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Martial Law Babies |

Young Star

Martial Law Babies

- Paula C. Nocon of the Philippine Star’s YS -
Last weekend, my friend and I were supposed to play chaperone at the 17th birthday party of his sister at a Malate pub. Plans went pfffft, however, when we found out that the Manila government had imposed a citywide curfew on all minors. So his younger sister ended up singing "It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to (you would cry too if it happened to you)," and my friend and I went our separate ways and demonstrated our empathy for his sister’s plight by partying until 6 a.m.

This is typical bad behavior for twentysomethings like me and my friend. We were born under a countrywide curfew in the Seventies, we were raised with a parent-dictated curfew in the Eighties and Nineties, and so now we scoff at curfews of any kind in the new millennium.

Yes, the Metaphor of the Curfew defines this generation. We are the Martial Law Babies.

Strictly speaking, Martial Law Babies are those brats born between 1972, the year Ferdinand Marcos declared Batas Militar on September 21, to 1981, the year he pretended to lift it. But pretenses aside, the spirit of repression, some say, began in 1966, when Marcos began carrying out his Napoleonic delusions, and ended in 1986, when a flat-shoed Cory Aquino stepped inside Malacanang and discovered thousands of high heels (So to all you 36-year olds out there, rejoice that you actually belong to the same generation as my friend’s nightlife-deprived younger sister). Symbolically, the twenty-year Marcos regime has as its inner core the 10 years of Martial Law.

During this spectacular period, the writ of habeas corpus was suspended, civilian government gave way to military rule, newspapers and the mass media were choked. Over 60,000 people, mostly opposition figures, journalists, and student and labor activists were arrested and detained, or were reported missing. Ninoy Aquino, like many other detainees, was imprisoned, tortured and deprived of his right to fair trial. And Ferdinand Marcos declared this the dawning of a New Society.

Elsewhere, American troops were leaving Vietnam, Richard Nixon was sweating bullets over the Watergate scandal, the Arab embargo on oil sparked a worldwide energy crisis, and Ayatollah Khomeini pushed the Shah out of Iran.

The Beatles broke up, and the Disco Era was ushered in. There was a parade of the tackiest clothes in the history of fashion — bellbottoms, airplane collars, flammable polyester blends, platform shoes and glittery makeup. Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Liza Minelli and their likes put their money where their noses were at Studio 54.

And we, my friends, were being born. Yeah, baby.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, I sent to dozens of my twentysomething friends a single text message question: "What does it mean to be a Martial Law Baby?"

From the answers that I got, little did I know that in honoring an occasion, I also discovered that one can define a generation. Generation X, Y, GenText, Generation Why?; Martial Law Babies, Marshmallow Babies, Smart/shallow Babies — whichever way you put it, the times surrounding our birth and upbringing make all the difference in how we shape the times.

Having to hear all the older people say, "buti ka pa (yada yada yada) eh nung Martial Law..." —Jet, 25

Unlike our grandparents, who witnessed the atrocities of war, or our parents, who stood muted and powerless as the dictatorship stamped out their brightest and bravest, we Martial Law babies are enjoying a kind of peacetime unprecedented in history. Since the threat of war no longer looms as it always did in the past, students now complain that Citizen Military Training is the most useless activity ever imposed on their academic calendar. Since our last really bad president was less a dictator and more of a dick, young people no longer have the need to gather ’round and imbibe Marxist ideology and geopolitics to understand why social unrest occurs. We just partied in EDSA until he stepped down.

It means you don’t know what it feels like to go from no Martial Law to living with Martial Law. — Karla, 25

Most of us cannot possibly imagine what it would be like to take the social freedoms we now take for granted wrested suddenly away from us. It is truly hard to fathom that within an evening and a few minutes of a televised speech, everything can change. Everything.

Free speech, for one, is something we enjoy every day of our lives. It is almost essential to our readiness for the Information Age. The press in the Philippines is said to be so unbridled that a martyr’s daughter’s love affair with a town mayor can hog the headlines and coffeeshop conversations for an entire week. With text messaging and e-mail as the premier form of communication nowadays, it is even easier to dismiss the breakdown of the entire mass media industry since news and information can always be disseminated in the form of electronic (and unverifiable!) gossip.

