country composed “of 40 million cowards and one son of a bitch otherwise, he reasoned they should have risen against the destroyer of their freedom.
A youth during Martial Law
I spent most of my teenage years under the veil of martial law. Dad and Mom warned me that the moment my sister and I joined rallies and demonstrations in UP Diliman, it was back to Cebu. They didn’t know it then but my sister and I joined lightning rallies. Student issues centered on Marcos, the dictator, Academic Freedom and the role of Iskolar ng Bayan in the midst of Martial Law.
I remember my first rally was in Luneta Park on May 1, 1976. I forgot who organized it now. All I remember was holding hands with my pretend-boyfriend in Luneta Park. If you know Rico J. Puno’s version of “The Way We Were“, the pretend situation brought me to stitches.
Ohhh Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line
And if we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we, could we
Alaala, ng tayo’y mag-sweetheart pa
Namamasyal pa sa Luneta
Nang walang pera
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
Doo do do do do dooo
The organizers told us to be lovey-dovey and pretend to be sweethearts. I guess this was needed so that the police will not be suspicious of any illegal assembly. At a certain signal, a group of a hundred students would all chant Marcos, Hitler, diktador, tuta and converge in front of the Rizal Monument. Today, this would have been the “flash mob”. Those days, immediate arrest was inevitable. I thought it was a giddy adventure oblivious of the danger of being arrested. Raising our fists, stomping our feet around Luneta and chanting Marcos, Hitler, diktador, tuta around ten times, we dispersed amidst the growing crowd. Makibaka, huwag matakot! Makibaka, huwag matakot! It was an exhilarating experience and I could feel the adrenalin rush as we ran towards the Quiapo side streets. The police were just behind our back. Too close for comfort.
I pushed my luck once too many until one day, I got trapped along with some UP students inside an auto shop near Adamson University. It was Human Rights day. To make myself incognito, I wrapped my head with a scarf and wore large sunglasses. Sadly, the police were wiser now. They used the fire hose to disperse us and also to corner us into one place. So there I was with my friends waiting for the truck to haul us to Camp Crame. Maybe divine intervention prevailed upon us due in part to the intercession of the St. Theresa’s Colege nuns because suddenly, we were all released. There was a hitch though. Our photos needed to taken by the Intelligence. I complied, of course.
To make matters worse, my dad found out about the near-arrest. To this day, I don’t know how he found out. The military intelligence must have informed him. Or the moles so prevalent during those days. Dad told my sister and I Stop attending those demos or go home. This time, I obeyed because I valued my education at the State University.
Reminding the youth about Martial Law
I am lucky because I never got detained or tortured unlike some of my friends. My heart broke every time I heard news of my schoolmates in detention. It angered me that traitors were around us waiting to report subversives to the military. My brother was once detained for taking photos of policemen taking down streamers of the activists. Imagine that happening to us right now. I tell these stories to my children so they value their freedom, remember the horrors of martial law and to never let it happen again. The youth born after the People Power revolution need to know about the “human rights violation, the muzzling of the press and the curtailment of freedom during the Martial Law era.
The youth need to know how Ferdinand Marcos “fooled the Filipino people into believing that Martial Law was needed in the whole country, even if the troubles were only of political nature. The biggest loser was Press Freedom. Newspapers, TV and radio outlets were shut down and eventually turned over to be owned and operated by Marcos cronies.
“Let the lessons of martial law always teach us to value our freedom and democracy. Let us always remember the sacrifice, the blood, sweat and tears borne by those who were willing to fight so that future generations may live to enjoy life free from oppression. We must honor them by ensuring that, no matter what, we must all stand united to protect our democracy and willing to make our own sacrifices. We must also ensure that justice will be served for the victims of martial law against the oppressors and the guilty.
Sometimes I feel Martial Law never really left us, as if it is ingrained in our culture. Take the alarming case of extra-judicial killings that are left unresolved. ONE PERCENT (1.05 percent) of these incidents of heinous killings has ended in the conviction of the people who were responsible. This “one percent success rate in solving these crimes is an absolute embarrassment and we Filipinos should band together to make sure that this changes.
Nothing has really changed for the better since democracy was restored in 1986. The same “old people are still in power, a lot of government officials still usurp power to enrich themselves, and the Filipino is still where he was .. maybe even worse.”
Martial Law was indeed a dark part of our history but we have to be reminded of it only because we need to honor those who fought and fell to restore democracy then and now. We need to let the evils of Martial law out of our system. Are we going to allow ourselves to be called a nation of 95 million cowards, this time around?
Never again to Martial Law!
Justice for the victims of Martial Law and human rights violations!
The photo was taken by Reuben, my late brother who was one of those who fought hard for our freedom and democracy during martial law.
Photo by Reuben Veloso Lardizabal. Some Rights Reserved