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A convenient forgetting |

Modern Living

A convenient forgetting

- Paulynn Sicam - The Philippine Star

It’s the week of the 43rd anniversary of the imposition of martial law and I haven’t written a word about it.  It seemed redundant to express my anger, disgust and revulsion over what was done to us by the dictator, his family, his cronies and the security forces that supported their shameless greed and power grab, after everyone else has done so — with the exception perhaps of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who advised us not to dwell on martial law any longer, to leave it behind and move on.

Binay’s insensitive call compelled me to lend my voice to the chorus of condemnation saying “Never Again” to martial rule. To set aside our anger and resentment towards Marcos and his martial law is to invite its recurrence. In this ugly election season, we must remind ourselves that there is a despot lurking in a candidate who seeks power so desperately.  A candidate who would make light of the national tragedy that was martial law is probably not a person I can trust to help us overcome its lingering effects on our politics, our economy, our culture, and our national psyche.

Binay’s timing could not have been worse, making such a statement on the eve of martial law, when the nation would remember how one family’s greed and ambition created a murderous regime that stripped us of our freedoms; imprisoned, tortured and killed the best of our youth; corrupted the military; and plundered our nation’s wealth, among other high crimes.

This is something that the dictator’s son, Ferdinand Junior, who seems to be Binay’s preferred running mate, refuses to acknowledge and apologize for, even as the government has been reviewing claims of human rights victims of martial law who have applied for compensation from the Marcos family’s stolen  wealth that government has managed to reclaim.  Although the government estimated around 25,000 victims of martial law, to date, over 75,000 have applied for reparations.

Binay will find out soon enough that anyone who tries to negate the impact of martial rule on the lives of Filipinos will have hell to pay. I can understand that Bongbong Marcos is trying to renovate his father’s dubious reputation and establish himself as his worthy heir to the presidency. But I never thought Binay would sink so low in his desperate quest for position and power.


Everyone has a martial law story. There are those who profited during its heyday, but most of us didn’t. I lost my job at The Manila Chronicle, my youngest brother went underground, another left the country, and our mother was imprisoned and sentenced to death by a military court. Many others lost a parent, or like the Quimpo family, three siblings. We all know someone who was arrested, tortured, imprisoned, salvaged. There was no justice, no human rights, no democracy, no freedom, no exit from the atrocities of Marcos’ martial law.

When we were warned by Ninoy Aquino that Marcos would declare martial law, I imagined all sorts of scenarios but none of them was as draconian as what that Marcos imposed on his people. He signed Proclamation 1081 on Sept. 21 but announced it only after her had rounded up and detained his perceived enemies. We realized something very wrong was going on when the morning papers were not delivered and all there was on TV were endless cartoons about Super President, until the evening of Sept. 23, when Kit Tatad replaced the funnies to read Proclamation 1081 before a disbelieving and incensed public. Then Marcos came on to inform us that he declared martial law to save the Republic from a communist take-over.

But he assured us that it was not a military take-over and life would go on as usual, but with some discipline. Meanwhile, he padlocked Congress and the media, suspended classes in universities, and put senators, congressmen, publishers, journalists, businessmen, academics, student activists — anyone who could stand up to his unconstitutional power grab — behind bars.

Martial law went on year after year, narrowing our democratic space with every new rule that was imposed: curfew, forced labor, media censorship, travel ban, compulsory voting, PCO (presidential commitment order), ASSO (Arrest, Search and Seizure Order), all of which were affirmed by a compliant Supreme Court. People even had to alter their appearance. The hippie look could invite questioning, if not detention. And, we were forewarned, don’t even try to crack a joke about the Marcoses, the military or martial rule.

Like the Dementors in the Harry Potter series, martial law sucked the life out of me. I existed from day to day, zombie-like, making a living but not having a life, my days and nights filled with meaningless activities that gave neither joy nor satisfaction.  But unbeknownst to the family, our mother had become a subversive, which we found out only when her house was raided by the Metrocom on Christmas Eve of 1979. She had joined a group of middle-class activists that burned establishments belonging to Marcos’ cronies. Accused of plotting to kill the president, she and her companions were sentenced to death by firing squad.

My mother’s arrest and incarceration shook me out of my stupor and re-ignited my anger. And later, with the killing of Ninoy Aquino, I was one of many other Filipinos who found the courage to stand up to the dictator and openly joined protest rallies and marches that called for his resignation.

It was in those mass actions where I met the admirable Mabini lawyers who courageously defended activists in court and fought the dictatorship in the streets. One of those lawyers is now the vice president and candidate for president, Jojo Binay, who wants us to leave our traumatic past — Marcos’ martial rule, its corruption and its atrocities — behind and “move on.”

Jojo, how conveniently you forget. Never again.



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