A (belated) reflection on Martial Law

It is amazing how the mind… glosses over what it considers… unimportant…

I’m technically killing time until 5:30 a.m. (Manila Time), when I have to prepare for work at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Big day today, the 24th of September, since we’re up for defending the Department’s budget at the subcommittee level at the House of Representatives. Given that a lot of things have gotten in the way of habits of the last few years, I’ve barely gotten any time to ponder things that were once of import to me.

I only realized now, that the date for Proclamation 1081 had come and gone… and with nary a whimper, too (I mean, otherwise, I would have heard about it, yes?).

I think it passed my mind sometime last week; despite the really bad hardware, and the infernally-slow Net infrastructure of the DENR, I was, after all, doing monitoring. But since my activity was more… focused than during my years of direct service to the Liberal Party, I suppose I just gave all the writeups and news items leading to the remembrance of Martial Law a passing glance. I’m perpetually deprived of sleep (like right now), and most of the time when I get back to the house I plop down on the bed to chase the Sandman as best as I can. When I wake in the wee hours of the morning, groggy from a hopelessly-screwed circadian rhythm, I don’t have enough energy left to do any “Guardian” stuff.

I am brought back to a conversation I had with the manong driver of the taxi I rode to Greenbelt yesterday (Sunday, since it’s Monday now). He and I got to talking about politics (and, in the Philippines, there are few better gauges for the public mood than Taxi Drivers, I tell you…), and he and I agreed that the political wars of the last seven years have made the people tired of politicking. All the people want, it seems, is to go about their lives in peace, to get the day’s work done and get a bit of downtime after.

This is the thing about importance: in the stress of a world where the boundaries between work and play and rest seem to blur… what becomes important then?

Why has the remembrance of Martial Law gone almost unnoticed? Heck, the collegiate cage wars have probably caused more ripples, so with the just-concluded Sunday being the last day of the Bar Exams (the whole extent of Vito Cruz, from Quirino to V. Cruz proper, blocked from traffic! Bet that screwed a lot of people’s day up, if they didn’t take the time to check the papers).

My parents, who were college students at that time, or just recently graduated (since my kuya was born 1972), haven’t told me anything about how they felt that day. My dad had butted heads with the (future) Dictator when he was still in college, as Managing Editor of The Catalyst, the official paper of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. But from what he told me, those short stints of street activism were cut short by a very nasty reprobation from my grandparents, and the one rally he related to me was when PUP was asking Marcos for the plot of land where their Sta. Mesa campus now stands. Like I keep telling people, the farthest I could recall of Martial Law was being upset over the suddenly-missing video game machines at SM Makati and hearing about Ninoy getting assassinated. This was in the early ’80s already.

What does my generation, and those that followed us, the ones now in college,  remember about Martial Law?

Probably nothing of worth.

Now that Manolo’s post over at Current, as well as a read of Juan Mercado’s piece on Pale Ink and Memory has reminded me of that dark day, I feel once more the emotions and – yes – the concerns that always come to my mind when this topic is brought up.

But that is me. I consciously and willingly threw away my future with the corporations and made advocacy and political action my life starting that “De Mello Morning” in 1998. I fought on the streets in the manner of my generation and my political ideology. Mine was the generation that first went against Estrada over the issue of selfish constitutional change, and mine was the generation that surged into the streets in angry protest over the travesty of justice that the “Craven Eleven” did in 2001.

Even now the members of that generation – the People Power II generation of Filipino youth – can boast of men and women who at least tried in the first few years after graduating from college in 1999 – 2001 of making a difference. Although many of us went corporate, the desire to try and build on the ideals of the Second EDSA was there, and many of us had gone into civil society, some of our best and brightest continuing the work started in college.

But our generation is old now, by the standards of the 21st century. When I look into my Friendster, I see so many schoolmates, classmates, orgmates and generational friends having their status as “married”, or I often hear the term “it’s time to move on” from so many even of the ones who shared the front with me.

And what about the generation that followed? The ones now in college and the ones who graduated in the last 2-3 years?

If Proclamation 1081 were to be announced today, Ferdinand Marcos’ sure and confident cadence ringing over the one and only functional TV station (out of the hundreds you must be used to by now!) , how would you react? Would the young of this generation, of this post-Garci age, storm into the streets and demand its repeal? Or would we, like our parents in 1971, welcome such a move?

