Reminiscences of martial law: They’ve forgotten date it was declaredBy Maila Ager
These are the highlights of those man-on-the-street interviews and their understanding of Martial law.
MANILA, Philippines—On September 21, the nation will commemorate the declaration of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.
Forty years after, a number of people interviewed by Inquirer.net seemed to have little or zero knowledge of one of the darkest periods in the country’s history.
Most of the students interviewed, including workers and ordinary people who experienced martial law that sparked the 1986 People Power Revolution, don’t even know when martial law was declared.
“Kanino bang presidency po ba yun? (Under whose presidency was that declared?),” asked 17-year-old Fatma Venus, student of Centro Escolar University in Manila.
When told that it was during the Marcos regime, Venus quickly answered, “Ay war talaga yun (That’s really war), girl.”
“Pero maganda daw yung government nun e. The way pag-govern ni Marcos, maganda raw. Pero madami daw namatay doon (But they say the government was better during that time. They say Marcos governed better although many people died that time),” she added.
Her friend and classmate, Myla Levantino, 17, was initially hesitant to answer questions about martial law. “Ayoko, wala akong alam diyan (No, I don’t know anything about that).”
Levantino eventually shared her thoughts about the topic: “Base dun sa narinig ko, kung natuloy daw yung ano ni Marcos, maunlad daw tayo tulad ng Singapore (Based on what I heard, we would have been successful like Singapore had Marcos’ martial law continued).”
Venus stopped her friend and added: “Saka si Marcos daw isa sa pinakamagaling na president ng Pilipinas (And they said Marcos was the best president of the Philippines).”
Like Levantino, 17-year-old Jamela Castillo of the University of Manila hesitant to answer our questions, but her friends pushed her to accommodate the interview.
“E ikaw, ano ang ibig sabihin ng martial law? (What about you, do you know what martial law is?)” Castillo snapped at one of her friends.
When she finally agreed to be interviewed, Castillo enumerated the sins of Marcos who, she said, took full control of the government, depriving Filipinos of their freedom.
“Hindi tayo nagkaroon ng demokrasya ng panahong yun kasi lahat ng sinasabi niya, yun ang nangyayari. Wala tayong kalayaang magsalita. Kung ano lang ang iutos niya, yun lang ang nangyayari at nagagawa (We had no democracy at the time because everything he said, happened. We had no freedom to speak out. Only his orders were followed).”
All three—Venus, Levantino and Castillo—didn’t know when the country commemorates the declaration of martial law.
Marcos comes to mind
For 19-yar-old Yob Onrubia, a mechanical engineering student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, only one person comes into his mind whenever he hears the words “martial law.”
“Marcos agad ang pumapasok sa isip ko (Marcos immediately comes to my mind),” Onrubia said, adding that during that period the military ruled the country led by the late strongman.
The same view was shared by his friend and classmate Justine Rey Osorio, 18. “Sobrang militarized ang form of government (Our government was so militarized).”
Osorio said that according to his parents, Filipinos during martial law lived in fear because many people suspected of going against the government just disappeared.
At 21, Myra Lacania, who is working in a tea shop inside the UP Diliman campus, admits to not having any knowledge about martial law.
“Parang paghihirap yata yun e. Ewan. Nakalimutan ko na (I think it is poverty. I don’t know. I forgot it already),” Lacania said, adding, however, that the subject was taught in high school. She stopped studying after graduating from high school.
Onrubia, Osorio and Lacania have one thing in common. They are also clueless about the martial law anniversary. The same goes for four medicine students of the San Beda College—Jose Bercelon, 25; Edwin Alberto Molina, 24; Margaret Saguing, 25; and Emmanuel Diaz, 25.
“Actually, hindi ko alam (I don’t know),” San Beda’s Molina admitted.
Nevertheless, Molina had something to say about Marcos’ martial law: “Parang negative ang impact sa akin ng martial law. Parang walang masyadong freedom ang mga tao. Para sa akin dapat hindi na masyadong sini-celebrate ang martial law. Pero dapat alalahanin pa rin natin kasi part ng history natin yun at dahil dun, natuto tayo dun ’di ba? (For me, the effect of martial law is negative. The people did not have freedom. We should not celebrate martial law although we should still remember it because that’s part of our history and we learned from that),” he said.
Barcelon also sees the need to commemorate this historic event to remind the people what happened during that time. “It’s better na malaman nila na nangyari yun (that they know that that happened).”
Yes, they may have forgotten the exact date of the martial law declaration but all four San Beda students were aware of the alleged atrocities committed during the Marcos regime.
“Batas-militar (military rule). When you say batas militar, parang ruling party ang president as the head of the government,” said Barcelon.
“Sinabi lang sa amin dati na yung kay Marcos, na yung time na yun, deprived yung mga Filipinos. Parang siya talaga ang nag-rule (We’re only told that during the time of Marcos, Filipinos were deprived. He was the only one who ruled),” Saguing said.
Hard to forget
But for 65-year-old Jose Mamaril, the events that unfolded right before his very eyes during the martial law period are hard to forget.
A retired employee, Mamaril was in his mid-20s when Marcos declared martial law.
“People were somewhat apprehensive of what would happen. That’s the first time I think that people experienced that kind of rule from the president,” Mamaril said.
Mamaril recalled that it was so chaotic then—classes in schools were suspended after the declaration.
“We didn’t have class for one week. The military, I think, was doing some harassment or the like,” he said.
Luis de la Cruz, who was then six years old, had no clear understanding of what was happening around him when Marcos declared martial rule. His little knowledge of that part of history came from his parents.
“Hindi ko masyadong ma-recall pero kinuwento lang ng nanay ko, talagang against sila sa martial law. Hinarang nila,” said Cruz, who is now senior engineer in Marikina.
