Crossroads 1972, 2020
Monday was the anniversary of the official declaration of martial law in 1972, marked as a Day of Remembrance in the University of the Philippines System, with webinars still going on as I write.
The speakers were all in their 50s and 60s, young people during martial law. They talked about what it was like during those years, working to restore student councils, organizing fellow students as well as communities off campus.
Each webinar session had more than 500 participants, mostly young students, and by the third panel Tuesday morning, it was clear that an intergenerational dialogue was unfolding.
That third panel had focused on how the arts became powerful channels for protest during martial law and, appropriately, a song “Sangandaan,” Crossroads, came up.
The speakers were clear with how they responded to their crossroads, taking the road less traveled with all its risks and dangers. And now the questions that came up asking about the crossroads that young people face today:
Current UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo, one of the speakers, pointed out how much more complicated the crossroads are now with so many burning issues. In the 1970s, there was no talk of environmental issues, or of gender, for example.
UP Diliman Prof. Glecy Atienza concurred, but reminded the audience that many of the issues remained the same in the 1970s and in 2020, which got me thinking: Yes, indeed, and not only that — in many ways, the problems are even more serious now, accumulating through the years.
Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law supposedly to save the country and instead allowed old problems to become even more serious. The Edsa revolt of 1986 raised hopes for change, but many of the structural problems remained, growing even deeper roots.
Then this pandemic, which has exposed how deeply rooted the social problems have become. In many ways, the youth today suffer so much more than our generation in the 1970s.
I think of students who have had to drop out, unable to return even to tuition-free public schools and state universities and colleges because they can’t meet day-to-day expenses, including those for online classes.
I fret about the courses they are going back to, many of which — tourism, for example, which was one of the most popular degree programs when the pandemic struck — will have to be overhauled in these COVID-19 times and whatever comes after.
Our inability to effectively deal with COVID-19 goes back to our not having built a strong public health system. Much more needs to be said, in our Days of Remembrance, about how the health care system was plundered, too, under martial law, the Department of Health converted into a massive PR (public relations) machine for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. How can we forget the ubiquitous medical supply cabinets in barangays (barrios at that time), labeled MARCOS (Medical Assistance to Rural Communities and Other Sectors), sometimes distributed during IMELDAs (Integrated Medical Expeditions to Less Developed Areas)?
The fight against the dictatorship included building alternative networks of community-based health care, training villagers for self- and community care. The health department jumped on the bandwagon when the World Health Organization declared primary health care as a vehicle for “Health for All by the Year 2000,” but it was all form, no substance.
Medicare, a name borrowed from its American counterpart, was set up under martial law, with Marcos’ brother Pacifico put at the helm. Never quite developing into a system for universal access to health care, it was later replaced by PhilHealth, and we know what’s happened there.
The past is present.
Marcos put Lim Seng, a Chinese national and drug dealer, before a firing squad, hoping to deter drug-related crime. The current war on drugs has seen many more executions in dark slum alleys and homes, all again in the name of deterrence.
What I worry about most is how the pandemic has allowed a creeping martial law to come into place. Two days before we began our lockdown in March, the military raided a house in Baguio City and executed two people, one of them 68-year-old Dr. Lou Tangco, who had spent her entire life as a physician serving the poor. Nanlaban, she fought back — the excuse given for the executions in the war on drugs.
The lockdown, like martial law, has made it so much harder now for news to go around, and for people to mobilize. We, the older ones, mourn silently, sometimes telling our stories, past and present. The crossroads today are not for the young alone. It’s time we bridged the generations, finding collective strength and courage.
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