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Love and marriage in the time of martial law

03:34 AM September 24, 2015
Heherson Alvarez with wife Cecile Guidote. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Heherson Alvarez with wife Cecile Guidote. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

(First of two parts)

I was at the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) theater in Fort Santiago on the late afternoon of Sept. 21, 1972, to conduct a director’s laboratory session. Nobody knew that the dictator Ferdinand Marcos had chosen this date to impose martial law.

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At about that time, my boyfriend Sonny (Constitutional Convention delegate Heherson Alvarez), was at a forum at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City with Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. where Oplan Sagittarius, the just uncovered plot to declare martial law, was the topic of discussion. Ninoy and Sonny traveled to Manila together, Ninoy to the Hilton for another engagement, and Sonny to Fort Santiago to pick me up for dinner and take me home. (We lived a few streets from each other in Quezon City.) However, the production I was working on had some trouble spots which needed more time to resolve. Thus, I could not join him for dinner and told him not to wait for me.

Sonny said that since he was not taking me home, he would go back to his Quezon City office—the Constitutional Convention (ConCon) assembly and offices had been recently transferred from the Manila Hotel to Quezon City—and most probably sleep there and finish a speech which he was to deliver the next day.

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Frantic calls

But before he left, he gave me his newly installed office phone number. When I got home just before midnight, I was told Lupita Aquino, Ninoy’s sister, had been frantically calling me. I returned the call and Lupita warned that martial law had been declared and that Ninoy had been arrested. Everybody in the opposition is being jailed, Lupita said, so I do not know Sonny’s situation. I was struck with fear and exclaimed: “Oh my God! He just left Fort Santiago about 7 p.m. and would be staying in his (ConCon) office. They would surely arrest him in his house. But luckily, he is not there. Hopefully, they have not found him. I must try to reach him.” I hung up.

I called Sonny in the nick of time. He was able to leave his office and go to a woman delegate’s office to hide, but they were all girls there. He ended up in the office of another ConCon delegate, Sotero Laurel. Sonny said his heart was beating so fast when he heard soldiers going up the stairs and banging on his office door. They found no one in his office but took documents. He was safe for the moment. It was an act of Divine Providence.

When the coast was clear, he called. We arranged to converse in code words. I would not know where he was except when he would call. Fortunately, there were friends who were not afraid to accommodate him for short periods. He was embarrassed to stay longer than 2 to 3 days because he would notice fear and tension while he was around. He certainly did not want to abuse our friends’ courageous welcoming gesture.

Coded conversations

Sonny had to go underground and it was a more nerve-wracking experience because I could not call unless a number was left for “Sister Carolina” to return the call. It was always a number that changed, from “Father Joseph.” There were a series of different names he would use as we deciphered messages within a conversation ostensibly about religion.

It was equally worrisome for me at Fort Santiago. I found out that soldiers had come to the theater and there was even a running cat-and-mouse game because wearing a wig was unacceptable just like long hair was forbidden in Marcos’ New Society. I was worried for the safety of the artists because of me. I did not want the Peta productions to be stopped. We wanted to proceed as normally as possible.

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I realized I was being watched and at times, maybe being trailed. I also noticed that my letters were not arriving. When a letter would arrive, it was already opened. I had a telephone call from New York. Ellen Stewart, theater director and founder of the La MaMa theater company in New York, was very concerned about what was happening. “Why are you not answering. You are invited to be a consultant of the International Theater Institute (ITI) to observe and evaluate ethnic minority events and programs and to make your recommendations to a congress in Russia,” she told me.

When I replied that I never received the invitation, Ellen knew something was wrong. About five days later, Ellen called again and said a copy of the invitation had been sent through the American Embassy which would have it personally delivered to me.

From that time on, I had to be even more careful and was more than ever paranoid.