When asked about martial law, 63-year-old Conchita Padilla, who was then sitting under the heat of the sun at the corner of Legarda street and Recto avenue in Manila, became retrospective.
The words “martial law” brought back memories of how it was then—as if it happened just yesterday.
“Ay noong panahon ni Marcos, nandiyan na kami (We were already here during the time of Marcos),” the street vendor said while pointing her finger toward Legarda, the favorite venue of protest rallies then as now.
“Nakita ko yung maraming tao niloloko ang mga sundalo, nagpaputok ng baril pataas ang isa sa kanila, nagtakbuhan kami (I saw a lot of people, teasing the soldiers; then we heard a shot. We all ran),” she said as she recalled that incident.
But Marcos Cantino, who sells mangoes on Recto avenue, has a different recollection of martial law.
“Parang tahimik…parang walang gulo (It seemed peaceful, no chaos),” Cantino said.
This was also how a 75-year-old typist in Manila, who only identified himself as Angelo, remembered this chapter of his life.
Life under martial law preferred
Despite the apprehensions, alleged human rights violations and other reported atrocities, many of the people interviewed by INQUIRER.net apparently preferred life under martial law or harbored the idea that life during the martial law period was better.
“Oo, napansin ko kasi ngayon sobrang hirap ng buhay (Yes, because I notice that life is harder today),” Padilla lamented. “Kita mo katulad sa akin, may edad na ako, hindi ko nga alam kung paano ako mabuhay (You see like me, I’m already old. I don’t know how to sustain myself by the day).”
Cantino would also rather return to that period when the country, he said, was more peaceful.
“Sa akin maganda, tahimik (For me, martial law was good, peaceful,” he said. “Parang medyo magulo ngayon (It’s a bit chaotic now).”
Mamaril shared Cantino’s observation that people today are more apprehensive now because of the growing number of crime incidents.
He recalled that during martial law, crime incidents were down because of the strict implementation of curfew hours.
“Unlike ngayon, puwede kang lumabas pero ang daming loose firearms. Unlike before (only the) military had firearms,” he said.
What Christelle de Lara knows about martial law was that Filipinos had been deprived of liberty. Yet, this 18-year-old mass communication student of San Sebastian College prefers to live under martial law.
“Ako mas gusto ko sa martial law (I prefer martial law),” she exclaimed.
Kyrvee Penaverde, 18, who also studies in San Sebastian, quickly agreed, saying the economy was better during the Marcos regime.
“Sa ngayon, kahit may freedom ka, parang wala ng tama (Today, even if you have freedom, no one seems right),” he said.
While she is aware of the number of people killed during martial law, 16-year-old Carla Amaro still thinks the country was in better hands under Marcos’ dictatorship.
“Sa pagkakaalam ko mas maganda sa panahon ni Marcos dati. Kahit na maraming buhay yung nasawi but still maganda yung pamamalakad, maganda yung ekonomiya ng Pilipinas (As far as I know, it was better during the time of Marcos. A number of lives were lost but still the administration was better, the Philippine economy was better),” Amara said.
“Ngayon medyo magulo. Walang sistema yung patakaran ngayon. Hindi maliwanag kung paano sisimulan. Parang wala yung progreso na sinasabi (It’s a bit chaotic now. The system is not organized, it’s not clear how we will start. There seems to be no progress),” Amaro added.
Castillo remembered her mom telling her that during the time of Marcos, people who had committed crimes were punished.
“Hindi katulad ngayon, masyado tayong malaya kaya yung mga nangyayari ngayon masyado tayong bukas sa lahat. Lahat tayo nagiging liberated samatalang dati hindi naman. (Unlike now, we are too liberated, we are too open to everything. We have all become liberated unlike before),” she said.
“Tapos mas mahirap ang buhay ngayon kaysa sa dati. Dati mura lang ang bilhin kasi lahat inaano ni Pangulong Ferdinand samantalang ngayon hindi natin nagagawa kung ano ang gusto natin kahit malaya tayo (And then life is more difficult now than before. The prices of commodities were cheaper before. We are free now but we can’t do anything we want even if we are under democracy),” she further said.
Another student of UP, Carl, also prefers martial law.
“Noong time ni Marcos, for me mabuti yun kasi yung Philippines at that time was very good. Hindi naman siya all good, may cons naman pero (It’s not all good, there were also cons but) it had its benefits also,” he said.
“Kasi noong time ni Marcos, ang daming naitayong building. Somewhat umasenso ang Pilipinas,” he continued.
But no matter how bad some people viewed the current state of the country, Barcelon and Diaz would still choose democracy over martial law.
“For me, democracy siguro pa rin kung tama lang yung pagpapalakad. It would be better for Philippines to have democracy pa rin,” said Barcelon.
“Mas gugustuhin ko yung present situation kasi naging part yung martial kung ano ang meron ngayon (I’d rather choose the present situation because martial law is part of whatever we have right now),” Diaz said.
The choice for De la Cruz was simple and that is to enjoy the return of democracy now being enjoyed by every Filipino.
A 52-year-old housewife, who refused to give her name, claimed no recollection of what transpired during martial law but still, she thinks that the present situation is way better than before.
“Siyempre mas maganda naman ngayon,” she said.
This 19-year–old broadcast communication student of UP might still be too young to know much about martial law and yet she talked about it as if she had witnessed the event herself.
In fact, Pauline Requesto was the only interviewee who remembered the exact anniversary date of the martial law declaration.
“The President had full control of all aspects of government. The military was so powerful,” she said when asked about martial law.
And while she finds it interesting to relive what she described as “colorful” history of this nation, Requesto said she would still prefer to live the life under the present set-up.