Postscript to a remembrance of martial law

PASSAGE - Ed Maranan (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2012 - 12:00am

Imissed the opening day of “Himagsik at Protesta” (Revolt and Protest) due to illness. The following week, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, I finally made it to this exhibit of memorabilia from the martial law era and visual representations of how the present generation regards that period.

The exhibit at the basement of the UP Main Library was put together by Karapatan, Selda, National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), End Impunity Alliance, and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP). Opening day on Sept. 14 featured speeches, songs, and reminiscences from those who had been active in the protest movement since the First Quarter Storm in 1970, through the years following the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, and even up to and beyond the EDSA People Power uprising in 1986.

Other events on the UP campus during the week-long commemoration included a cultural program at the Arts and Sciences (Palma Hall) lobby  venue for DGs (discussion groups) in the ’70s and street theater performances in the ’80s  film showings, a concert and a reunion of martial law activists.

Early in the morning of Sept. 20, I was the lone visitor at the exhibit for some time. I took photos of pictures, installations, artworks, wall hangings and other displays, which included the old Underwood typewriter used by Malaya’s militant publisher Joe Burgos (whose son Jonas was abducted in 2007 by military agents, as per CHR reports, and remains missing), publications of the underground movement, old cameras used to document those years of political crisis, and a miniature prison cell showcasing the handicrafts turned out by political detainees as a means of livelihood for their families as well as a found medium for political expression (wall décor and pendants with inspirational messages on the struggle). And by struggle is meant the “basic masses,” who were all represented in the exhibit: workers, peasants, urban poor, students, the middle class, and the indigenous people.

A black and white painting stood out for its theme and title, “Bingi sa Tinig ng Kahapon” (‘Deaf to the voice of the past’). It was signed “Kai San Diego, 2012.” Who would suddenly appear, with two photojournalists from Bulatlat.com, but the artist herself, who would be interviewed on video for the Bulatlat website. I talked to her briefly and asked a few questions about her painting (and e-mailed her a few more questions after that chance meeting). Maia Angela San Diego is very young, born in 1996, and is a freshman at the UP College of Fine Arts.

The story of her artwork, in brief:

“It was only during my high school years when I became aware of the intensity of martial law. I was able to talk to my parents who were both part of the protest movement against it. Based on their stories, the declaration of martial law intensified the violation of human rights of the masses. The people, including members of the media, who fought against the government, were imprisoned for speaking up. This period put up a facade of supposed development of the country to hide the government’s violence against the protesters. The people who fought the Marcos regime were courageous to have sacrificed so much, and risked their lives to stand up against someone as powerful. 

“The title of my art work is meant to encourage my generation to know more about our history, as well as our current issues, in order to fulfill our duties to society. It is also meant to warn my generation of the consequences of ignorance of our past. The grabbing hands represent neo-colonialism at the present time. The central figure mainly represents the youth who are not aware of current issues even when they are laid out for them to see and hear. The clenched fists (wrapped with barbed wire and dripping blood) represent those who fought during the Marcos regime, whose struggles and triumphs are being forgotten.”

 September in Philippine history will always be remembered for its days of infamy, to reference that overused WWII phrase. Foremost would be Sept. 21, the signing of Proclamation 1081 by Ferdinand Marcos putting the country under martial law. (We might as well include Sept. 11, the dictator’s birth date, as among the saddest days in our nation’s history, a day which would lead years in the future to a regime of repressive national security, kleptocracy and economic crisis  a sentiment not shared by his politically reinstated family, naturally.)  

Then there are two days in September close together but several years apartSept. 20, 1982 and Sept. 19, 1987  which are solemnly observed by activists of several generations because these dates mark the assassination of two outstanding leaders of the protest movement, who were cut down in the prime of their youth: Lean Alejandro and Edgar “Edjop” Jopson. On the eve of the 40th anniversary of martial law, two commemorations were held at the same time, one each for the two fallen revolutionary icons. I had known Lean briefly, and never met Edjop, though I must have seen the latter from a distance when we were both in front of the old Congress during that fateful demonstration of Jan. 26, 1970, prelude to the First Quarter Storm, I as a fresh UP instructor and KM member, he as president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines.

I had earlier accepted the invitation of Joy Jopson to the commemoration of Edjop’s 30th death anniversary at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, and could not anymore attend the other event across town. (I had come to know Joy and her children with Edjop three years ago, when I was doing research for the rock musical EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay nina Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson, and I have written two children’s books about the life of Edjop, so I wanted very much to attend the gathering in remembrance of him.)

That night, as we were honoring our two fallen youth heroes with tributes and reminiscences, other comrades were in yet another place, the UP Church of the Risen Lord, paying their last respects to the recently deceased patriot and long-time human rights lawyer Romeo Capulong. In youth or in old age, the Filipino heroes who fought against martial law gave their lives early in the struggle, or else continued to fight for their cause which has remained valid, relevant and urgent up to this time of dissent and discontent.

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