Life under Martial Law
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - September 22, 2019 - 12:00am

Around three and a half years ago, I wrote a column depicting life under martial law through six Filipino novels recommended by Karina Bolasco who was then publisher of Anvil Books. Since then campaigns to revise the history of the truths about the martial law regime of the Marcos family have become even more intensive and extensive. I felt the need to reproduce this list of recommended books as my personal contribution to help millennials learn the real story about martial law.  

A nation’s story is not just chronicled in the books written by historians and social scientists. It is often said that it is in the world of popular literature that we can more vividly see the real stories about the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people during certain periods of our history. It is the two novels of Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere and Filibusterismo, that reveal the real story of a people oppressed by Spanish colonization more than any history book. Here are six novels about life under martial law. 

Killing Time in a Warm Place by Jose ‘Butch” Dalisay Jr.

Killing Time in a Warm Place is a novel of growing up in the Philippines during the Marcos years. Told in the voice of its protagonist, Noel Ilustre Bulaong, the narrative travels through familiar social and literary territory: the coconut groves of Bulaong’s childhood, Manila’s hovels, the Diliman Commune, “UG” safehouse, martial law prisons and the homes and offices of the petty bourgeoisie. It is a story of false horizons, of betrayal, compromise, and guilt and not incidentally of the contemporary middle class Filipino’s migration from the village to the metropolis to the outside world.

Dekada ‘70 by Lualhati Bautista

Dekada ’70 is the story of a family caught in the middle of the tumultuous decade of the 1970s. It details how a middle class family struggled and faced the changes that empowered Filipinos to rise against the Marcos government. These series of events happened after the bombing of Plaza Miranda, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the proclamation of Martial Law and the random arrests of political prisoners. The oppressive nature of the Marcos regime, which made the people become more radical, and the shaping of the decade were all witnessed by the female protagonist, Amanda Bartolome, a mother of five boys.

Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda

Two friends are hired by Marcos to rewrite Philippine history. Their mission: to make it appear that Marcos was destined to rule the country in perpetuity. Working from an office called the Agency for the Scientific Investigation of the Absurd, they embark on a journey that will take them across a surreal panorama of Philippine politics and history, and in the process question their morals and beliefs.

This landscape includes mythological sultans, mercenaries, the Beatles, a messianic Amerasian rock star, faith healers, spies, torturers sycophants, social climbers, sugar barons, millenarian vigilantes, generals and communists – the dizzying farrago of lovers and sinners who populate the country’s incredible story. By the end of their projects – and this breathtaking novel- the reader emerges from a world that is at once familiar and unbelievable. It’s what real life might look like if both heaven and hell were crammed into it, and all its creatures were let loose.

Gun Dealer’s Daughter by Gina Apostol

“ In this fearlessly intellectual novel, Gina Apostol takes on the keepers of official memory and creates a new, atonal anthem that defies single ownership ... perception is always in question and memory and the Filipino people are turned inside out.” (Eric Gamalinda, author of Empire of Memory).

Jupiter Effect by Katrina Tuvera

This is the story of Kiko and Gaby, two Martial Law babies who underwent political initiation during the Marcos years. The book poses questions about the Filipinos’ complicity in the Marcos dictatorship and portrays many compromises that are still present in the current Philippine politics.

Desparesidos by Lualhati Bautista

The most recent work of Bautista, graced with an illuminating introduction by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, uses the form of the novel to explore the harrowing trials of actual abductees (the disappeared/desparesidos) during the Martial Law regime. With her great talent for characterization and expertly using flashback to depict events that happened decades ago, she explores and recounts how young people’s lives were shattered by abuses that resulted in a new mother losing track of her child and her own personhood and a young man’s loss of trust in many things he held dear. Yet, the author is able to fill the work with hope, as the now grown victims seek not only to deal with their trauma but also to recover both love and hope in their present lives.

All the literature and writings about the true nature of the Martial Law regime have become absolutely necessary at this time. We are seeing so many well funded and well organized attempts to rewrite Philippine history. We are now told that Martial Law was necessary because there was a communist insurgency which required people like Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno and Lorenzo Tañada to be jailed and for all media outlets, critical of the Marcos regime, had to be closed. We are now told that this was the golden age instead of the reality that Marcos transformed the second richest nation in Asia to the “sick man” of Asia. 

It is up to the millennial generation to learn the truth about the Marcos Martial Law and to make sure that it will never happen again.

Creative writing classesfor kids and teens

Adult class on writing poetry with Gemino Abad on Sept. 28, 1:30-4:30 pm. At Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration, email

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