A personal history of Martial Law

By: Radel Paredes May 07,2016 - 08:35 PM


I was born in the year before Martial Law was declared so my childhood was spent in the shadow of the dictatorship. My father was a young sergeant in the Philippine Constabulary at that time. Marcos pampered the soldiers, of course, so we were among the privileged families.

We lived in a community that was originally meant for those in the military. It was later renamed Imelda Village, as it became one of the model communities of the First Lady, who was also in charge of government housing projects. She attended the inauguration of our village when she came to Surigao City. That was how we saw her.

Our community had its own talipapa or little market, a big kiosk, a playground, a children’s library and even a jeepney and bus terminal with eateries and shops. Residents were given packs of noodles when they helped sweep the streets or clean up.

The community organization got funding from government and revenue from terminal fees and shop rentals. Its leaders were hardcore Marcos loyalists who became instantly rich during their term. Aside from the usual combat gear, my father regularly received a box of medicines labeled MARCOS (Medical Assistance to Rural Communities and Other Sectors). Our neighbors sometimes asked medicines from us because they knew we always had supplies. Life seemed good.

But soon, things started to look bad. We saw our neighbor, a young army officer, arrive in a metal casket. He was killed in an ambush in Cotabato. Another neighbor went to the hills. My father always talked about his comrades in the military who were either killed or injured in recent clashes. Sometimes, he would be roused from deep slumber to answer the call of duty. They would be sent to reinforce troops trying to repel a rebel attack close to the city.

The NPA started to strafe the homes of military members and my father decided to cover our windows with cabinets and slept with his fully-loaded M16 under his bed. We learned how to help him disassemble and clean his rifle. We played with his pistols when he was not around.

Our relatives who lived outside the city always expressed anxiety going through the checkpoints as anyone caught without a cedula was immediately arrested. A lot of ordinary folks were imprisoned for mere suspicion. Some were even killed while others simply disappeared and were never seen again.

The media, of course, were silent over these incidents. The local radio worked for State propaganda as Marcos called for his brand of “developmental” journalism (report only the positive news).

We listened to radio drama about the heroism of the military in battles against the communists and Moro rebels. Paid commentators attacked the communists and the opposition daily. One of them, who would later live in the house next door, was injured when NPA assassins fired at him right in the announcer’s booth.

So your relative could be arrested without warrant and you could not even ask to see him or her, as the writ of habeas corpus (our right to demand that authorities show us the person detained) was lifted. And no one could hear about such “negative” incidents as media was censored.

Marcos dissolved the legislative branch and placed his people in the Supreme Court. He installed a puppet Batasang Pambansa and changed the government into a Parliamentary one with him as head. So he could now issue his own Executive Orders and Presidential Decrees and there was no one to check on him. He held both legislative and executive powers. He had thus fully become a dictator.

Business was limited to cronies and media (also owned by cronies) was censored and controlled. There was Anti-Subversion Law which allowed authorities to make warrantless arrests on anyone suspected to be subversive. This included mere possession of banned books, like anything by Marx or Lenin. Those who came out to join street demonstrations risked arrest. Curfew was enforced. My father always warned our cousins not to join the Kabataang Makabayan, which bravely held street protests before it went underground after a series of arrests of its members.

Things got worse after Ninoy was killed. The NPA raided police stations and army camps and took over municipal halls. Ambushes and other clashes became more and more frequent.

You saw bullet-ridden and burned military vehicles left along the road as you traveled outside the city. Once, our class was interrupted when military choppers landed on the soccer field next to our school to evacuate several dead and injured soldiers. There were military checkpoints and sandbagged installations everywhere.

There were rumors of the NPA planning to attack the military camp in the city, which was now heavily militarized. That was how they kept peace and order.

Finally, in 1985, my father decided to leave the military service for early retirement. Amidst all the atrocities being done by the military to civilians, he felt he could not serve the regime anymore. The nation was polarized by the Snap Elections and my father chose to support the opposition, openly campaigning for Cory.

Our community became a microcosm of the nation being split into two camps: our village leaders defending the Marcoses and most of the residents who wanted change. The nation was so polarized by politics. Families were torn, friendships broken. Following my father, most of our clan sided with the opposition.

We all rejoiced when we heard the news of the EDSA People Power. We watched the events in Manila in our bulky black and white TV or listened to the radio, which was blaring almost nonstop in those four days of the Revolution. We also joined the rallies being held in Surigao in support of those in Manila.

When victory came, we joined the big parade celebrating the return of democracy to our country. I still recall how, with my brothers and friends, I helped drop a bag of confetti on the parade from the second floor of the Grand Stand building overlooking the main street.

It thus gives me goose bumps now to learn about a presidential candidate threatening to shut down Congress if it gets in his way. And he is not even president yet. But he could be in the next couple of days. If we allow it.

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TAGS: Cotabato, election, Marcos, NPA

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