by Rose Churma
This book is an anthology consisting of fiction, essays and poetry of the best Filipino writers, some now based outside of the Philippines. However, all have experienced living in the home country during the dark days of Martial Law.
The book’s editors note that they use the term “Marcos Babies” because the writers included in this collection were born from 1964 to 1986, the time frame of the rise and fall of the Marcos regime. Some of the contributors were already in school in 1972 when Martial Law was declared, while others were about to be born.
In essence, the time frame coincides with the term “Generation X” as coined by Canadian writer and artist, Douglas Coupland, with that term referring to the generation born during those years.
But as the editors noted “…we had a more arduous but definitely more interesting journey.”
There were only six entries in the fiction category. The most interesting is the excerpt from Leche, a novel written by R. Zamora Linmark. Linmark, who divides his time between Honolulu and Manila, came to the reading public’s attention with his best-selling novel Rolling the R’s (where its stage adaptation had its world premiere in Honolulu at the Kumu Kahua Theater).
The excerpt titled “When Dovie Moans” had this as its opening sentence: “Ferdinand Marcos was the first Filipino to ejaculate over the air-waves,” an attention-grabbing opening sentence.
The excerpt expands on the Dovie Beams scandal that erupted in the post-election era of 1970 when radio stations across the archipelago broadcasted contents of the cassette tape that had the reelected president carousing with his American mistress Dovie Beams who taped most of their amorous encounters
The author notes that the scandal served as “comic relief” to those times – that the scandal that was “intended to destroy him ended up working on his favor…for nothing can distract a country on the verge of a revolution better than S-E-X”.
But of course, his wife Imelda reacted differently, but that is another story.
On the group of personal essays, the article that grabbed my attention was the piece written by Wilfredo Pascual Jr. entitled simply “1976.”
The essay is a requiem to his grandfather who made the crucial decision to immigrate to the United States at the height of Martial Law, sell his properties in Nueva Ecija and start all-over again in a new land “to bear these sacrifices to bring (the children” to the United States) for the sake of their future…”.
The feelings of uncertainty and the urgency to leave were common during those years – which was surprising for the author’s family since his grandfather was a land-owner who also was the longest serving mayor for more than two decades and a staunch ally of Marcos when he first run for office – “successfully campaigned and delivered the northern Nueva Ecija votes” and has Ilocano ancestry.
But with the declaring of Martial Law, his grandfather grew disillusioned and opted to start anew in another land.
This story is a common one. During those years, folks were leaving—some for economic reasons (no jobs, skyrocketing inflation, the value of the peso plunged compared to the dollar) or fear for their lives or incarceration if they were critical of the regime.
In fact, the so-called Filipino Diaspora had its start in the early 70s when Filipinos looked elsewhere to earn a living and the country’s leaders needed their remittances to prop up its economy.
There were a dozen poems in this collection. Virginia’s poet-laureate Luisa Igloria wrote about the visit of the pope (when he was almost assassinated, circa 1970); Alma Anonas-Carpio’s “Martial Law Baby” recalls that she was born during Martial Law:
“Came into the world screaming/ Waving balled fists and kicking feet. / Somewhere inside they knew / They would face a monster as they grew.”
But the one that stayed with me longest was Frank Cimatu’s “Three Septembers.”
“Three Septembers” as the title suggests consists of three parts.
The first part, titled “Blue Sky” talks about the signing of Martial Law on September 21, 1972. The second part chronicles Marcos’ death in Hawaii on September 28, 1989, while the third part describes September 11, 1993 when his widow had him entombed in a glass encasement on his birthday in his hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte after a birthday mass:
“I watched as Manila’s four hundred waltzed in the white mansion / Death’s metaphor now filled with cultists from Leyte and Pangasinan. / One gave me a scapular with Marcos as the fire-hearted Jesus.”
This year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law.
This book (and its companion piece of the same title but in Filipino) is worth revisiting. It provides space for introspection of the Marcos years, as one of the editors note in the epilogue.
The impact of the Marcos years on the country – the destruction of its basic institutions, the plunder of much of its wealth and the erosion of integrity and sense of self of its citizens – is immeasurable.
What this book provides is the personal stories, insights, and nostalgia of those who experienced those years.
Never forget. Never again.
ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.
by Rose Churma