Remembering the 1970s
Sepia is a color we associate with very old photographs. In my research I associate sepia with faded studio photos of the late 19th century. Thus, I was surprised when the Inquirer ran a photo showing an anti-Marcos demonstration with the late Lorenzo Tañada in the center doing a “kapit-bisig” with Cory Aquino, Etta Rosales, Behn Cervantes, and a few others who could not be identified. The original photo must have been shot in black-and-white, but to give it a “historic” look all that was needed was to select sepia on Photoshop. I was in the fourth grade when martial law was declared four decades ago, and when I sat down to remember what we were taught in social studies class before it morphed into “araling panlipunan” to “makabayan” and back again to “araling panlipunan,” these were some of the memories of the 1970s that flashed back.
Pope Paul VI, dubbed the “Pilgrim Pope,” visited the Philippines in November 1970 and survived an assassination attempt upon arrival at the then Manila International Airport. Disguised as a cleric, Bolivian painter Benjamin Mendoza attacked the Pope with a knife. Vatican news said one of the bishops pushed him away, but another version of the event that happened so fast is that Ferdinand Marcos delivered a timely karate chop that saved the Pope’s life. In his defense, Mendoza later claimed he meant no harm and that his act was actually “symbolic.” The Pope’s inner circle knew the blade actually hit its mark and would have been fatal if not for a neck brace hidden in the Pope’s robes. In December 1972 Imelda Marcos also survived an attack from a knife-wielding man. Gunned down by presidential security, the would-be assassin’s motive will never be known.
There were a number of diversions in the 1970s aside from pornographic films known as “bomba” (bomb). In 1975 the historic Ali-Frazier fight was held at the Araneta Coliseum that was once the largest of its kind in the world. One of the most brutal boxing matches in history, it is better known as “The Thrilla in Manila.”
Aurora Pijuan was crowned Miss International in 1970 and Margie Moran came home from Athens as Miss Universe in 1973. Manila hosted the Miss Universe Pageant in 1974 in the hastily constructed Folk Arts Theater at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex. The Folk Arts Theater would be followed by other structures especially built for other international events: the Philippine International Convention Center, Manila Film Center, Philippine Plaza Hotel, and Coconut Palace. A construction boom would change the skyline, especially in Makati, a former swampland that replaced Escolta as the nation’s commercial and business district.
In 1974 a Japanese straggler, Hiroo Onoda, was found hiding in Lubang island. He had not been told that the Japanese surrendered in 1945, ending World War II. Also in the news was the discovery in a Mindanao rainforest of a long-lost Stone Age people, the Tasaday. This produced a worldwide sensation in 1971, but would later be exposed as a hoax.
Student unrest that began in the late 1960s spilled into the first years of the 1970s, starting the decade with protest marches and demonstrations that turned violent when dispersed by the police with truncheons and tear gas. Protesters retaliated and provoked the government forces by hurling invectives, rocks, and homemade explosives called pillboxes and Molotov cocktails. A running battle on the street leading to Malacañang was called the Battle of Mendiola, and the closest the students got was when a commandeered fire truck was rammed into one of the Palace gates. It marked the first in a series of events now remembered as the First Quarter Storm. The Kabataang Makabayan (KM) would dominate universities, gaining prominence over older student associations such as fraternities, and sororities with Greek-letter names.
After winning an unprecedented second term as president in 1969, Marcos was barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term in 1973. But opportunity appeared when a Constitutional Convention opened in 1971. Carlos P. Garcia, elected president of the convention, died of a heart attack and was replaced by Diosdado Macapagal. Scandal marred the drafting of a new Constitution: Eduardo Quintero, delegate of Mrs. Marcos’ hometown Leyte, claimed that delegates had received cash bribes so that Marcos could run for a third term as president.
On Aug. 21, 1971, an explosion disrupted a Liberal Party rally in Plaza Miranda, leaving the political opposition literally in shambles. Marcos was quick to blame the communists for the attack, and reacted by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Marcos claimed that the state was threatened by economic and political instability, student unrest, the communist insurgency in Luzon and the Muslim secessionists in the South. The setting for martial law was in place.
Marcos signed Presidential Decree 1081 placing the Philippines under martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, but it was not implemented until two days later following the ambush on the defense minister whose bullet-riddled car was shown to the public. In 1986 Juan Ponce Enrile admitted this was all done for show.
From all these memories history will emerge, and the questions that stare the historian of martial law in the face will be: What do we remember? What should we remember, and why?
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