Nobody, except for rare exceptions, can recall where they were exactly 45 years ago when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the entire country. This was because Marcos signed the declaration on Sept. 21, 1972, but announced it to the public only two days later, on Sept. 23, as grainy black-and-white TV footage attests. (Just as memorable were later footage showing then information minister Kit Tatad reading the rest of the martial law declaration, pausing briefly at times to scratch his leg inside an apparently mosquito-infested Malacañang hall.)
One of the earliest signs that martial law was in effect, though, was the absence of newspapers, with dealers explaining that no papers were dropped off at their usual spots. When we turned on the radio or TV, all we got was static—another puzzling development. We then found out why.
In the early days of martial law, my parents initially approved of what President Marcos had done, breathing a sigh of relief that street rallies, which were being held almost daily, would no longer be taking place. They said this with a stern eye turned toward me and my sister Chona, for we had been part of many a rally before then. Much later, my mother would turn to her brother, Fr. Vicente Braganza, SVD, whom we all called “Padre Bet” to ask him how she could finally nip our activism in the bud. To her surprise, Padre Bet told her to let us be, for we were doing this out of love of country and fellow Filipinos. Many years later, when our two younger sisters got into typical teen shenanigans, my aunts asked her why she was so angry at them when Chona and I had ventured into activism. “That was different, they were doing it for the country,” she explained, much to our surprise.
Too late did we find out that there was really no need for all the sneaking around we did during those years, those clandestine phone calls and skipping of classes.
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I sometimes miss the me of 45 years ago, who could walk and march and yell slogans from the Welcome Rotunda to Plaza Miranda or even farther afield without feeling a bit of fatigue or aching muscles. Much later, I would even walk with my husband from the Sta. Mesa flyover to Malacañang just to see for ourselves if the Marcoses had indeed fled the country, even if I was nine months pregnant then.
These days, just the thought of walking in protest and anger already tires me out. I have nothing but admiration for my peers, or even for those far older, who still enjoy the needed stamina to sustain them through marches, vigils, even marathons, just to express their lingering and recurring rage at events of the day.
But isn’t it also rather sad that we have had to continue our activism for all of 45 years?
Still, we must all take joy and exhilaration from the outburst of popular action to remember and never forget the evils that martial law wrought, and the greater evils that a martial law revival would resurrect.
Indeed, as a friend posted, the emergence of different points of protest and indignation not just in the capital but throughout the country should be taken not as a sign of disunity or division, but rather as evidence of the continued unity of all champions of democracy.
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In his homily delivered yesterday in Dagupan, Archbishop Soc Villegas dubbed the martial law commemoration as the “Araw ng Kahihiyan” or Day of Shame: “Martial law was murders and lies. Martial law was hidden wealth and fake medals. Martial law was egoism and insanity of the dictator.”
But, said Bishop Soc, those years also “brought about the best in so many.” When darkness set in, he said, “many of our leaders chose to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Our heroes and martyrs of martial law fought darkness with light and fought evil with the power of good.”
So let’s not confine our remembering to the dark days, dark deeds and shadowy characters of martial law. Let us remember all the more the heroes and fighters, the champions and advocates who raised their voices — then and now—against tyranny and abuse, lies and disinformation. Who lit candles to dispel the darkness.
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