“O Susana” book on martial law sets record: 450 copies sold on launch date

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 February) — “O Susana: Untold Stories of Martial Law in Davao” has set a record in book launchings in Davao City and perhaps the rest of Mindanao: 450 copies sold during its launch on February 19, Dr. Macario Tiu, Director of the Ateneo de Davao’s University Publication Office, the book’s publisher, said.

Tiu told MindaNews a second printing is in the offing as they will likely run out of copies by month’s end, based on the orders they received.The initial print run is 1,000 copies.

Tiu, a four-time Palanca awardee, Professor and historian, is also editor of the 344-page anthology written by 34 church and social development workers who are “alumni” of the Susana Building offices in the 1970s. The authors were then in their 20s and 30s.

SIGNING. After purchasing copies of the book, “O Susana! Untold Stories of Martial Law in Davao,” next stop is to get the authors to sign their copies. Sixteen of the 34 authors of the anthology were present at the book launch on February 19 at the Ateneo de Davao University. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO SIGNING. After purchasing copies of the book, “O Susana! Untold Stories of Martial Law in Davao,” next stop is to get the authors to sign their copies. Sixteen of the 34 authors of the anthology were present at the book launch on February 19 at the Ateneo de Davao University. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Now in their 60s and 70s and still activists in their respective fields, they have finally put into writing that period in history in an anthology, “O Susana! The Untold Stories of Martial Law in Davao,” so that the present and future generations “have an idea how oppressive martial rule was, and to share our reflections on how those times have greatly influenced what we have become.”

In his opening remarks at the launch, Fr. Gabriel Gonzales, Vice President for Academic Affairs, said reading the book not only gives the readers an opportunity to know the authors’ stories but also inspires everyone to share their own stories with the younger generation.

“I hope our very own students will be the first ones to benefit from this,” he said.

“We were very young then,” said Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar, who was tasked to provide the audience a background of the book project.

“You know how the memories play. That’s why we needed to write,” said Gaspar, who has three essays in the book.

It was “not as if we were carrying guns,” he explained to the crowd that cut across several generations, “but martial law made you subversive just because you said the word ‘Justice’ and sang ‘Bayan ko.’”

“We were not the Gabriela Silang, Diego Silang or General Luna types. We were very simple,” he recalled, adding “we did what we did because the situation called for it.”

Susana Building, he said, “became like a sanctuary and a revolutionary area” as various offices were set up there, working and fighting for justice and people empowerment.

Sixteen of the 34 authors were present at the book launch.

Authors Flora Ninfa Santos-Leocadio, Nonoy Rodriguez, Melot Balisalisa, Elvira Ang Sinco, Cesar Ledesma, read excerpts from their essays while Gus Miclat, Jesus Dureza, Pat Sarenas, Raizsa Mae Anayatin and Bitoy Carillo read or spoke about their reflections about the book.

Miclat said the stories easily grab you as they are written from a first-person account. “One can feel the gut, the emotions, the pulsating of life and in a lot of instances—the electrifying brush with death. Be it in a safehouse while being interrogated, in front of a motley band of paramilitary CHDF’s (Civilian Home Defense Force) or in the vortex of two-story high waves about to engulf a puny banca one was riding.”

Miclat said the authors’ stories “are our stories, too.”

Dureza, who finished high school in Digos City with Gaspar and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (now Presidential candidate) shared an anecdote about how the classmates found themselves together in a courtroom years later when Gaspar was on trial for alleged subversion and illegal possession of firearms. “Firearms were planted in the office where we worked,” Gaspar told MindaNews.

Dureza, one of the lawyers of Gaspar, appeared for him during this particular trial while Duterte, then a prosecutor, appeared on behalf of the government. A priest from the Cor Jesu College where the three graduated from High School with Gaspar as Valedictorian and Dureza as 1st Honorable Mention, was also at the trial and summoned the three to a meeting after.

Sarenas, chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks (Mincode), said the authors’ stories “will be out there in the world as we launch the book today and hopefully, their stories will touch the hearts of all the younger generations of Filipinos, born after those dark days under martial law so that they will not join the calls to ‘just forget the past and move on’ and bring back to power the very people who committed/ abetted/perpetuated the many crimes against thousands of Filipinos, the senseless loss of lives and property – salvagings, the kidnappings, the sexual abuse of women,   the state-sanctioned executions, tortures, and intimidation and many other human rights violations, the insatiated greed and the sheer impunity of it all that marked the dictatorial regime.”

She said the stories in this book must serve as a lens to see the reality of the heroes and heroines who dared to fight for the truth, for justice, for freedom.”

Bitoy Carillo focused on four essays in the book written by Remy Arquize-Guillena, Toto Bolcan, Rebecca Jolito, and Nonoy Rodriguez. He thanked his former co-workers at Susana Building for what he has become.

Anayatin, Mincode executive director, said reading the book “makes me realize that we are one, after all,” referring to Muslims and Christians in Mindanao.

“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.”

The book, Anayatin said, is “not about the writers, but rather about the future generation.,” about how, despite the difficulties in revisiting the past, the authors wrote their stories “so that the young Filipinos may know the truth and be reminded about this gloomy part in Philippine history.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / Mindanews)