Fight or flight

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

In 1969, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was a popular candidate, he was to many a visionary, eloquent and a smart dresser. But by 1971, all that popularity had diminished, and he had trouble from all sides so much so he formulated all sorts of tactics and blame games to get the heat off him, including the invasion of Sabah that resulted in the massacre of Filipino Muslims being trained for the invasion. Look up Oplan Sagittarius and the Jabidah massacre.

Then there was the Plaza Miranda bombing that the CPP-NPA blamed on Marcos. All that time, there were members of the AFP who were sympathetic to select media personalities and kept providing journalists “leaks” on plans of the AFP and the Philippine Constabulary, now the PNP.

Truth be told, those were really scary and violent times. Anyone old enough to remember can recall all the check points from Manila to Pangasinan that were surrounded with sandbags, barbed wire and a 30-caliber machine gun at the ready. Those check points were also covered with GI wire net to make sure that if anybody threw a grenade the net might deflect or roll the grenade away from the barracks. Private armies were a must for any real politician and shoot-outs were a regular occurrence.

One of the most prominent feuds was that of the Crisologo versus the Singson clan, which legends claim started over a woman but eventually centered on politics. That feud took the life of the head of the Crisologo family, who was shot while taking communion on a Sunday. Payback had to happen and as a result two grenades were lobbed at Chavit and Titong Singson. During the same period, two barrios or barangays went up in flames. The province was ultimately placed under military control and the writ of habeas corpus suspended.

My father’s best buddies who were close with FM warned him to be careful because certain people were not happy about his series of exposés on Oplan Sagittarius and the Jabidah massacre. In fact, things got so hot that my dad’s boss at the time, Mr. Freddie Elizalde, brought my dad to Spain for a “vacation” at the height of the Dovie Beams scandal, where an American B-movie starlet was associated with “Apo Ferdie.”

Dad eventually returned to the Philippines and it was during that time that he and a handful of friends deduced that the declaration of martial law was coming soon. They each had to figure out if they would stay to “fight” or be prudent and take a “sabbatical” or go on an extended vacation in the United States. Eventually, three out of five opted to leave while the door was open. One went to Australia, another to New Zealand and the third I believe went to Hawaii on a study grant.

The two who opted to stay behind were my dad Louie Beltran and Mr. Max Soliven. That decision landed my father and Max Soliven, along with many other journalists, in jail for at least four months and about four years of FORCED unemployment. I will never forget how my mother Marita visited Kit Tatad to beg for my father’s release. A month later, I landed in the ABM Sison hospital that is now Medical City because they had to fuse my lower spine. My dad did not know how we would pay for the operation, but the surgeon – God rest his soul – Dr. Ramon Selo said: “You have done your duty to the country, let me do mine;” he waived the charges. While I was bedridden for three months, my grandmother Tanching had a minor heart attack, while her second husband Felino Manalo was allegedly fired or demoted at the DPWH because of the family relation.

In the very first year of martial law, we had to sell every car, paintings, home furnishings, the few jewelry of my mother and ultimately an adjacent property that was supposed to be our inheritance. We were left with a roof over our heads but only because my mother found work at the SSS under administrator Gilberto Teodoro Sr. From the outside, we were still middle class because of our house in UP Village but on the inside, we were flat broke with a mortgage that kept showing up like an unwelcome bill collector.

In desperation, my mother left for the US in the hope of finding a better job but, more importantly, the possibility of getting my dad petitioned by some NGO or church group. As hard as she tried, my father was apparently determined to tough it out in the Philippines. Eventually, the PTSD from martial law took its toll on my parents, who eventually separated for seven years until my father’s death in 1994.

Fifty years later, we now come to terms that the “Youth” whom Rizal called the hope of the Motherland has overwhelmingly voted for the son of “Apo Ferdie” as the next president. He has time and again shown disdain, contempt or actively avoided the media.

Tragically, I now find myself having the same discussion with a few friends that my father had with fellow journalists about whether to “fight” or take flight. To be honest, it is unfair and judgmental to assume that the same things that happened in 1971 and 1972 will happen in 2022; some might say “give the guy a chance.” Worst-case scenario is that many journalists may simply have to find a new line of work or live in the province like the thousand-plus employees of ABS-CBN who did not believe it possible that a giant network would be nothing more than a memory.

Yesterday, someone reposted on Facebook: “Pilipinas ang hirap mong mahalin” while another highlighted the lines from our national anthem: “Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo.” I have learned my lesson from the past, but do I now have to re-live it?

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