Like 007 operation

If I had to see Sonny for some very urgent matters, it was like a 007 operation. I would take my brother’s car and then have a friend’s car in a different exit waiting for me. I also had a bag with a different shirt and skirt plus a wig. I would enter, for instance, the Cartimar Market and go to a bathroom. I would then leave from another exit as a different person riding a different car. It was tedious and stressful, demanding tremendous stamina, creativity and determination to avoid detection. I had to be particularly careful not to endanger the friend who was Sonny’s host and was preventing him from being captured.

Commission on Elections Chair Jaime Ferrer warned me to make sure that Sonny would not be caught. He said he had a conversation with an official who said Sonny was going to be jailed until his hair turned white. Ferrer was very protective of me. He was my father’s comrade in arms in the Hunters Guerrillas (a Filipino ROTC guerrilla unit active during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines). He was also very supportive when Sonny ran as an independent candidate in Isabela for the ConCon.

When Sonny’s colleagues in the ConCon would ask me about his whereabouts, I would give a regular “dedma” response. One day, Arthur Macapagal, a good friend of Sonny and fellow trustee in the Scholarship Foundation of the Filipino Youth (SFFY), sent word for me to make sure that Sonny attended a meeting of the Liberal Party at the house of his father, former President Diosdado Macapagal, who was the ConCon president.

It was another cloak and dagger scenario to pick up Sonny from where he was hiding and transport him in a big van where he lay flat on the floor between chairs covered by black cloth and topped by a box of books. Thus undetected, Sonny entered the Macapagal residence at Forbes Park for the confidential meeting. Sonny was designated to escape the country to work in organizing a resistance movement overseas. Auspiciously, Sen. Raul Manglapus was outside the country for a speaking engagement when martial law was declared. Sonny was assigned to join up with him in America to change public opinion in the United States and to expose the error of support for the dictatorship. Sonny was apparently chosen because he was a bachelor, young and considered competent to undertake this “mission impossible.”

Escape plan

A very good friend, Ricky Delgado, also a trustee in the SFFY, whose family was in the shipping business, got hold of a Mr. Lawson who was sympathetic to our freedom cause. Lawson put us in touch with the Greek captain of a ship. At the time, Greece was also under a dictatorship. Capt. Stephanos Livanos kindly agreed to take Sonny in as a stowaway in the ship going to Hong Kong but it would be our job to get Sonny into the ship incognito. The escape had to be planned on a date when the ship would be docking at a Manila pier for refueling before leaving for Hong Kong en route to other Asean countries. The schedule for the

escape was mid-November.

I had a surprise visit from Sonny’s mother and father. They were very worried and upset. His mother was in tears and begged to be connected with Sonny. They hadn’t seen him and heard from him since the declaration of martial law. They were being pressured constantly in Santiago, Isabela, to reveal where their son was. They kept on explaining during the seemingly neverending interrogation visits that they were totally ignorant of his whereabouts. His father asked if there was any way they could meet with him. I said that there was no easy way. I myself would just get messages and a call with the address of a meeting place.

Heartbreaking farewell

Empathizing with a mother’s heart, I tried to arrange a meeting. After two days of waiting, a brief meeting was finally arranged in a secret place. His father wanted Sonny to really reflect on the situation. Naturally media had been closed down so there was no real appreciation of the situation. It was a continuous “praise release” and it was possible for people to become mesmerized or begin to believe about the grandeur of the New Society.

Sonny apologized profusely for all the anxiety and difficulties that his parents were facing because of him. He revealed his decision to escape and work on setting up an opposition movement overseas.

His father, Capt. Marcelo Alvarez, advised that Sonny should think about whether he should leave when he could bend like the bamboo with the wind and strike at the right time. His father was a guerrilla fighter during the Japanese Occupation where he was wounded and took a whole year to recover from his injuries. His mother, Juanita Turingan, was a teacher. She told Sonny: “Do what you believe is right. Always follow your conscience. And don’t forget to pray.”

(That was the last time Sonny would see his father who eventually succumbed to a heart attack after his son and Sonny’s brother, Marsman, was brutally tortured, his eyes gouged out, his tongue cut and his head bashed. The mangled body was thrown in the churchyard of Santiago, Isabela.)

