Sunday Lifestyle

Lest we forget

PENMAN - Butch Dalisay -

Jo-Ann Maglipon, the book’s editor, almost   self-deprecatingly called it “a small book that cost us plenty,” but everyone who attended the launch last Thursday at the Metropolitan Museum knew what she meant, especially the part about “plenty.” It wasn’t plenty of money, although there was a bit of that, too. Rather, Jo-Ann meant a lot of pain, both physical and otherwise, and all the other labors and losses that went with one’s commitment to radical politics at a time when it could kill you—and in far too many cases, it did.

The book was Not On Our Watch, subtitled Martial Law Really Happened: We Were There, and it was produced and published by LEADS-CEGP 6972, Inc. The longish acronym translates to the League of Editors for a Democratic Society-College Editors Guild of the Philippines (1969 to 1972) — an alumni association, if you will, of two major groups of campus editors and journalists from the early years of martial law and the tumultuous period leading up to it, which has come to be known as the First Quarter Storm.

Thirteen authors contributed their essays (in my case, a semi-fictionalized story) to the book: entrepreneur Angie Castillo, economist Calixto Chikiamco, former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, Beijing-based journalist Jaime FlorCruz, singer and actress Jay Valencia Glorioso, Bangko Sentral Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo, journalist Sol Juvida, corporate executive Victor Manarang, sportswriter Al Mendoza, art publisher Jack Teotico, engineer and social activist Roberto Verzola, and entrepreneur Vic Wenceslao. Sydney-based artist Edd Aragon did the illustrations, Inquirer columnist Conrad de Quiros provided the introduction, and Yes! magazine editor in chief Jo-Ann Maglipon edited the book.

It would be easy and tempting to dismiss a book like this as a form of nostalgia tripping by doddering old veterans softened by an overdose of realism, cappuccinos, and foot massages. But what’s striking about this book is its composure and unsentimentality, which is not to say that it’s short on drama or discovery. The vignettes range from the domestic — Sol Juvida writes about living on the run as a young mother, always sleeping in jeans with some money in her pocket, ready to vault a wall with her baby in case the military came knocking on her door — to the ironic, such as Vic Manarang’s meeting the new chief of security at the company he worked with during martial law, none other than his detention officer in Camp Aguinaldo, now newly retired.

Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, book editor; authors Vicente Wenceslao, Calixto Chikiamco, Diwa Guinigundo, Roberto Verzola, Angelina Tocong-Castillo, Joaquin Teotico, Jay Valencia-Glorioso, Sol Juvida-Mendoza, Alfonso Mendoza, Jose Dalisay Jr. Leads CEGP 6972 president Elso Cabangon hold a copy of the book. Not in photo are authors Jaime Flor Cruz (in Beijing); Manolet Dayrit (in Geneva) and Edd Aragon (in Sydney). Photo by JOEY MENDOZA

Vic (incidentally, my physics teacher in high school and later fraternity brother and Collegian editor at UP) also writes about the kind of changes at the top that few of us witnessed with our own eyes: “In 1978 I joined First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPHC), the majority owner of the Manila Electric Company and a clutch of other companies supplying or servicing the power utility firm. It had been owned by the Lopez family before martial law but control was wrested from them, and for some time it was not clear to me by whom and how… but it soon became apparent, from lunchtime and cocktail-hour chatter among the executives, that actual corporate power was in the hands of an occasional visitor to the board room, a tall, stocky man with a shock of white hair, thus the reference to him as ‘Whitey.’” (You’ll have to buy the book to find out who Whitey was, but those with long political memories should be able to guess this easily.)

You see Jimi FlorCruz every time CNN needs the lowdown on what’s happening behind the Great Wall, but back in September 1972, he was just another 20-year-old student journalist from the Philippine College of Commerce on a study tour of China, stranded there by the sudden declaration of martial law. Facing possible arrest if he came home, Jimi — along with a few others such as UP Student Council Chairman Ericson Baculinao and La Salle firebrand Chito Sta. Romana (both of whom also became bureau chiefs of major media organizations) — decided to stay in China, little realizing what they had gotten themselves into.

“In 1973 we moved to Yantai in Shandong Province to work in a fishing corporation,” Jimi recounts. “Along with Chinese workers, I worked as an apprentice on trawler boats which sailed to Bohai Sea and beyond to catch fish, prawns, and other seafood. We typically sailed for five and seven days each trip, enduring backbreaking work and lonely nights. With few English books and limited news to read, I turned to studying Chinese. I talked with coworkers to improve my spoken Mandarin. To expand my vocabulary, I copied by hand words and phrases from dictionaries and various publications.” And thus was born the Beijing bureau chief of the world’s largest TV news network.

But lest we forget — and this is indeed the title of Obet Verzola’s piece — martial law was, above all, a show of State power over the individual, and nowhere was this more starkly seen and acutely felt than in the military’s torture chambers. Obet’s account of what he went through is the stuff of nightmares, which plagued Obet well into his 50s. He writes:

Mad Villegas, Garnet David, Ads Misa, Marite Lavina, Monina Valencia, Linda Marty and Jo-Ann Maglipon. Photo by JOEY VIDUYA

“Then they brought in The Machine. Two lengths of wire extended from it, both ending with bare wire, the insulation stripped. One end was tied around the handle of a spoon. The Machine is a field telephone generator. It has a wheel with a handle. The wheel turns a dynamo, which generates electricity that causes a distant telephone to ring… My interrogators tied the end of one wire around my right index finger and inserted the spoon into my pants, on my right wrist, until it rested where the leg meets the waist, near the crotch. My body would complete the circuit.”

It might have been bad enough not to realize what was going on; Obet, however, was an electrical engineer, and understood exactly what his captors intended.

The palpable terror that many of us lived with during martial law is definitely in the book, and it should be, because martial law was as much an assault on the body as on the mind and spirit. It reminded us, in a way, of the ultimate physicality of ideas, of one’s personal stake in an otherwise abstract struggle.

The book is aptly dedicated to student journalists who made the ultimate sacrifice: Tony Tagamolila, Babes Calixto, Jessica Sales, Jack Peña, Manuel Bautista, Evelyn Pacheco, Tish Pascual, and Fred Bat-og. But lest we look back on martial law simply as a litany of losses — recalling how Homer bemoaned the grim harvest of the flower of Greek and Trojan youth in the Iliad — the book reminds us that many did survive to carry the struggle on to a new age, perhaps even on to new causes. It suggests that the way forward is neither to cower in terror nor to crow in triumphalism, but to adapt, and sometimes even to accept and to compromise (a word that would have made us shudder back in 1972), for as long as we served the people, for which mission there now exists a plenitude of options.

Mao’s Little Red Book in his pocket, the Penman leads a CEGP discussion group in UP in 1971.

A few hours before the book was launched at the Metropolitan Museum, my wife Beng and I took part one in one of the most private and moving rituals any person can attend — the cremation of her father Jess, a World War II veteran who died at 87. Our FQS generation was born within a decade of that war’s end. It’s hard to believe that the students we’re teaching now, say at an average of 18, were born more than 20 years after the declaration of martial law, and missed even EDSA 1. In other words, martial law is much more distant a memory to them than the war with the Japanese was to us. It’s no surprise that the idea for the book came about — as LEADS-CEGP members Elso Cabangon and Vic Wenceslao note in the prologue — because of another member’s lament that her children did not know her and what she did during martial law.

Now they will, as should many others, which will be another step toward making sure that the horrors of martial law do not happen again — not if we can help it, certainly not on our watch.

(The book will be available at Fully Booked.)

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E-mail me at [email protected] and check out my blog at www.penmanila.ph.









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