RAGE AND COURAGE: Mindanao under martial law (2)

2nd of a series

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 September) — On September 21, 2001, exactly 30 years after  then President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos issued the Proclamation that changed everyone’s lives, MindaNews launched “Turning Rage into Courage: Mindanao under martial law,” a book of essays written by Mindanawons from different generations, on their experiences under martial law. The book also included poems and songs of the period.

This year, on the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, we asked several Mindanawons to answer six questions to help us tell the story of Mindanao and the Mindanawons under martial law.  Here are their answers.

Iligan City
Lawyer (former mayor)

1. Where were you when martial was declared in 1972?
I was in Cebu City.

2. What were you doing then?
I was a freshman student at the University of San Carlos, Cebu City.

3.   From whom did you learn that martial law had been declared?
It was my first year basic training in ROTC, Saturday morning, Sept. 23, 1972, and we were supposed to have a formation (training) when the commandant and training officers dismissed us. We were informed that President Marcos declared Martial law, 2 days earlier.

4.   What was the most dangerous thing you did under martial law?
Played cat and mouse with the state intelligence units.

5.   What was the funniest thing you did under martial law?
Move around doing harana in the dormitories even if there was curfew.

6.   How did martial law change your life?
Left a lasting impression that no moral grounds nor state arguments of preventing oligarchy etc., etc. can justify the imposition of martial law, curtailment of civil liberties and imposition of repressive mechanisms.

Redemptorists, Davao City

1.  Where were you when martial was declared in 1972?
I was with the parish team of the Parish of Mati, Davao oriental. We were living in an apartment, about seven minute-walk from the convent. That day of martial law, luckily we were in the poblacion in Mati, and not out there in the hinterland barangays. So we knew immediately when martial law was declared.

2.   What were you doing then?
I arrived there only in April of that year.  I was hired by Fr. Jack Walsh, the Maryknoll parish priest as communications coordinator of the parish. That meant publishing a weekly parish newsletter (mimeographed of course, preparing slide presentations for seminars, giving talks and organizing the youth).
I organized a youth theatre group and a week before martial law, we mounted a play – “Unsay kaugmaon sa atong nasud, Manang Takya” –  at the public plaza with around 2,000 people watching. A squad of PC (Philippine Constabulary, now Philippine National Police – ed) wanted to stop our performance but since there was no martial law yet (there was a lot of buzz that it was going to be declared soon), they could not stop us and we went ahead performing the militant play.

3.  From whom did you learn that martial law had been declared?
In the early evening we heard (from radio) that martial law was declared, I and two other members of our parish team (one ICM nun and one lay worker, both were women) were at our apartment.  We heard at about 5 p.m. that martial law was declared and by 7 p.m. a squad of seven PC men came barging into the apartment to arrest me and my two other companions. We were taken into a PC vehicle and brought to the PC compound to be interrogated.  Fr. Jack Walsh went to see the PC commander and was able to convince him to release us. But we were under house arrest for about three months, meaning we could not get out of our house without his permission.

4.  What was the most dangerous thing you did under martial law?
Not in a position yet to reveal other information… but for now: performing militant plays in public spaces, going on exposure to red areas, hiding subversive materials and even daring to bring some while going through airports.  When in Washington DC during the time of President Carter, met with his minister for human rights and talked to media practitioners across the USA; attended Amnesty International meetings across Europe and Australia; gave talks on human rights situation everywhere from barangays in Mindanao to university halls across the first world countries.  One time as the plane from Washington D.C landed at the Manila International Airport sometime in the early 1980s, I heard police siren wailing down the runway. … I thought they had come to arrest me. Turns out an important government functionary was in the plane and had to be met officially by the military!  Even as it was such a relief, my ego got blasted! Dili man diay ko ana ka importante! Ha ha ha!

5.   What was the funniest thing you did under martial law?
Na-isahan namo ang mga guardia sa military stockade as in, smuggling subversive materials through our relatives who came to visit us!  Funny gyod kaayo every time makalusot! It made us really feel that martial rule – for all its might and power – had cracks that we could exploit!

6.   How did martial law change your life?
If not for martial law, I could have ended up a government functionary by now!  After taking up my MA Economics at the Asian Social Institute in 1981, my priority at that time was to earn as much money as possible and some government agencies offered the best salary. I had applied with NEDA… and they had accepted me. The only problem was that they were going to assign me to the Waray area as there was no vacancy in Davao.

Some of those in my generation thought that possibly entering government agency like NEDA would not just give you a good salary, but you might be inside the agency and make it more responsive to the needs of the poor.

But at that time… there were already winds of change taking place as Marcos was really bent on the option for martial rule. One could not close one’s eyes to what was happening. So even before martial law, I committed to working with grassroots communities in the hope that I could contribute towards changing Philippine society. But having experienced my first arrest on the night when martial law was declared, I guess my life changed and I had never veered away from that basic option to not be on the powerful side, but to journey with the powerless as they seek just participation in decisions that affect their lives.

Prison experience from 1983 to 85 also provided me the time to finally make up my mind regarding joining a religious congregation. If  I did not have that experience, I may not have been pushed to making this option which really confronted me in those prison walls… when one had all the time to ponder, to reflect and to discern what life commitments should I make for the rest of my life! (More tomorrow. Those who wish to share their own answers, please email editor@mindanews.com)