Martial Memories

Nonfiction by | August 16, 2009

Now that the Cory Fever is sweeping the country pandemically, memories of the horrid Martial Law years invade my consciousness.

It was declared soon after my return from a Kyoto Conference on American Literature and my flying over the whole Russian continent without seeing any city or village en route to England, Paris, Greece, Italy, and Thailand. I was Humanities Division Chairman at the Ateneo de Davao University and was Moderator of the ATENEWS, the college paper. The year before, I had discovered a brilliant freshman—Evella Bontia who out-stripped the upperclassmen in my search for ATENEWS editor. A staffmember was a quiet girl with the surname Mahipus. In my literature class, a senior—Tiny de la Paz—was expected to receive summa cum laude honors.

What greater shock it was when the ATENEWS office was raided because of an article entitled “Portrait of the Atenean as Activist.” Ms. Mahipus and Mr. de la Paz were incarcerated at the PC barracks. Evella Bontia escaped to the hills and later was reported killed in an encounter with military forces. What a loss!

A brilliant professor—Alfredo Navarro Salanga—had a cell in another building of the PC compound. When I got permission to visit him in a tent outside his cell, I was photographed by a guard. This caused Freddie to burst into anger.

Since I did not want to jeopardize Tiny’s summa cum laude prospect, I got permission to bring my whole literature class to the bunks at the PC barracks. But after three sessions, the girls in the class took fright as the security guards watching us kept taking pictures, especially of the girls.

A kangaroo court was set up at the tennis court fronting Washington Street where suspected subversives, including priests and educators, were put on trial. A group of us from the academe were uninvited observers who stood outside the high cyclone–wire fence. As each prisoner was called in, we would burst into mighty applause. On the third day of trial, a beauty queen-turned-informer was expected to give testimony. But this never took place. For some reason, the trials were discontinued and after some weeks the prisoners were released. I felt lucky that I was never imprisoned.

I remember that the newspapers held nothing but glowing accounts of Lady Imelda’s cultural doings. Also sports. It must have been in the early 80s when I attended a conference in Manila and was told by the Palace Press Officer that we could write on any subject. When I conveyed this to a group of Jaycee’s, they all stared at me in disbelief. I said, “Let’s test them.” They regarded me as a woman of courage.

Towards the end of the Marcos regime, the heads of schools were invited to a meeting with a new general assigned to Davao at an Education Supervisor’s Hall on Tomas Claudio Street.

The general invited us to tell him our problems. A sister from Holy Cross of Mintal presented her problem of small stalls being built at the frontage of their school. The general assured her that this problem would be attended to.

I then rose to tell him about incidents in Buhangin—of a young man being pursued on the main road, his getting down on his knees and holding his hands up in surrender and of his being shot to death. Another incident occurred not far from our San Pedro Village house and recounted by our PTA chairman : Three young men who regularly watched TV at his house were suddenly targeted by the military. Shots ricocheted in the chairman’s house and so he brought his family to the bathroom—the only place made of concrete in his house. After an hour, he ventured to peer out into the street where he saw the three youths flat and face down on the ground. He thought they were all dead. It turned out that one was wounded and was later taken to a hospital.

After my report of these two incidents, the General asked me for my name and had a photographer take my picture. Then he said, “This is exactly the kind of rumor-mongering that is causing harm to the City of Davao. For one hour, he lectured on my sin of rumor-mongering. I finally got up and said, “I am very famous already.” This brought the house down.

The following day, there was a program offered by USIS Davao. The general was seated in front of me. We all stood up to sing Bayan Ko. What a tremendous satisfaction it was for me to shout into his ear:

Ibon man may layang lumipad
Kulungin mo at umiiyak
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag
Ang di mag nasang makaalpas

Not long thereafter, the EDSA revolution took place. This general was seen at the airport trying to gather Marcos loyalista but failed.

At midnight of February 25, 1986, the news of the Marcos expulsion reached me at my San Pedro Village home. As I was tending to my invalid mother, I sent the whole household to celebrate in the streets with tin cans clanging on the back of our jeep. The following morning I joined the march from Magsaysay Park to downtown. But midway on Oyanguren Street I felt myself swaying in imbalance—the first sign of schemia. But kind friends pulled me up on a jeep and I completed my celebration of freedom. It was truly glamorous!

Aida Rivera Ford is the only member of the DWG in dreadlocks.

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