Memories of Martial Law
The sky roared as F5E jets belonging to the Philippine Air Force aerobatic group Blue Diamonds had a fly by over our small hometown in Mindanao. It was the birthday of President Ferdinand Marcos, my father told us.
This was the early years of Martial Law in 1970s, and my father was still a young sergeant in the Philippine Constabulary. That day was a national holiday and one of those few moments when he could stay home longer. He would later leave us to have his tour of duty in Jolo, Sulu, as part of reinforcement to army troops already sent by Marcos to quell the Moro insurrection there.
I never realized the danger he was facing back then. In fact, I never realized the danger the whole country was facing at all. I was too small to be able to figure it out. All I knew was that Marcos was the richest and most powerful man in the Philippines. And was my father’s boss.
We regularly had a box of medicines labeled MARCOS (Medical Assistance to Rural Communities and Other Sectors). Our community was renamed into Imelda
Village, after the First Lady who came to us during the inauguration. For a while, each family was given a regular supply of instant noodles if they helped clean up the village.
In school, we all learned to sing “Bagong Diwa” during the flag ceremony. Those in high school cleaned the streets and planted trees during weekends. We were all advised to go home early at night before the curfew.
“If Marcos dies, there will be war,” my father told us. My only idea of war were those World War II movies we watch all the time at the local theaters. It was all about good guys shooting the bad guys with their machine guns. And I thought my father would be on the side of the good guys. Our family would be on the side of Marcos.
I had yet no idea who the bad guys were. They always talked about the rebels in the mountain that mothers can often call to kidnap naughty boys. My father always warned our cousin, who was staying with us and taking care of us, never to join the KM or “Kabataang Mugbo,” or those young people making trouble in the streets.
But it was okay to join the KB or Kabataang Barangay which was actively doing civic work in our community.
But my cousin, a rural lass who looked and sang like Nora Aunor, was more interested in joining the live amateur singing contest sponsored by one of the local radio stations. She always won and we listened to her sing on our transistor radio, which was our only source of entertainment, having no electricity at that time.
Later, I would look at drawings of communists persecuting people in different terrible ways in a propaganda pamphlet that my father brought home. It made people choose between life under communism and democracy, with the latter being represented by drawings of happy family going to church or having a picnic.
People also talked about the fierce Moro warriors in the South, who beheaded their enemies with a snake-shaped sword called “kris.” My father brought a kris from Jolo. At other times he also brought home some antique brass containers, ash trays made from sawed-off Howitzer shells, and a couple of empty mortar rounds.
We used the latter as toys after we learned to disassemble them, by simply disengaging the fuse which looked like the command module of the Apollo 11. To our young minds, the mortar shells, still having the smell of gunpowder, were rockets to the moon.
We grew up always with guns around: My lolo’s Winchester hunting rifle hidden behind a wooden post; my father’s .45 caliber pistol on top of the cabinet and his newly-issued M16 under his bed. It was important that guns should be within reach as it later became common for the Sparrow unit, the communist assassins, to strafe the homes of soldiers.
As raids and ambuscades by the New People’s Army became more and more frequent outside the city, people talked about the danger of going through checkpoints and suspected of being a communist. There had been cases of civilians arrested without warrant or summarily executed for simply not being able to bring their cedula or residence certificate.
There was no way that relatives can demand that the military produce the suspects as the writ of habeas corpus was still suspended. And media, which was controlled, were not likely to report them.
Things got worse in the following years. I remember that night when we watched the news of Ninoy’s assassination on TV (we finally had electricity when I was in Grade 3) and the mass of people that attended his funeral. The rebels became more aggressive as they began attacking municipal halls and army detachments.
My father retired from military and started to join the opposition rallies. He actively campaigned for Cory during the snap elections in 1985. This surprised some of his comrades in the military who remained loyal to Marcos.
Finally, when I was in high school, news came of the People Power in EDSA that eventually drove the Marcoses out of the country. And no, it wasn’t war but a peaceful revolution.
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