Skip to main content

Looking back at what I remember of the Marcos years



I'd always thought I wasn't personally affected by Martial Law in the 1980s. How wrong I was.

My family and I lived small, quiet lives in what was then the sleepy town of Las Piñas, where a trip to a hilltop McDonald's was the highlight of any special occasion and the worst crime I could imagine was someone stealing the steel drum that served as our trash can in the dead of the night.

I was five years old when Ninoy was assassinated. When we heard the news, my father was working in Zambales. We didn't have a telephone. My Uncle Jessie came over and told my mom, his youngest sister, not to go out.

We didn't talk about how it could have been Marcos who had Ninoy killed -- maybe they talked about it out of my earshot -- but I remember later looking at Ninoy's body splayed on the tarmac, searching for the red of his blood through the grainy TV reception, and wondering what he could have done to merit such a fate.

Was he a bad person? I thought to myself.

And: Could that happen to me, if I were a bad person? Could it happen to anyone I loved?

My earliest memory of Marcos, I can trace back to kindergarten. It was during a United Nations-themed school parade. I wore a kimono, and my classmate Kristine was dressed as a typical Dutch girl.

"Who is the president of the Philippines?" Kristine asked me.

I didn't even know what a president was. I said as much.

"Lagot ka," she said. You're in trouble.

Kristine explained that her mom had told her the president was the leader of the country, much like a king. It was something we should know as well as we knew the Patriotic Oath and the National Anthem. "When somebody asks you," she said, "you should know who Marcos is."

On and off, I would hear about Marcos and Imelda. Other kids would say they were the richest people in the Philippines; they owned the whole country. "Even McDonald's?" I would ask. And they would say yes, everything your eyes can see. I once looked at the rubber slippers on my feet and thought, "But how can these be theirs?"

Some kids would tell me Imelda was the most beautiful Filipina, even if it wasn't true. There was Isabelle Granada, I thought, and even Vilma. But by then I knew to stay quiet or else "lagot ka." It was often said as a joke, sure, but there was always a tiny shadow of threat trailing closely behind.

I was eight years old during the Snap Elections. I wasn't sure what was going on, except that there were colorful vehicles going around the village, parking in different areas to play funny campaign songs and distribute stickers and posters. Also this: One of our neighbors draped a Marcos-Tolentino campaign tarp on our wall, and we didn't want to offend him by taking it down.

One day, my older brother, then nine, got his hands on a Marcos-Tolentino sticker. He stuck it on the wall of the clothes cabinet we shared and drew horns on Marcos and a speech bubble that said, "I am evil."

That year was when we were preparing to receive our first communion at the Catholic school I went to, and what disturbed me first was having to see the devil every time I opened the cabinet to get my clothes.

I may have told my mother about it.

When my mother saw the sticker, she scolded my brother and told him to take it down. She said the police might see it and pick them up for questioning. Did he want that to happen? she asked.

"Never do that outside the house," she told us all.

My brother tried to peel the sticker off the wall, but the glue was so strong, large pieces of it stayed stuck on the wood. For years, its remnants stayed hidden like a dirty secret inside our crumbling plywood cabinet: white, red and blue, with Marcos' unmistakable hairline and the faded words that still said "I am evil" if you looked close enough.

Thirty years later, I realize my mother may not have been entirely serious when she told my brother the police might come and pick us up because of his sticker antics. But I am disturbed all the same that the fear was real enough to enter the realm of half-meant jokes.

What disturbs me the most, especially now that I have an eight-year-old niece, is my reaction: I had wanted to tell the police before they discovered the deed by themselves, never mind if what was left of it was a small patch of sticker paper hidden behind a small pile of clothes in a small cabinet in a small room in a small house in a small village in small town Las Piñas.

I had wanted to confess.

Maybe admission would translate to leniency, I thought, and we could go back to living our small, quiet lives without fear that what happened to Ninoy, or a least a small version of it, would happen to us too.

I must have considered it long and hard, because I can still see the scene as I had imagined it so clearly that part of me is convinced it is a memory: Policemen in their 80s brown uniforms and shiny patent leather shoes, carrying black policemen clubs, casting away our clothes to uncover what what left of the Marcos-Tolentino sticker; us, saying we were sorry.

Perhaps the twenty-something me, the one who enjoyed too much freedom and was exposed to too much risk, would agree that living with a little fear was nothing if it translated to order.

But now, at 38, I look at my nieces and nephews, all of whom are almost the same age as my cousins and I were during the Marcos years. I see how precocious they can be, how open about their thoughts, and how willing to go on adventures and unafraid to take risks.

They have big lives ahead of them.

The only order they need, I believe, is the order they bring into their lives as they are being raised to be good people.

Fear is never -- never again -- a way to live.

Popular posts from this blog

The work for which all other work is but preparation

I've been thinking, off and on, of something I once read: The purpose of marriage is not happiness but holiness. Never having been a "good" Christian despite my many attempts, I couldn't understand this line of thinking. Having been raised Catholic, I understood "holiness" to have as one of its main ingredients suffering — and why even want to get married if to be successful at it means to suffer? But these words never left me, bobbing up every now and then from the flotsam and jetsam of my brain. Until, one day, it dawned on me what the statement meant for me. On that same day, I also realized that I do want the gift of marriage. In fact, that is my Christmas wish this year.  My view is not a biblical view, but I don't think it strays too far from it. To be holy is to be set apart from others, as God is, in his perfect goodness and righteousness, in his perfect love (yes, this is biblical; yes, I know I said I wasn't looking at it biblically).  The

Visita Iglesia

My mom and I went with my sister, her family, and the in-laws to their Visita Iglesia for the Holy Week. I'd never done this before, but I had such an interesting time, and I think I'd like to do this again next year. We didn't do the Stations of the Cross, though. We just prayed and lit candles. A lot of candles. Here's a list of the churches we visited. Recto The University Belt churches, all of which are within walking distance to each other. The path to all those churches were lined with vendors hawking all sorts of things, from food, like calamares (I'd never seen calamares being sold as street food before! Lucky U-Belt kids!), all-sorts-of-balls-and-the-like (chicken, squid, fish, kikiam , and kwek-kwek ), to bottled water and flavored beverages, to candles and religious paraphernalia. 1. The San Beda Church , which I loved for the gilt of gold on the statues and the ceiling, and because once a Bedan, always a Bedan, though I didn't go to San Beda

Dream: Disaster

Last night's dream. This is a long one. I was in a management class that suddenly became a cooking class. The teacher whipped up this Italian dish with pasta, meat and some mushrooms and vegetables. "Would anyone like to have this?" she asked us. Nobody replied. A bit miffed, she handed it to the student in front of her: me. The dish looked delicious, actually, so I stood up and went around the classroom to get everyone to try it. Some of my classmates feigned interest, and some didn't bother to hide their annoyance, but most got some of the food. The plate was soon empty, even for me, so I went back to my seat. The teacher, who'd been watching me serve her dish, asked, "Why do you have blood on the seat of your pants? Do you have your period?" Surprised, and suddenly anxious, I whispered, "I just finished my, um, girly thing, ma'am, but I'll go check. I might have just sat on something that looks like blood." I saw what looked like blo