Friday, September 21, 2007

Martial Law Memories

September 21, 1972: a date forever etched in mind, not so much because of a prodigious and precocious memory -- I was just turning two years old, then -- as it was because of endless repetition in grade school. That was, after all, the supposed turning point in Philippine history when we cast of our shackles and entered into the greatness that was the New Society.

I was a Martial Law baby. For the longest time that was my badge of distinction and of those around me. Today, I'm caught between generations -- that of my parents, who lived through that period as adults, and that of kids in their tweens, who know Marcos (Ferdinand Sr., not Borgy) only from the history books, if they know him at all. I confess that it feels a little odd.

I never took to the streets. I was much too young, then, and nevertheless, it wasn't in my social and educational upbringing. The teachers in the private school that I went to carefully toed the Marcosian party lines, following that fantastical rewriting of Philippine history with an endless litany of names of ministers and programs. When I did come of age, Martial Law was technically over; but growing up in Davao, the hotbed of counterinsurgency, you learned to keep your voice and your head down.

There are bits and pieces of remembrances, trivial though they may be: Of my mother would share with me the op-ed pieces of Arlene Babst and Ninez Cacho-Olivares, back when Manila Bulletin was still Bulletin Today and when it still had some shred of respectability. (Where is Arlene Babst nowadays, I wonder.) And of me, asking a local newscaster at a forum why his reporting seemed so one-sided (answer: "Because we have to support the government.")

But there were the harrowing moments, too. Memories of one midnight when my Dad woke up with the excruciating pain of kidney stones, unable to leave the house because of the curfew. And of another evening with my Dad frantically unbolting the locks of our extension stockroom so we could hide from the three drunken soldiers who had come banging on our doors earlier.

More than all these, one incident left me (and others like me) devastated, one that showed that even children were not to be spared the exercise of power of a ruthless dictator. With that one thoughtless and cruel act, we cursed the name of Marcos forever and ever. That, of course, was when he banned the much-beloved robot cartoons from the airwaves, supposedly so his crony's "educational TV" programming could get an audience. My generation had to wait almost twenty years to see how Voltes V would end.

Yes, it's trivial, almost laughable, but way back when, the wound cut very, very deep.

So now it's September 21, 2007, some 35 years after what was supposed to be The Great Turning Point in Philippine History.

What do you remember?


  1. All I really remember was watching tanks and soldiers parade down the street from our balcony in Cotabato City.

  2. hi dom, i was a high senior when martial law was declared. we had overnite parties in private homes to avoid curfew violation. luckily none of the girls got preggy. :D

  3. Roy: I guess if you were a kid raised on Hollywood war films, it wasn't such a bad time to live in. ;-)

    Gilbert: mmm-hmmm.... ;-)

  4. so that's why Voltes 5 suddenly went off the air... i remember having to memorize all those ministries and the ministers .. somehow, this stuck: ministry of labor - blas f. ople - is that correct?

  5. Hi, Olga: that's etched in memory, too, if only because of a Nonoy Marcelo cartoon.

    Teacher: Next question...who is da Minister op Leybor? Ikabod!

    Ikabod (hesitating): Minister...op...le...

    Teacher: Correct!

    Ah, another Martial Law memory. Humor just isn't as funny without a gun trained at you.


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