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September in Martial Rule

No one ever knew some 47 years ago that the festivities in that year would be the last under the rule of the voyadores.

It was the eight of September when the Traslacion of 1972 was held. A week after that, on September 16, 1972, the Colgante Bridge fell.

Whenever something amiss or odd happens during the days before and after the Peñafrancia fiesta, people read into those events. As part of the ROTC, I and my friends were witness to many extraordinary conduct of the procession. Our task then was to form a human cordon that would separate the voyadores from the rest of the devotees lined up on either side of the street.

As eighteen- and nineteen-year old men, we were not that good in holding off the unruly crowd. There was a time when the bearers of the carrosa, which was not in globe form, barreled against the awnings of the homes situated near the street. There was also a September when some individuals pelted the icon with dried fruits and objects. I remember another incident when as the icon was about to be placed onto the barge, it fell into the dark water of the Naga river.

It was on the 16th of September that the ultimate in these strange events took place. For those who believed in the devotion and those whose religion was akin but different to those whose faith was formed within the walls of the old church, the Colgante tragedy spoke of something evil and grand.

A week after the tragedy, with some casualties still unidentified, Martial Law was declared.

Days before the 1972 festivities, there were sightings of a light in the form of a person. Some even talked about of an image of a Lady, which appeared on the early evening sky over the river. The old men and women said the light was a message for the dark years about to descend upon the land.

The availability of past calendars online has helped me personally how to cope with my memories of Colgante, the days following that and the next Saturday.

My memory of the declaration of martial law happened on Saturday. But when I look at the calendar, that Saturday was September 23, 1972. History tells us that martial law was declared on Sept. 21, 1972.

Martial law played tricks with memories. Marcos was good with playing tricks with histories, which are based on memories.

The Official Gazette speaks of a different history and other sources validate our fears all this time. It is said that the documents declaring martial rule were drafted on the 17th of September.

The infamous Proclamation 1081 was declared indeed on the 21st of September, which was a Thursday. On Saturday, we woke up to a quiet morning. There were no broadcasts. We reported for an ROTC formation. There was an informality in the assembly in front of the Ateneo de Naga Four Pillars. We were at Parade-Rest formation for nearly an hour when we were told to prepare to go home. Martial Law was taking effect all over the land.

In the absence of television, we never knew when the formal announcement of martial law took place. It is only in the Official Gazette again that we are told the formal declaration took place in the evening of the 25th of September, 1972.

The omens were true. Something grand and evil had descended up0n the land.

There were no more apparitions after that.

In the 1973 Traslacion, it was clearly a struggle how the ritual unruliness could be allowed to take place. A compromise was reached with the voyadores that year: at certain points, the soldiers would take over so that there would be less chaos. Certain spots were designated for this eerie arrangement. One was the curve from the side of San Francisco as the procession moved toward the Crown Hotel and made the circle around what was then Holiday Hotel.

I do not remember how this social and religious contract was arrived at. Years after that, more orderliness was imposed upon the crowd. This time it was from the institutional Church. Color-coding was set in place. Men of particular colors were assigned as bearers at prearranged points.

Every now and then, above the order and harmony, a burst of chaos and mayhem take place. The Virgin who may be at that moment is tilted to the ground is then raised again amidst shouts and shrill voices.

Years ago, there was an anxiety about how the Peñafrancia would last. Each year, the population of believers or onlookers double. The present anxiety is about bombings. The present technologies address that by jamming phones. The idea is that the new bombs are detonated by mobile devices.

Years ago, the Shrine by the River was deemed too small for the magnitude of devotion around this tiny icon. Presently, there is a Basilica with the physical grandeur supposedly commensurate to the dimension of faith around the tiny image of our Ina.

On Friday, something unchanging will witness our fervor: it is the River still dark and dirty, hostage to the ebb and flow of the sea it flows into, dedicated to by poets with smart, sad verses, and exalted and insulted by advocates earning off the miseries of this body of water.

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