BOOK REVIEW: This book is not about the writers but about the future generation

TITLE: O Susana! Untold Stories of Martial Law in Davao
AUTHOR: 34 authors, edited by Macario D. Tiu
Book design by Shaun Bonje
Artwork by Nonoy Rodriguez
Published by the Ateneo de Davao University Publication Office

The O Susana book is a compilation of 45 different stories by various writers. Each story narrates personal experiences from 1970’s to mid-1980’s – all revisiting the years of Martial Law. (I was born in May 1986, just in time when Martial Law ended and a new administration was ushered.) The book is divided into four (4) interesting chapters. The first chapter, entitled “In the Beginning” captures how at some point in the lives of the writers they found themselves – and each other – in the Susana Building along J.P. Laurel Avenue, Davao City, Philippines.

The second chapter, “Women and Men for Others”, told stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things for their family, friends, community and country. The third chapter, entitled “What We Did”, narrates how faith and love brings out the courageous heroes within – that in times of fear and helplessness, we have God and we have each other to draw strengths from. The last chapter then asks “Was It Worth It?” and here, the stories recount both beautiful and horrendous experiences that have shaped the lives of the writers and those who lived in that era. And, through this book, these stories will forever be etched in history.

This book, as its Editor aptly points out, is the writers’ “best gift to the country”. The book does not approach the Martial Law years as books on Philippine history would. Rather, it talks about stories of real people – ordinary as they may seem, but their love for God and country are remarkable. However, I dare say that this book is not about the writers, but rather about the future generation. It must have been very difficult for them to revisit their experiences during Martial Law, but they nevertheless wrote their stories so that the young Filipinos may know the truth and be reminded about this gloomy part in Philippine history.

As a young Moro, I would like to thank all those who have been involved in publishing this book. I can only wish that our Moro forefathers may also be able to do the same so that people may also know how the Marcos regime and the Martial Law committed atrocities, violence and injustice against our people.

Somehow, I can easily relate with the stories in O Susana, considering that my parents and many other relatives also suffered and survived the Martial Law regime. I realize now, after reading this book, how powerful storytelling can be. My brothers and I grew up with constant storytelling from our parents. My mother recounts how she bravely managed to protect her own parents from being taken away by the military just because they are the only Muslim in the neighborhood. My father, on the other hand, would also tell us about how he, as a young Muslim student, was accused of being a rebel and how he had to be wise in handling the interrogation by the military. And these stories were always coupled with words of gratitude for their neighbors and friends – most of whom were Christians – who extended a helping hand when they needed it most. And I read the same storyline in this book written by Christian Filipinos. Reading this book makes me realize that we are one, after all. The unpeace during the Marcos regime and Martial Law, was not about differences in religion or culture, but only about the greed for wealth, might and power. In my simple imagination, I think if not because of Martial Law, the Moro people may not be feeling such resentment against the Philippine government as they do now.

I thus pose a challenge to both the young and the elderly. For the young Filipinos, try to ask your parents how they were during Martial Law. Did they feel the same fears as most of the writers in this book did? What were the ordinary and extraordinary things they had to endure during the 1970s and ’80s?… And for the elderly (sorry for the term), although this might be sensitive (or insensitive of me), but please, if you can, please tell your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews about your own personal experiences during Martial Law. Only when the young generation realizes that the stories of Martial Law are real and personal will we, the younger generation, also realize that the decisions we make now or in the near future will determine the history of this nation.

And so, again, as a young Moro, I feel blessed having this book so that we may be reminded of that gloomy part of Philippine history. And we are one with you in saying: Never again!

(Raizsa Anayatin, Executive Director of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks, read this piece at the launching of “O Susana! Untold Stories of Martial Law in Davao” on February 19.)