THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Cursing the darkness: A lesson from Martial Law years

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 4 Aug) – For a while there, PNoy seemed testy and irritable, impatient perhaps about not getting things moving as he wishes, or upset at criticism he feels unwarranted—particularly on his claim of good faith in unleashing the disbursement acceleration program or DAP to improve government performance and energize the economy.

Fortunately, he had the good sense to chuck what was getting to be de rigueur in his annual state of the nation addresses (SONA), namely, carping about Gloria or other pet peeve.

Still, his manner (body language? the language of his alter egos?) rebukes critics for undue fault-finding. How can anyone ascribe bad faith to my acts, seems his message, stop cursing the darkness, you guys!

Well, he should do a little discerning so he’ll snap to and realize that criticism, or cursing, isn’t always bad. Like his claim of good faith about DAP, criticism and cursing can also spring from good intentions.


In mid- to late 1950s, one of the major youth groups in the country was the Student Catholic Action (SCA). Joe Concepcion of National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) fame was its prime mover. SCA’s motto was: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

It was a great motto; still is. Students and student councils nationwide responded to it, fired up—especially after President Magsaysay’s plane crashed in Cebu in 1957 and fears about a dark future loomed in the minds of many.

Among the campus vanguards of that movement were Raul Roco of Ateneo de Naga, later senator; Art Panganiban of Far Eastern University, later Supreme Court chief justice; Louie Lagdameo at U.P., later Christian Democrat ideologue; and quite a few in schools throughout Mindanao and Visayas including the Mindanao Ateneos of Cagayan, Davao and Zamboanga.

Lots of candles were lighted in those years, illuminating many hearts and minds, multiplying through the 1960s as teach-ins became the vogue in campuses and youth hangouts, then gaining urgency as Ferdinand and Imelda emerged on the scene, which caused dire forebodings of the future.


The movement gained momentum as that decade wore on, leading to the conflagration known as the First Quarter Storm (January 1970) when it became clear that Marcos had stolen the elections two months before.

Even PMA graduates joined the Student Catholic Action movement and joined hands to add heft to the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) right up to the take-over of Malacañang.

It was a glorious event for that generation—which included Raul Manglapus and his Christian Social Movement and Ed Olaguer with his Light a Fire Movement. There was a Pentecostal outpouring as activists discovered how mighty is people power if enough citizens would only light a candle for reforms even in their own way.

But most other Filipinos weren’t clear on what reforms to push and simply went along with whatever wind was blowing, neither cursing the looming darkness nor lighting a candle.


The first term of the Marcos presidency had got them used to the twilight illumination of political patronage, causing them to act like sheep as they were led by Marcosian operatives serving as their shepherds.

Naturally, the Filipinos-turned-sheep were fair game to the self-styled shepherds (greedy trapos and posturing martinets actually) who kept them in darkness till they were herded to election precincts for his second term.

Alarmed, the candle-lighters tried to wake the masses from their sheep-like trance, explaining that their docility was emboldening master sheepherder Ferdinand to stampede them into the corral called Martial Law.

Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno, Raul Manglapus, Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Concepcion, Luis Jose, the Jesuit “mafia” of Frs. Pacifico A. Ortiz and Jose Blanco, Ed de la Torre and Ed Garcia, Evelio Javier, Gaston Ortigas, Ramon Tagle, Bonifacio Gillego, Alfredo Salanga, and many others including myself sounded alarms at the gathering clouds that were closing in.


But the sheep—a.k.a. docile Pinoys who neither cursed nor lighted a candle—didn’t listen. In fact by a twist of irony, they perverted the very motto that produced modern heroes and dismissed the candle-lighters by saying: “Stop cursing the darkness; join us!” They didn’t see that to protest against the Forces of Darkness was to light a candle.

So it came to pass that early on Saturday, 23 September 1972, the Filipino people woke to the strains of Martial Law, signed and proclaimed the night before, while all the candle-lighters were hauled off to military camps or killing fields.

The moral of this story? Learn to distinguish between the darkness and the Forces of Darkness!

Protesting and criticizing malignant Forces is the candle you light to hold back the actual darkness, to warn its instigators that they can’t sneak up on you.


But many Filipinos still miss the point, the Malacañang occupant included. They think criticizing corruption is cursing the darkness. They’re wrong.

The darkness is the squalor, the misery, and the injustices caused by the Forces of Darkness—at City Hall, in the Capitol, in Malacañang, in Congress—where those who manage our society’s affairs and finances cause the maldistribution of resources that leave so many poor, needy, and victimized citizens out in the cold.

Let’s be clear about this: There’s really no point in cursing the darkness; instead, rage against the Forces of Darkness! That’s the way you light a candle. Light one and make it difficult for the Forces of Darkness to sneak up on you like Marcos and Juan Ponce Enrile did the night Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081.

PNoy can surely do better by viewing criticism as a healthy sign that democracy is alive and well, that leaving the Forces of Darkness unperturbed today is to enable the former Martial Law Administrator and his ilk, as well as the scion and other stragglers of the Conjugal Dictatorship, to return with a vengeance and reestablish their interrupted reign of greed once more.

That is one lesson to learn from the Martial Law years.

[Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc.]