Memories of a martial law baby
I come from a lost generation known as the “martial law babies.” I was 4 years old when Ferdinand Marcos became president in 1965, 11 when martial law was declared in 1972, and 24 when the 1986 People Power Revolt drove him to exile and eventual death in Hawaii.
I came of age knowing no other president but Marcos. I thought he came with Malacañang’s tacky, gold-painted, heavily carved, high-back chairs. His picture and initials “FM” were the staple in the front pages of the Bulletin and Daily Express. He dominated the 6 o’clock and 10 p.m. TV news, too. His speeches often interrupted regular programming, and when this happened, your only option was to switch off the TV set because all five channels ran the same “Public Service Announcement.”
We knew of Imelda Marcos’ globe-trotting when TV forced her departures and arrivals on us, complete with fawning commentary by Rita Gaddi Baltazar or Ronnie Nathanielsz. Rita should have stuck to poetry and Ronnie to sports.
I grew up learning not just “Bayang Magiliw,” actually “Lupang Hinirang,” the national anthem; I was also taught the rousing “Bagong Pagsilang” (The March of the New Society) composed by Felipe Padilla de Leon with lyrics by Levi Celerio. We were made to plant vegetables in school as part of a “Green Revolution” to foil the Communist Red Revolution. We learned slogans like “Isang Bansa, Isang Diwa” or “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.” We were warned not to play around with these slogans lest we suffer the same fate as the comedian Ariel Ureta. He allegedly quipped, “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan,” and was punished by being made to ride a bike around a military camp till his tongue hung out in exhaustion.
People of my generation remember Asiong Aksaya, a comic character created by Larry Alcala, who taught us to conserve water and electricity. They also experienced strict censorship of print, TV, and cinema. Cuss words and sex were cut out of TV and movies. Guns were allowed on screen but were blacked out on movie advertisements and billboards. Censors even banned the Japanese animated series “Voltes V” on the grounds that it incited the youth to violence.
The government warped our minds further by creating new meanings for old words and concepts: Love was associated with the air-conditioned Love Bus, Pag-ibig became housing loans, and KKK (which once stood for Andres Bonifacio’s revolutionary “Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan” took on a new meaning as “Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran,” the government livelihood and socioeconomic development program.
Curfew was imposed from midnight to 4 in the morning. To get around it, you either had a curfew pass or indulged in “stay-in” slumber or pajama parties. We were taught to fear the police and the military, who were formerly seen as servants and protectors of the people. Metrocom or “pulis” replaced “moomoo” as the new bogeyman that yayas used to scare disobedient children. They punished curfew violators and jaywalkers with exposure to the sun or doing an unreasonable number of pushups. In the early days of martial law they rounded up young men with long hair and shaved their heads.
The government before 1972 was depicted as inefficient and corrupt. Officials caught in their old ways were described as “backsliding.” Aside from police and military surveillance, one had to be careful with one’s words; eyes and ears were everywhere to catch whispered criticism of the government, which was penalized as “rumor mongering.” If caught, you ended up in detention at A, B, or C, short for the urban military camps Aguinaldo, Bonifacio, and Crame.
The climate of fear and suspicion I grew up in is far from the “golden age” that some people would have us believe, but for college-age Filipinos born after 2000, martial law is as distant as dinosaurs and cavemen. Why are some of them duped into believing that Marcos was the greatest president? Martial law a golden age? Check Ferdinand Marcos on YouTube to find his 1982 US National Press Club address in multiple channels with views from as low as 37,000 to as high as 1.6 million. Marcos’ version of the past should be fact-checked and commented on fairly, but as it is, we are losing the memory game to the internet and social media.
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