Suspending the writ of habeas corpus is also another scary thought we never had to deal with. This means that the military has the power to search, arrest and detain civilians without reason and without recourse to legal representation. But then again, in the event of a surprise warrantless search in our homes, do we young people really have a lot to hide? (wink, wink)

It means that your mom gave birth to you before the city curfew! —Migs, 26

There are different kinds of curfew all around the free world, but most of them are liquor-related. In the U.S. West Coast the last call for drinks is at 1 a.m. In Singapore all bars and nightspots shut off the music and turn on the lights promptly at 3 a.m. In London pubs close at 11 p.m. Isn’t it great to live in Manila, where the only time you’re obligated to give up drinking is when you have to vote the next day?

But also, young ’uns in the Seventies also had all-night parties — from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day — so no one would have to be caught in the streets at 2 a.m. without the right to remain silent. Fun.

Anyway, there was a countrywide curfew during Martial Law for many reasons, among them curbing the crime and subversive activities that were usually planned and carried out in the dead of the night. We were born in a time of an enforced, artificial suburban peace; the crime rate dropped dramatically, and it was obvious to all who lived to see it. Ironically, however, sin was not committed in dark alleyways or busy streets, but in the very military tribunals that were supposed to uphold justice for the citizenry. Nowadays, sin is committed just about everywhere, from the cinema to broad daylight!

It means that we’re never taking any shit again. — David, 26

OK, some might say we young people don’t want to take shit anymore since we’re so full of it already. Yes, that is true, but one need look no further than EDSA Dos to see that we can develop our own sense of indignation when it comes to the powers-that-be.

We don’t believe everything we hear or read or see anymore. The Printed Word has lost its credibility; so has the Role Model, the Hero, the Artista, the President, the Parent, the Teacher. Time and again we get our hopes up only to be let down. Sometimes we just shrug and say, "That’s life; so better to just do my own thing," and once in a while, we actually say "Enough is enough, let’s do something about it."

Growing up knowing Marcos was trouble and being old enough to be happy about EDSA. — Odin, 28

Our grandparents’ and parents’ generation seemed to have left us a legacy of bad presidents and a strong impulse to take to the streets. It’s almost like a video game.

While it is fun to take a day off work and camp out on EDSA for a good cause, we know that we can’t make a career out of revolting against bad presidents forever. But then again, why do we keep getting bad leaders in the first place?

Which brings me to my next point.

To be jaded and cynical, but wiser to the ways of the world and a lot more practical. —Frankie, 27

People only become jaded and cynical when they’ve been terribly disappointed. And no one has disappointed us more than the leaders that this country has produced.

Bad leadership, as Lucio Tan recently remarked, is the anathema to a strong republic, which is what Gloria Arroyo said she is striving for. But bad leaders in government, business, the academe and media is also the anathema to creating an optimistic and vibrant new crop of good leaders among today's touth.

Among my peers, no one wants to be a "leader" anymore. They just want to be "the best" or "the one and only" or an "original." In this sense, we are less idealistic and more pragmatic — we know that we can only go so far in a corrupt and inept system. A system that isn’t run by leaders, but merely people who have power.

Knowing that an enlightened dictatorship is a utopian idea. — Andrew, 27

And now we’ve come full circle. Though we’re all suffering from the post-traumatic stress disorder of a toppled authoritarian regime, we are also languishing in a society that just direly lacks authority.

It is a classic case of Lee Kuan Yeuw syndrome: wondering whether it would take another dictator to get this country back on its feet again. Perhaps Martial Law could’ve been good for us after all. A part of us, we cannot deny, pines nostalgically for that artificial peace of the Seventies when we could walk the streets safely and sleep soundly at night. Though Martial Law was more about intimidation than discipline, we can’t help but wonder why we did not carry on the law-abiding mood of that time even after Imelda left her glass slippers in the Palace.

Because it is discipline, it is political will, it is the spirit of a curfew that would make us the kind of people who know their rights, the kind who are truly free. We Martial Law babies know instinctively that it’s not enough to have the right to vote or the freedom to talk bad about other people. We also know that we would willingly give up one freedom — say, freedom to party all night — for the sake of another — freedom from poverty, economic insecurity and oppression.

And that is what Martial Law babies would take to mean as a New Society.
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