top of page

False Memories and the Martial Law Years

When people posted online placards bearing the words, “Never Again,” on the 21st of September, others issued this correction: Martial Law was not declared on September, 21, 1972.

Strange for a date that initiated an age, which robbed people their freedom to be easily forgotten. The documentations and the media of that period would not serve as guide for remembering. Accounts of those years were tampered. The result was each individual would have his or her own signposts to the memories of the dictatorship.

The dictator was known – his critics conceding – for his intelligence as he was noted and tested for his wiles and cunning. When a researcher or documentarian consults the archives, that person will be mesmerized by the trickery and treachery of data.

Here is one side of the remembrance: the document declaring Martial Law all over the country was signed on September 21, 1972. But this fact would not be revealed to the public until 2 days later. The opposition was still active in the Congress but the paper that would put them behind bars and lock the Legislative was still hidden from view. Never mind the Judiciary because in the 20 years or so of blatant disregard for law it did not exist in the eyes of those who thought it would serve as the last bastion of the legal as well as the ethical.

On September 22, 1972, the faked ambush on Enrile would be held gingerly as the ultimate cause why martial law was indeed necessary to keep the republic intact. The same Enrile would admit to the falsity of that claim when it was clear the days of the dictatorship were over. It was the same confession that brought back that man into the good graces of the administration and ushered in the slow spiral of the republic down to where we are now at present.

I am digressing.

On September 23, 1972, at 8 in the evening, it is written, the dictator proclaimed that all parts of the country shall be placed under martial law. The Bikolanos in the region did not take part in this aspect of memory. Television sets and TV broadcast were not yet generally available in our homes then.

But we took part in the silence of that Saturday, the 23rd of September.

This was the scenario: I woke up to the absence of a newscast from the Avegon radio at home. Rufo Tuy, the newscaster, was our guide to the 7 o’clock of existence. I was up early because Saturday was the regular ROTC drill, a dreadful part of our academic life then. In Ateneo de Naga, it was particularly a test of strength of endurance for while the other schools had to carry wooden rifles, the Jesuits made sure we had our armory of real Springfield rifles.

Reporting at the open ground of the campus, we stayed at parade rest for a long time. We did not realize the anxiety on the faces of some of our officers who were huddling all the time. A few minutes after 8 in the morning, an announcement was made. We would all go home and wait for further announcements as to when the drills – and classes – would resume. Martial Law had been declared.

I do not remember bidding goodbye to friends.

I remember some of the members of college organizations rushing to their offices in the old administration buildings to clean the areas of photos of Mao, Marx, Che Guevarra, Lenin and Fidel Castro, and discard what they assumed to be anti-government manifestoes.

I do remember going home fast – our house then just a few meters from the college that did not have any gate, physically and metaphorically.

The next days were blurred. My older brother, Manong Pempe, whose activism I would envy and be my greatest regret down the long road, had to leave the city as with many other students of his age. Did he cut his hair first or was that done in his place of “exile?” He would spend some days in my mother’s hometown, his birthplace, in San Fernando in Ticao Island.

When did Manong Pempe come back to the city? I cannot recall. But we all returned to school. We went back to regular classes; we had lessons. But we never talked about the government. We discussed about literatures and economics and politics but we never really talked about ourselves and our future.

The New Society had been declared. The crimes, however, continued but no one wrote about the evils of those days. Corruption was unabated. Newspapers were shuttered, with a few allowed to print accounts that were sanitized. Curfews continued not to bring peace but blindness. Poverty worsened as the capital for rural development was diverted to build cultural palaces serving a few, displaying even fewer arts of the people. Many artists still alive benefited from connection to the conjugal terrorism. The artifice of cinema doubled as posters with characters holding guns where whitewashed to remove the erring hands. The intelligentsia vanished, or went underground.

September 21 then under the dictatorship would be declared “Day of Thanksgiving.” For many year therefore, as the day of martial law declaration came, people had to thank the powers that be for their loss of freedom.

As for my generation, some lost their lives and many disappeared. Those of us who remained in schools, in towns and cities, lost our freedom to talk. We walked around unknowing we were all scarred inside. We lost our youth and our freedom to dream.

bottom of page