‘Martial law really happened, we were there!’
(Editor’s Note: The author, the deputy governor of the Bangko Central ng Pilipinas, delivered these remarks at the relaunch of the book, “Not On Our Watch!” on Sept. 23 at Fully Booked, Bonifacio Global City.)
Our long, but definitely catchy, title raises the logical question, who are we?
Let me speak for myself. I have two sons, Daniel and Abraham, who were born in the late 1980s, years after martial law was dismantled. They have very little idea of what it was like to live in a country where military rule was the politics of the day. My stories sound strange to them. They know of my network of friends: Some, classmates at university, some, partners in the work of spiritual ministry, and some, colleagues in the banking community.
But I have links with the past and our unwritten covenant in the 1970s is now documented in this book, “Not On Our Watch!”
Far from fictional
We are the remnants of a past that some would rather forget. We wrote this book not merely to transcribe this painful past. We wrote it to provide the flesh and the blood behind the narratives. This book is as far removed from fiction as east is from west. It abounds in facts, it abounds in perspectives, it abounds in so much meaning and relevance today.
Martial law, we were there! That immediately established our firsthand testimony. A careful reading of the stories and commentaries would establish in great detail the continuity of events from one story to the other. Internally consistent, all the stories have one resonating message: Martial law was real. The stories capture what we have buried in the depths of the ruthlessness and death and deception that was martial law. In remembering, we are able to share the important message that even during the peak of military dictatorship, we clenched and raised our fists. We said “No! not on our watch.”
How to remember
But how do we remember the things that are important?
The experts argue that mnemonic strategies, contextual learning, repetitive rehearsal and emotional arousal represent the best strategies for remembering. It is easy to forget. Indifference can extinguish one’s memory of a distant past. Preventing truth from coming out is another ground for throwing our memories into the dustbin of forgetfulness. Our book of stories provides us with a colossal basis not to forget, but to remember.
Martial law is the recurring theme of all the stories; martial law is military supremacy over civilians; martial law is Marcial Bonifacio of Ninoy Aquino; martial law is the martial tempo of “Bagong Lipunan” that essayed a military solution to achieve “bagong bansa, bagong galaw, sa Bagong Lipunan.” Even the children were deprived of their favorites, “Voltes V,” “Daimos” and “Mazinger Z.” Martial law is curfew, martial law is Ariel Ureta swearing allegiance to the object of his own joke. This is the mnemonic strategy of not forgetting, but always remembering. These experiences lead to our mind and soul relating the sights of ruthlessness, the sound of torture and truncheons and the smell of death in the prison cells, on the street of Mendiola and the wilderness of military encounters.
Contextual learning comes about with the realization that your friend who stood against the military in defense of the farmers was gunned down in front of his wife and children. It is not easy to forget that a dear friend who was so silent in class but so vocal against the military could be raped and tortured; that she was made to stand on ice and her feet scorched by a very hot iron. It is impossible to forget a fraternity brother who was made to dig his own grave, buried up to his neck and then bayoneted. This is the context of all our stories. We lived to this day to recount our own share of less sordid details.
Yesterday, we saw in the Inquirer a very touching picture of a boy lighting a candle at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City. That provides us with another context for what we are launching today. A candle throws light on a dark night. The lives of those whose names are etched on the granite Wall of Remembrance were the lights during the dark days of military rule. There are, no doubt, thousands more but their names can no longer be remembered, a painful paradox when today we remember and even vote for the names of those who never had the courage to take a stand between 1972 and 1981, or beyond.
We will not fall into the trap of forgetting. We shall continue to remember through repetitive rehearsal. We should write more books about those days when you had no idea who would come through your door, when you were at ground zero not knowing what the uniformed men would do when you were moved from one military camp to another. We should commemorate every year the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, not so much to rejoice but simply to remember, to keep alive the idea that freedom is won and not given, that the future is bought by the past and the present in a continuum of struggle and sacrifice.
We shall never forget because memory is reinforced by emotional arousal. It is not easy to forget because you can still feel the rage and repugnance at being imprisoned in a small cell with occasional visits from a verdugo (hangman); you feel the rage and disgust knowing that while people toiled day and night, the wealth actually accrued to a very few then. The wealth continues to accrue to a very few now.
Those who lived during the martial law dispensation may have their own narratives as those of us who wrote this book. But we wonder whether the rest would have experienced the same rage and revulsion against the cruelty of uniformed men, oppose and protest against the detestable greed of rent-seekers at the expense of the laboring classes.
It is in deciding what to do next in the aftermath that we really begin to think. What did we sacrifice? Many of us risked our lives and our future. Only in hindsight did we realize how risky the struggle for national democracy was.
What is our challenge today? Many of us from the First Quarter Storm found ourselves going back to the mainstream. But the few of us who remained fighting sacrificed their lives and their future. The challenge to us in the mainstream is quite obvious. We need to continue raging against the dying light of patriotism. It is important to keep our hearts focused on national transformation. Should we allow the spirit of institutionalized ruthlessness and violence stalk the land again? We can only say, “Not on our watch!”
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