MANILA. PHILIPPINES. On September 21, 1972—40 years ago today, 56 year-old reelected President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Proclamation 1081 and placed the entire country under Martial Law. And it was a period that lasted for nine years on paper (although the ambiance of martial law administration stayed on up until the Marcoses were driven out of power during the Edsa revolt in 1986).
That Fateful Day
I still could vividly recall that day. I was an 18 year old college sophomore playing basketball in the early morning of Saturday in the open court of Letran College in Intramuros, Manila. Out in the streets, we could hear sirens blurring out but it did not cause concern for us cagers. We stuck with the game and had hearty laughter every time a team mate fumbles the ball. We were young and carefree. We never minded the world around us. What was important for us at that time was to win the game even if it was just a practice session.
The War Zone
We were about to wind up when four playmates that went out of the school compound to buy cigarettes came rushing back. They were having a good laugh but their ashen complexion revealed something scary. They shouted, “Ven! There is war outside!”
My companions who were mostly in ROTC were jubilant to hear the hushed voices of my friends. “You mean we have to wear our combat uniforms already, hehehe!!!” came the cavalier response.
“Look, outside, combat tanks with mean looking soldiers, all armed to the teeth, are prowling and they are arbitrarily arresting students, anybody, and anyone especially those sporting long hair!” my friends answered back. The fashion at that time called for long hair among the youth. All my friends had a healthy crop as crown and it was almost taboo to see your earlobes. It must be covered by hair. I was sporting an athletic afro look since I have a curly hair. And if the warning was correct, we were supposed to hide from the so called combat zone. And so after we changed our clothing, we went upstairs, in one of our rooms to look down at the parking lot where according to my buddies, soldiers were already posted.
A Day of Living Dangerously
There were also a lot of students, most of them my classmates in other common subjects, monitoring what was happening in the classroom where we assembled. It was the only opened classroom at that time. I discovered that those seatmates of mine were activists and firebrand of left leaning sounding groups based on what I was hearing from their conversation. They were the ones actually being hunted by the military and the school campus was the safest place they could repair. For a while, I was, well, together actually with my basket ball team mates, huddled inside the room composed mostly of, if my hunch was correct, dreaded insurgents! I could see them folding what was like banners with red letters and the dreaded symbol of rebellion, the hammer and sickle. For that brief moment, my basketball team became also, by association, a communist front!
One by one, my team streamed back to the gymnasium where the ROTC office was located. It was for us an insured area since soldiers would never bother a unit recognized by them. We could mix along with the staff and personnel and try to be one with them if only to elude the heat. But our problem was, if indeed we were ROTC cadets, how come we sport long hair. Our power forward volunteered a solution, “Why don’t we have an instant hair cut, a crew cut, to appease any soldier we might meet should we go home or leave the school premises?” That was the dumbest suggestion we ever heard. No one can touch our long hair, even if it would cost our lives. We were even prepared to be driven out of our respective houses by our parents if they would pose as a threat to our lionesque mane. No way. We ignored the suggestion and went our separate ways. Some scaled the back fence and got lost in the maze of shanties of informal settlers doting the side streets. Others went back to the classroom to be indoctrinated. A few went to the faculty room to seek assistance from priests who were manning the admin offices. In my case, along with two friends decided to check it out on the street what was really happening. We merely took a shower so that our hair would thin out covered by a baseball cap, with hair combed up and gelled in pomade. All of us braved to move out until we reached home.
A Hairy Conviction
For us at that precise moment, martial law was not a threat to freedom and democracy, for us at that time, forty years ago; it was more of a menace to our lengthy fleece.
That was of course a Saturday. The succeeding days were a revelation. Two days later, a Monday, we, along with my classmates and fellow basketball players, were back in our classroom, sporting a different look and a brand new haircut, the high ‘n tight warrior hairdo.
Thus began our baptism of radical politics in the streets.
For a time, we, as a nation, hoping that giving up rights in favor of progress was what animated expectations. It came out different. Economic problems piled up. We could not hit back at the mass deception. We became sterile for a time. Consequently, we were ashamed to face irrational power and derisively labeled as that generation of cowards and a society of indifferent weaklings. There was little sacrifice and heroism during the course. We the youth at that time were more concerned about lifestyle and only a few dabbled in fortitude. But for those who remained steadfast, from their ranks today were, however, conscripted the champions of modern day principled progress.
Forty years after
Since then the country had difficulty achieving for its citizen the desired development. Today, when my children would ask how come we are still laggards compared with other countries in Southeast Asiak, I could only sigh. Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Thereafter, they found progress. In our case, we were thrown to reinvent ourselves and for 40 years we are still in the wilderness unable to refresh our capability to mature into a well developed economy.