The dialogue ended in a heartbreaking farewell scene that I could not begin to conceive as an artistic director. Sonny in tears hugged his parents who were also crying. His mother uttered a wail, “Ay anak ko, agingat ka kuma (My son, please take care!),” as she kissed and blessed him. His father, after a tight embrace, in a soldier’s fashion, gave him a salute with the words, “Vaya con Dios (Go with God).”

Matrimonia conciencia

Sonny told me that since he would definitely be leaving the country, it would be best for us to get married.

Father James Reuter suggested a matrimonia conciencia. In church canon law, it means a marriage characterized by the absence of advertising in the processing of the marriage certificate and its subsequent registration in the Civil Registry for urgent and serious cause.

It meant that “nobody would know about the wedding” because there would be no public announcements. There would be no reception. What was important was that I remained in the view of everyone still single while Sonny was in the underground, with an arrest order. Bishop Perez of Imus, Cavite, a good friend of Father Reuter, consented to allow the use of the sacristy with Father Reuter presiding over confidential marriage rites. Ricky Delgado arranged to bring Sonny to Cavite. I picked up Father Reuter at his Xavier House office in Sta. Ana on the pretext of a theater workshop where we were both speakers.

The wedding ceremony was brief. I was in blue; he was in a simple checkered shirt when we were declared man and wife, sealed with a kiss. We did sign a certificate that was kept in the vault of the church. There was no carbon copy to ensure nobody would know. For all intents and purposes, he was a bachelor and I was still single, claiming that if only there was no martial law, I would be married on my appointed wedding date in December. Father Reuter rode in my car to return to Sta. Ana. Sonny and I used Ricky’s car. We were driven to the Hilton Hotel through the basement straight to the elevator to an appointed room that was booked in advance under a different name.

We had two nights together. We never left the room. We had room service until the time when he was scheduled to leave as a stowaway in the ship. For 48 hours, we were locked in each other’s arms. He never tired kissing my face, my neck, my hands since he said he was saving up for the days and months that we would be apart until the day that we could normally be together and build a family.

My tears were flowing; he gently wiped them and recharged my memory.

“Remember after the successful first congress of Peta in April 1967, in a date where I was showing you around the UP grounds after dinner, I stole a kiss. I didn’t expect your reaction. You cried.” He laughed at the recollection and admitted he sort of panicked as he hugged me and stroked my long hair and said, “Don’t cry, I will be kissing you for the rest of my life.” I was laughing at his confession. He kissed me passionately yet so tenderly and whispered: “That is a promise, Mrs. Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez. Yes, for the rest of my life, I will be kissing you.”

Disguised cargo

Dr. Alejandro Roces, besides being Unesco chair, was director of Gin and Co., a publishing house, somewhere in Ermita, so I arranged for Sonny to be at his office. I also contacted a makeup artist at Peta, Len Santos, to go there and work at changing his looks so that he could look and act like a “kargador” at the pier. Once he is able to enter the ship, there would be a specified place for him to stay. It was a well-designed, cloak-and-dagger plan. When I saw him, acting normally as a crewmember carrying his luggage and entering the ship, I left and went to the Malate Church. For almost two hours, I was on my knees praying, until hopefully the ship would be far out in the middle of the sea where he would not be found out. Thank God. It was a successful operation and he reached Hong Kong safely.

Sonny had two passports that we fixed with his picture. One had him as Eduardo Pescador, and as a safety net, an alternative document under the name Jose Purisima. They were the names of two Peta actors who would have gone on a Peta European tour, except that a huge typhoon occurred in

August. Roces, as chairman of the Peta board, talked with the Kalinangan Ensemble to give up our tour and donate the money back to the government for the assistance to the victims of the typhoon. The flood in front of the Philippine General Hospital reached the waist level. The tour was canceled. It was a painful decision for the actors and actresses. They were absolutely disappointed. However, we always pointed out, that country first was the principle to be followed.

(To be continued Friday)

 

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TAGS: Cecile Guidote Alvarez, Heherson Alvarez, love and relationship, Martial law
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