On September 21, forty-two years ago, at around 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, I was released from the San Juan City Jail after a week of detention. A week previous I was seized by military men together with four others in a house in the Mayor Erap city. A certain Alex of the Free Political Prisoners Movement bailed us out and brought us to the house of Ka. Bobby Roldan who was a well-known ranking SDK comrade. There were four of us huddled together in a bedroom, chatting in alternately serious and light mood the events of the past week.
That was 1972. The general temper of the moment was both spirited and gloomy. Spirited because the days were filled with vigorous mass mobilizations that already involved prominent politicians like the late Senators Lorenzo Tanada and Jose W Diokno. And gloomy because there seemed to be a pall of terror hanging in air, a sense of uneasiness or discomfort that something terrible might occur.. The fangs of fascism were increasingly showing in the brutal acts of the armed minions of the State. Already some leaders of the mass organizations of youth activists were arrested, prominent among them, Nilo Tayag. His face, printed on shirts worn by youths and students in campuses, was an ubiquitous sight, especially in the UP campus which was the hotbed of activism.
Massive peoples’ marches were almost a daily sight in the streets of Manila. Tens of thousands, people from all walks of life, their footfalls rhythmic with their protest chants, moved like one very big and very long bakunawa all the way from Quezon City to Plaza Mendiola in Quiapo, Manila. Above them floating like vinta sails were streamers and banners in fiery colors; the marchers’ shrill voices echoed in the air, filled the afternoon hours with their battlecry !Sigaw ng bayan, himagsikan! towards nightfall.
But on this evening hour in the house of Ka Bobby Roldan, the four of us from Cebu were restless, Our purpose in coming to Manila was foiled by the arrests that kept us detained for a week. It was a disappointment. Then towards midnight, Bobby’s father came. Noisily he knocked on the door and hastily announced, “Wake up! Martial law na! Manila Times is already padlocked! So do with the other mass media establishments! We’ll wait for Marcos address later this morning!”
At around eight in the morning, which was Septembr 22, Marcos appeared on the TV screen. His face looked like a mummy direct from the sepulchre as his obviously weary voice broadcasted the reasons for his declaration of Martial Law, including the banning of such youth organizations as Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) and scores of other people’s associations labeled as subversive .
On the streets were frightening sights of army tanks rolling. A pall of terror hovered above Manila and the whole Islands. Towards noontime, we learned that soldiers apprehended young people who sported long hair and the soldiers themselves the youngters’ hair cut—of course, at no cost of the victims. Any gathering of three or more people is prohibited or considered illegal. In short, all freedoms in the Bill of Rights were now curtailed. But over and above all these unfreedoms, thousands were rounded up and thrown in jail and or herded into military camps called stockades throughout the archipelago, including well-known political oppositionists Ka Pepe Diokno and Ninoy Aquino,
Rumor-mongering became unlawful and could be a good credential for one to be invited by the PC or any military personnel for a vacation in the stockade. But to gossip is a to engage in a thrilling if frightening pastime. In the revolutionary grapevine were rumors that whole shiploads of fresh PMA graduates deployed in Mindanao had been killed in fierce fighting in battlegrounds against Moro separatist freedom fighters under Nur Misuari in Sulu. On the other hand, engagements of NPA guerrilla fighters under Kumander Dante and Victor Corpus against the Marcos fascist soldiers had become a favorite conversation piece in most every household.
Anecdotal gossips abound, and there was no way to verify their veracity. There was talk about a certain popular TV host who was rumored to have been apprehended and made to ride a bicycle around the Camp Crame grounds for airing a parody that said, “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan bisekleta ang kailangan” I was dying to meet with Ariel Ureta of ABS-CBN to ask if there was truth to this hilarious comedy skit. Another yet very interesting sitcom was about a certain rebel chieftain said to have sought an audience with Marcos in order to air his protest why the dictator had curtailed the “freedom of spit” used to be enjoyed by his subjects. All of these rumors were of course drowned by the “exciting truthful anecdote” about Marcos and Dovie Beams!
The Daily Express, the only metropolitan daily licensed to publish rumors and gossips under the guise of news or vice versa, was anathema to the ideals of journalism in a truly free society and democratic society. All in all, martial law as a scenario of unthinkable jokes during that existential reality in our history was a horrible nightmare that should never be allowed to happen again. Never again!