How would Generation X and beyond react to the sudden loss of the liberties it takes for granted everyday? Bars, discos and KTVs that close at a time the diwa of most of us are just waking up. Military police conspicuous in the malls we hang out in.

Perhaps the 21st century Marcos will also find a way to firewall the country’s net infrastructure, and suddenly your favorite sites – like You Tube; damn, I’d hit that¬†first if I was the Dictator – and even perhaps the MMORPGs we usually play can’t be accessed. Inquirer.net and PCIJ’s blog are down for the duration. I can also see the list of “targets” for Proc. 1081, c. 2007 include not only print and broadcast journalists but the local punditocracy as well; perhaps the new Marcos will hit Abe Olandres’ servers first, since many of the major pundits are hosted with him, so I was told. Abe would probably be one of the first to be picked up, too, along with Manolo and John Nery, and everyone else whose blog criticized this new Dictator.

The new Marcos would probably hit the celfone service providers, too; he or she would probably remember that what really toppled Erap in 2001 was all those young people texting each other. “News spreads like wildfire” took on a new meaning that day when every young Filipino with a celfone texted his buddies to go out and tell our elders what we think about their lying, conniving and corrupt ways. Suddenly all our signal bars would go down to nothing. You can’t text or call your friends, family, loved ones and – most importantly – your comrades.

Gen-X and Beyond would be deaf, blind and hamstrung (I doubt the New Marcos would figure our elders into the equation as being threats; you’ve seen how they’ve comported themselves since the Garci issue came out, yes?). No Net, no celfone. Our cutting-edge, multi-gig, DSL-linked desktops and laptops nothing more than fancy little toys. Anyone who drives out in their cars gets stopped at the first checkpoint.

What would we do then? Where would we be then, we who have taken for granted the lessons of our own history written in the blood, tears and sweat of so many?

Would my generation find the courage to fight this new dictatorship as it is being birthed, the way we fought corruption made manifest in 2001? Would we find the courage to face someone who, unlike Erap (in fairness to the man), would not hesitate to train guns and tanks at us?

Or would we be held back because we have a cushy corporate job to go back to in the morning, or we have families now to look after? Our elders, despite all the noise and posturing, just weren’t ready in 1972. Manolo’s excerpts from the Marcos Diaries show how long the dictator planned and executed the whole thing. Given all our nation has experienced since that day, are we better prepared?

How do you impart the importance of water to someone who has never lived in a desert? Or the value of each tiny morsel of food to one who, when hungry, need only go to the nearest 24-7 convenience store?

I am from the last generation of Martial Law, the first of the post-People Power I age. I and my cohorts were born in the mid- to late-’70s and the early ’80s.

Yet even we have no idea why Martial Law was frightening, traumatic and wrong.

I fought on the streets of the RIO. I was trained in political action and ideological discussion through my years in civil society and in a fully-fledged political party. In fact, my party was one of the direct victims of Martial Law. Yet, look at the Drilon-led LP’s website: nothing on Martial Law! And during my long education in such stellar institutions like Liceo de San Pedro and Manila Science High School, was I ever taught, during the years of extreme impressionability, what the hell Proclamation 1081 was all about? I only found out about it in college. Late in college. From a school whose young men and women gave their fair share of blood and tears so that freedom would not die.

And even given all that… I forgot. I who had a nightmare of a land under a dictatorship and found out there how frightening it could be. I who was Trained to be a Guardian, who chose that path freely. I forgot.

Because it isn’t important anymore to remember. There are deadlines to meet, a clock to run after, meetings to go to. There is a pile of paperwork that needs to be done. There are bills to be paid, and are the kids ready for school tomorrow? And, dammit, must find time to sleep.

The ramparts are empty now, and those who should have replaced us know next to nothing about why they should be manned, so can they be blamed if they don’t care? Apathy is born not just of a lack of knowledge but of a lack of experience. And today’s young not only lack that experience, but the passing down of the right memories as well.

Should I even be surprised when people say it’s better off to be under a dictatorship?

So when the next Marcos comes along… would it be surprising if he or she catches us unaware, too?

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One Response to A (belated) reflection on Martial Law

  1. Nice blog, I was wondering if you could put a link to my website in your blog/webpage, thanks.

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