Thursday, March 24, 2005

My Memories of the Marcos Dictatorship Are Semi-Happy Ones

(I wrote this years ago for my old newspaper column in the Inquirer's Cebu Daily News. I guess it is the right day to link to this again.)

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. asks Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to swear to be as 
shamelessly corrupt and unrepentant as his father.

I was in second grade, walking to Cebu Normal School with my mother. We reached the corner of P. Del Rosario and Jones Avenue. We were crossing P. del Rosario, near the Sto. Rosario Church, when my mother stopped. She stopped because she had seen the writing on the wall -- literally, across the street. Scrawled in large, rough and bloody-red letters on the wall of what was then the Boy Scouts compound was this unfinished sentence: "Marcos fascist imperialist pupp..." Whatever anti-Marcos, anti-fascist and anti-imperialist sentiments the person who painted those words could have stirred in my eight-year old mind were never stirred that day because they were immediately overcome by something more important to my Grade 2 curiosity: what had the vandal meant to write -- "puppy" or "puppet"?

"Puppy," I concluded. "Puppet" was possible but "puppy" made more sense. It made more sense to me and my Grade 2 knowledge of political science. My very first ideas about political science came from my mother. For instance, my mother informed me -- while Marcos was still dictator and when informing your elementary school son anything about Marcos that Marcos didn't want your son to know, was done in whispers, even at home -- that Sergio "Serging" OsmeƱa was labeled 'Serging-iring' or 'Serging the cat" by pro-Marcos politicians because Serging himself had accused Marcos of being an itoy or puppy. How amazing, I thought at the time. It was amazing that adults did exactly what we were doing in elementary school: provoking our schoolboy enemies by taunting them with some pejorative-sounding label that rhymed with their names. The rhyme was really hilarious -- Serging iring, Serging iring, I repeated to myself over and over. (Last week, my mother had to remind me to stop it already.)

And now, at the corner of P. del Rosario and Jones Avenue, at the crossroads between going to school and going home to watch cartoons all day  now that Martial Law had been declared, here was another example of the kind of name-calling I could do all day: calling Marcos a fascist and imperialist puppy. Painted in English as anti-government graffiti, "Marcos fascist imperialist puppy" did not obviously sound anti-Marcos at all.

It would have in fact sounded cuddly and thus, Marcos-huggingly strange. It would have made the New People's Army seem like they were looking for a lost puppy, a cross-breed of Marcos and fascist features, with more tricks than any old dog may have ever had. Had anybody ever thought of writing that on an anti-Marcos placard, he would have been expelled from the Communist youth group Kabataang Makabayan (or 'Nationalist Youth'). So they opted for "Marcos Hitler diktador tuta," which sounds really taunting and doesn't suggest any other image but that of a small dog with a toothbrush mustache.

Of course, I cannot now claim that all those ideas were running through my head in the less-than-a-minute that my mother and I had spent while stopped at the corner of P. del Rosario corner Jones Avenue. I was just a kid. Martial Law had apparently been declared around that week. Newspapers were closed. People were nervous. I was laughing at 'Serging iring'.

I must confess that my memories of Martial Law are memories I thought I might have had, confused as I am about exactly what I was doing when Marcos appeared on TV, read his own Proclamation 1081 and made such words as "therefore," "wherefore" and "hereby" sound not only pompous but downright menacing. But I do remember that life went on -- for me, my mother and my Grade 2 classmates.

Of course, we were all now required to exercise every morning and sing the 'Bagong Lipunan' ('New Society') song. We were also told to take an oath of allegiance to the New Society -- which confused me even more since it was the name of a bakery near our neighborhood. What? Why should I swear loyalty to a place that ran out of pan de sal by 8 a.m.?
I was arrested in November 1984
and then released a few days later

Several years later, I was in college, Marcos was still President and I, the Grade 2 boy of years gone by, was beaten up by the Philippine Constabulary, taken to Camp Lapu-Lapu and charged with subverting the Marcos dictatorship through 'public disturbance.' 

My mother tried to visit me in detention and she could not because the fascist imperialist puppy had become a vicious dog and would kill a thousand boys and their fathers and mothers, too, before he was finally driven away.

Post-script: a few years ago but years after I wrote this, my three children (we now live in the US, where I work for a human rights non-government organization) were so anxious about visiting the Philippines with me because they grew up believing their father would be re-arrested by Marcos. "Marcos is dead," I assured them. "But Imelda is still alive," the eldest boy, now 13, would respond, since he was the one who knew enough about the past to be nuanced about his fears. "She is old, too," I would say, although it was never enough to assure him. But now there is Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his defiant denials of what his family did; Marcos Jr., his sisters and all of their immediate families are as complicit in these crimes as their dead dictator-father and their half-dead mother because they continue to live off and profit politically and economically from money for which thousands of Filipinos were tortured, killed and disappeared. 

I'm proud of the work I did in the Philippine government commission that prosecuted the Marcoses for corruption and recovered more than $680M of their ill-gotten Swiss bank accounts and prouder still that $200M of that money is now to be used to compensate the tens of thousands of the dictatorship's victims, along with a museum to remember their sacrifices. They sued me for criminal libel for that work -- even managing to bribe corrupt court officials to have me arrested (which explains in part why I ended up studying and working abroad).  Looking at where we are now, I cannot honestly tell my children that the nine-year old boy whose innocence about what 'dictatorship' meant was shattered many times over later in life by the death and disappearances of his friends and comrades - and by his own days and experience of abuse in detention -- has finally given up fighting the Marcoses at this age in his life. So we do what we must: we tell our children to remember, sure, but we must also do more than that. We must name the Marcoses as killers, torturers and thieves, name their current and former allies and enablers and shame them, too so that this shameless, rotten, brutal, greedy and unrepentant family will not, never again, kill and imprison young boys and girls or make their children fear coming back to their country. 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hahaha, this is a very funny reminiscence on ML. Thanks for visiting my blog, which led me to your blog. -ilangq.motime

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish i could write like you do. Well, am a fan now.... I don't know you that much aside from the things you've posted on your blog but i like you.... You inspire and gives me reason to read... read more... not just your blog but anything especially of the things that concerns me as a citizen of this national disaster republic. I was in my elementary too during the martial law regime but it was almost like on its end. i was nine when Marcos was driven away.... I still remember former pres. Aquino went to our city for her speech and all. I was there with the very large crowd and back then it was like a christmas day.... hahahaha... i was packed with all the curls and sodas as we listen to what was happening on the stage... people shouting.... whew! to cut it short i love your article... more so because i love cebu so much... been there for my masters and i miss the place so much... especially P. del rosario street, the church, the internet cafes on the next block... anyway, i love your article.... more power..

5:31 PM  

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