Martial law baby. This is the monicker given to those who grew up under the Marcos Regime. I was 9 when martial law was declared on September 23, 1972. I remember waking up the next day, Sunday, and looking for the newspaper so I could get the comic section. It didn’t come that day. My parents both worked for the radio station as actors and all the media — radio and TV stations were closed. This means both of my parents and two uncles were out of work. We all lived in a two-bedroom apartment, so we relied on my non-showbiz uncles’ paychecks. One worked at the textile factory and the other worked at a candy store. It was rough, but I was just a child and didn’t feel the weight as much as they did. I remember that rice was rationed and my dad would be in line only to get rice mixed with tiny shiny stones.
When we went outside, the metrocom (riot police in blue) would be marching in the streets, and the only time TV would come on was when Marcos was making an announcement. The administration launched the New Society campaign and at school, we sang the New Society song — it’s still in my head actually. I still remember the words:
May bagong silang.
May bago nang buhay,
Bagong bansa, bagong galaw
Sa Bagong Lipunan!
Magbabago ang lahat, tungo sa pag-unlad,
At ating itanghal: Bagong Lipunan!
There’s a new birth/There’s new life/ New nation/ New movement/ In this New Society/ Everything will change toward progress/ Let’s celebrate: New Society.
I was going to a Catholic school, so I don’t know how my parents could have afforded it when they lost their jobs. I just remember hiding from the debt collectors — turning off lights in the house whenever they came. My father would cater food. I know my mother pawned her jewelry; not sure what side gigs she might have done. Wish I could have asked her.
I was a curious child so I would listen to adult conversation and they were always arguing. We certainly had a house divided. Most hate Marcos but were scared to say anything or spoke in cryptic language, lest the metrocom or a spy was listening, but there were adults, sadly including my mom, who were justifying the need for martial law and talking about how smart Marcos was. There was too much violence, they would say. They were referring to protests and rallies, student walk outs — which my eldest sister participated in –and then the bombing of Plaza Miranda in 1971, during a political rally of the opposition Liberal Party.
My mom’s conflicted loyalty was understandable — she needed to work and now it was controlled by the government. People lied or hid their true allegiances to get jobs in the media. My mother was rehired to write and direct a show that catered to the Philippine army fighting against Muslim soldiers fighting for autonomy in the south. She based some of the stories from letters written by soldiers, which I would sometimes read. Mostly, they talked about how they missed their families. Some parts were redacted. She event went to the south to entertain the soldiers. Despite my mother’s supposed allegiance to Marcos, we had contraband books on the shelf along with Barbara Cartland’s romance stories — one was called The Filipino Martyrs by Irish Richard Brinsley Sheridan, which talked about witnessing the unjust Philippine-American war. And all this time I thought the U.S. was our friend. It certainly was the friend of the Marcoses.
When I was woke
As a high school student, I refused to read history books because I knew they were re-written by the Marcos administration. I was an angry and rebellious teen and hungry for knowledge.
In college, I got involved in student organizations and became more politicized. We had teachers who assigned Renato Constantino’s books, the most memorable being The Origin of a Myth and A History of the Philippines, which I’m pretty sure were banned at the time. I went on immersion programs where we lived with marginalized communities like fisherfolk and indigenous peoples. My consciousness was awakened. We started a youth advocacy organization for indigenous peoples called KATRIBU or Kabatan para sa Tribong Pilipino. I was the editor of the newsletter which we called Usok (Smoke). I believe the organization still exists. I remember we would meet in secret and sometimes would have to disperse when the metrocom came or rumors of a raid were rife. We attended countless rallies, especially after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. I must be really born under a lucky sign because every time it was time for me to go (I had a curfew at home), my friends and classmates would be hosed after I left. They often joked about how lucky I was.
People Power Revolution
We were poll watchers during the snap presidential election that preceded the People’s Power Revolution. We made sure that votes were counted. In some polling stations, goons came to disrupt proceedings. Tension was high.
My mother was adamant that my sister and I stay home during the EDSA revolution, but we managed to sneak out and join the people protesting and eventually taking over the television station. We were ecstatic when the Marcoses left on the third day. A month later, I started working for Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc at Mr. and Ms. Magazine, which was among the staunchest anti-Marcos publications during martial law, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which was an underground paper that surfaced after EDSA. I was her editorial assistant, and later on, became the youngest staff writer for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. It was a heady time taking over the Press Club and displacing the senior yellow journalists. We were such young idealistic journalists who met and drank San Miguel almost every night at the Press Club after the paper was put to bed.
Flash forward to 2022. I couldn’t stop crying after Marcos Jr. “won” the elections. I left the Philippines and migrated to North America in 1991, but I was there on vacation in Manila in 2001 and marched with our people to Malacanang to oust the corrupt Joseph Estrada. Seeing the support that Leni Robredo had during the elections, I am confident that our people will stand up against this Marcos if they want to oust him. But yes, we need to stay vigilant and support efforts to get the Philippine Human Rights Act passed! Enough is enough. The U.S. can’t keep supporting a government that kills and brutalizes the marginalized, the journalists, and the activists.