FM’s ‘anting-anting’By Michael L. Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Every Sept. 21 we remember the proclamation of martial law in 1972, based on the date that appears in Proclamation 1081, signed by Marcos.
But it’s well established now that Marcos signed the proclamation on Sept. 17, post-dating it to Sept. 21 because he considered the number “21” lucky. Even then, the declaration of martial law was not made public. On the night of Sept. 22, soldiers were sent out to arrest Marcos’ opponents, and it was not until the next morning, Saturday the 23rd, when Marcos appeared on TV to formally declare martial law.
Marcos left the reading of Proclamation 1081 to a young man named Francisco Tatad, his information (or, as wags would later quip, misinformation) minister. It was a long document and Tatad had to occasionally pause for a drink of water. The document, which you can find in several websites, was clearly well-prepared, reflecting the legalistic side of Marcos, someone who wanted to be sure that he had all the bases covered to justify martial law.
Proclamation 1081 was accompanied by a series of general orders, ordering mass arrests of his opponents, declaring a curfew from midnight to 4 a.m., banning strikes in companies producing essential commodities as well as hospitals, schools and colleges, and a ban on carrying firearms.
I’m citing all this to show that Marcos’ martial law was not a quick emergency response but something that had been planned. His Proclamation 1081 in fact cited a series of bombings and attempted assassinations, some of which may have been staged by his own military.
To have Filipinos accept martial law, Marcos had to show he was firm and determined, a strong and rational ruler. Yet looking back now, we see a segurista, someone who moves only when certain. The Filipino word is derived from the Spanish seguro, which means “safe,” “secure” or “certain,” yet if you ask me if Marcos was truly that self-assured, I would answer, “Siguro,” a term that does not exist in Spanish, and which in its Filipino reincarnation, means: “Maybe, maybe not.”
Marcos is intriguing in the way he represents this side of Filipino machismo, the sigurista plagued by life’s many siguro’s. That’s where the anting-anting comes in. Marcos attributes his survival during World War II (he claims Bataan) to an anting-anting (an amulet or talisman) given to him by Gregorio Aglipay, founder of the Philippine Independent Church. The anting-anting is said to be a sliver of wood embedded under his skin.
This kind of amulet is found in other Southeast Asian countries as well. Among Indonesian women, for example, the suksuk, a word which Filipinos will recognize, is said to bestow beauty and charm. In the Philippines, the embedded talisman is as far as I know exclusively “masculine.” Marcos’ amulet was said to be “tagabulag,” one that made him invisible or at least that blinded his opponents.
In his book “Filipino Martial Arts,” Nid Anima, who was a godchild of Gregorio Aglipay, writes about having seen five “flesh corns” embedded in his ninong’s back with this graphic description: “Pressing one of them would send them all scrambling playfully taking each other’s different places in the manner of children’s games.”
The Internet is full of accounts about our talismans and amulets. The passage from Nid Anima’s book is quoted in Perry Gil Mallari’s (see fmapulse.com) article on anting-anting and Filipino martial arts, where he points out that the anting-anting figures prominently among some of the martial arts practitioners, particularly in escrima (stick-fighting).
Our national heroes used amulets and talismans too: Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio, Antonio Luna, Miguel Malvar. So, too, did some anti-heroes: the rebel Macario Sakay, and the folk hero/outlaw Nardong Putik.
Pinoy machismo’s contradictions find expression in the way the male institutions of martial arts, martial law and military warfare need to invoke the power of the anting-anting. Beneath the bravado and bluster, there is much anxiety about the uncertainties of life. There is, too, a view of life as constant power play, where one’s status might never be enough and therefore the supernatural need to be mobilized.
The anting-anting depicts and calls on forces more powerful than humans. There’s the all-seeing eye of God. There’s the Holy Trinity (three is always better than one). All the anting-anting are inscribed with mysteriously powerful pidgin Latin words. Curiously, male power acknowledges one woman, the Virgin Mary. If there is Dios Infinito, there is also Dios Infinita. One amulet has the Santissima Trinidad crowning the Virgin Mary.
I got all this detailed information on the types of amulets from one of the best Internet articles about the anting-anting: Dennis Villegas’ “And ye shall be as gods,” which appears in three parts in the Philippine Online Chronicles (thepoc.net). The articles present a sweeping social historical survey interspersed with excellent photographs of Villegas’ own collection of anting-anting. Villegas does admit to subscribing to the philosophy of “walang mawawala kung naniniwala” (nothing lost in believing).
These days it is our overseas workers who feel most vulnerable and have a need to protect themselves. I wasn’t thinking of the penile bolitas, which do represent another side of the sigurista male but are not meant to protect from harm. The overseas workers rely more on bullets as amulets, which gets them into trouble in many airports that ban them.
Then there are the road warriors, the drivers. I’m constantly at odds with my father’s driver, who comes as macho as macho will ever be but who decks out the cars with rosaries and stampitas (pictures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and assorted saints). But wait, if you ask him if those are enough to ward off harm, he answers “Siguro.” For added protection, he also carries calling cards of government officials and assorted military characters. The other day I spotted at the back of my father’s car a magazine from the military, showing smart men in uniform saluting each other, the magazine meant to display the driver’s connections and ward off today’s uniformed evil spirits.
Did Marcos believe in all this cabal?
Siguro. Marcos was a master strategist. He needed to have people believe that he was powerful not just in his own right but with the assistance of the supernatural. Declaring he had an amulet in his body, given by no less than a religious leader like Aglipay, added to his aura. In a metaphorical way, this amulet did seem to work in the sense of a nation blinded, or hoodwinked.
There is something pathetic though about Marcos’ amulets and numbers. Late in 1985, amid the economic and political crisis sparked by Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, he called for snap elections, first scheduled Jan. 17, 1986. Later, he had Cabinet Bill 7 moving the elections to Feb. 7.
All the sevens, and the amulet, didn’t save him.
So if you ask me if Marcos was self-confident, I would answer, “Siguro.”
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