“SA ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.”
How many of you still remember that slogan, which, together with a slew of other slogans and propaganda songs arranged to a marching cadence, hailed the advent of a “New Society?”
I was barely 7 years old and living in Metro Manila when then President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 on Sept. 21, 1972, exactly 40 years ago today. It came into effect two days later, September 23. More ingrained in our national psyche as martial law, it sounded so benign to a wide-eyed child like me back then.
If I’m not mistaken, writer Jessica Zafra, a contemporary of mine, even associated martial law in one of her columns much, much later with a big, bad and unseen woman named Marcia. That was how one imaginative but clueless child dealt with the unexplainable.
I, too, thought that the “curfew hour,” which Marcos’ dreaded Metrocom imposed with Draconian zeal every night, from 12 midnight to 4 a.m., during the earlier part of martial law was the handiwork of a certain Bernardo Carpio, who, it turned out, was the mythical hero of Montalban, Rizal. Oops, wrong Carpio!
I even heard a rumor from old people of how a young and handsome Ariel Ureta (yes, the same guy who’s now “Kimmy Dora’s” ailing and bumbling dad), then one of the country’s most popular TV hosts, was forced by Marcos’ henchmen to do “community service” by biking all day through Camp Aguinaldo.
His supposed sin? The witty Ariel reportedly made a rather harmless joke one day on his noontime show that Marcos (or probably his coterie of sycophants) didn’t find funny. The Arab oil embargo was some years away, but Ariel seemed like a clairvoyant when he declared: “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan!” Well, he got his wish.
Back then, Metro Manila was known as Greater Manila Area or GMA. I don’t know if curfew, which prohibited people from venturing outside their homes unless they had a “curfew pass,” was imposed in the provinces. But it wouldn’t have been farfetched for Marcos to impose it as well in such urban areas as Cebu, Baguio, Bacolod, Legaspi, Zamboanga, Iligan and Davao.
Some of these cities later became hotbeds for communist and Muslim insurgencies, as Marcos’ martial law apparatus tightened its grip on people’s basic freedoms. In the run up to martial law, Marcos appeared concern at the ballooning number of insurgents, and did everything at his disposal to stem the tide. In fact, the burgeoning insurgency was one of his biggest excuses to clamp down on civil liberties and impose military rule.
How could he stop their ranks from increasing, Marcos’ critics, who dared make their voices heard when martial law was later supposedly lifted through such alternative newspapers as We Forum, Malaya, Mr. & Ms. Special Edition and Philippine Inquirer (then a weekly publication), pointed out, when he was the Number 1 recruiter of insurgents by virtue of his misrule? Bereft of legitimate solutions to counter the strongman’s authoritarian government, countless young and idealistic men and women went underground, many never to be heard from again.
Indeed, the declaration of martial law and its immediate aftermath were anything but benign, as Marcos methodically dismantled democratic institutions almost overnight by shutting down mainstream media and rounding up suspected leftist and communist groups, and members of the legitimate opposition, including his then chief rival Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr., President Aquino’s father.
Then on his second and final term, Marcos was supposed to bow out of power in 1973 to give way to a new duly elected president and his government. The elder Aquino was a shoo-in for the position, but that never happened, as the dictator from the north stayed on indefinitely. After bullying the supreme court and thrashing the legislature, he later replaced both senate and congress with a rubber-stamp body called Batasang Pambansa to legitimize his decrees and pronouncements. A cowed supreme court was filled with his appointees.
Back then, you could be shot just because you were either at the wrong place at the wrong time or, worse, a person in uniform didn’t like your face or the tabas of your dila (the way you reason out). Since there were no legitimate avenues for redress, no one expected to get any real form of justice. Surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Marcos’ perceived enemies had become more the rule than the exception.
A dire sense of paranoia pervaded the air as adults talked about Marcos, Imelda and their inner circle in hushed tones for fear that someone might tell on them. It’s funny because we kids seemed to have imbibed the habit when we began looking behind our shoulders first before we cracked jokes about Imelda and Imee, and speculated about matinee idol Alfie Anido’s death allegedly in the hands of the son of one of Marcos’ most powerful sidekicks as we reached our teens.
Thriving newspapers such as the Manila Times and Manila Chronicle as well as radio and TV stations like ABS-CBN were padlocked on the morning of Sept. 23. As a young TV addict, I vividly remember that there was nothing to watch on TV for weeks soon after the declaration. The screen went blank just like that. Our weekly subscription of the Manila Times suddenly stopped. (To be continued)