By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Book Review
To Be in History: Dark Days of

Editor, Melba Padilla Magay
Publisher, Langham Global Library,
Cumbria, UK 2019

ITS unabashedly spiritual underpinnings distinguish this latest addition to the growing library of writing on Marcos’ Martial Law. The witnessing by various actors who traversed this howling wilderness in our recent history is anchored in their abiding Christian faith in God as the Lord of History, or, as the editor Melba Padilla Magay writes, “an immanent grace that is present wherever there is a struggle against forces that demean and deform human life.”

The British edition has sold out here. A lower-priced local version by the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture is forthcoming. This will allow the ideas expressed therein to reverberate beyond the echo chamber populated by like-minded souls, and “enhance trust and unity through interactive dialogues” with grassroots groups.

During the book’s launch, Ateneo de Manila University history professor Jayeel Cornelio remarked that we have always been haunted by “the ghost of nostalgia for the glorious ruins of (Marcos) Martial Law.” Over the last three decades, its sinister specter has become corporeal, made flesh, revivified, even resurrected and reincarnated anew with the ascendance of the third generation of Marcos political scions. A 2005 Pulse Asia Survey found that only 36% of Filipinos viewed EDSA I or People Power positively — significantly fewer than the 41% in the SWS survey of Ateneo students who thought Ferdinand Marcos had been “true to the duties of a patriotic president.” That same survey showed 30% agreed Marcos was the “defender of the poor and oppressed.”

Mr. Cornelio observed: “Today, popular rhetoric prevails that the country needs someone who can restore order. This in effect resurrects the adage of the past — discipline is necessary for our society to progress… Human rights activists have been recast as enemies of the state. Critics in the media are either biased or bought, or both. To question the administration has become an unpatriotic act. The deaths we see around us are dismissed as collateral damage. The morality of Philippine politics is now black and white, or yellow or otherwise.”

Mary Racelis of the Institute for Philippine Studies is painfully perplexed: “How is it possible that this is happening again? We fought so hard against tyranny, each in our own way. Yet here we are again — thrust into a violent and vindictive scenario…”

The “God gene,” which supposedly accounts for human spirituality, is predominant in the Filipino make-up, from our grand religious processions (the Back Nazarene, the Virgin of Peñafrancia) and the de riguer inclusion of a religious invocation in all official events. In the essay “The Awakening of Miss Goody Two Shoes,” colegiala Elizabeth Lolarga lead a double life as a lifestyle section writer, while serving pro bono as an erstwhile editor for Leftist publications. Even while underground, she attended mass whenever she could. The EDSA I People Power Revolution did not effect true, meaningful and lasting social and political change. The historian Fe B. Mangahas observed, to the Left “it was more of a convulsion which restored our age-old liberal democracy back into the hands of the elite and its imperialist ally.” But it remains the only such mass event where prayerful nuns and the image of the Blessed Virgin were key players.

The spouses Mario and Alma Miclat spent the Marcos Martial Law years in the People’s Republic of China (PROC), with a few other Communist Party of the Philippines members, Joma Sison’s three young children and their yaya (nanny). The Miclats worked at Radio Peking’s Filipino section. Ms. Miclat recalled how “The failed missions to smuggle arms to the comrades at home and the increasing reports of arrests of high-ranking communist cadres and NPA operatives, coupled with ennui and homesickness, brought dissatisfaction and conflicts in the group.”

At the PROC state farm where Mr. Miclat contracted TB while undergoing “reform through labor,” Ms. Miclat noted that “the political feuds, endless debates, wrangling, even personal quarrels leading to fisticuffs, were just a microcosm of what was happening in the Party in our own country.” Today, Mr. Miclat declares: “From what I have seen in China and other communist countries… I no longer believe that class struggle is the only way for a people to live. In the complicated world we are in, who are the exploiters and who are the exploited, the oppressors and the oppressed?”

In the book, the journalist Rolando Villacorta shares his eye-witness account from inside Camp Crame and at the street level with the faith communities, particularly the Diliman Bible Church and KONFES (Konsiensya ng Febrero 7, to protest the dirty Snap Elections). He noted that Juna Ponce Enrile’s force of just 300 reformist troops was the same number with which the Biblical Gideon vanquished a hundred thousand Midianites. Mr. Enrile’s faith didn’t match up. Crossing EDSA to join Fidel Ramos, he made sure his own men surrounded him because “with a crowd like that, somebody could stick a knife in your belly or back, and that’s it.”

In “Uncle Sam Behind the Scenes,” Willie B. Villarama hints at covert machinations in motion even before the climactic events of February 1986: “The EDSA I ‘miracle’ was made not altogether in heaven, but also somewhere on earth.” Some of the computer programmers who had walked out of the Commission on Election’s electronic counting at Philippine International Convention Center were supposedly relatives of RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) coup plotters. Mr. Villarama was then Labor Minister Blas F. Ople’s assistant minister. Mr. Marcos had earlier called out Mr. Ople for publicly stating that his government was in an “interregnum,” a euphemism for shaky. Nonetheless, Mr. Marcos refused Mr. Ople’s resignation and still sent him to the US as his emissary in the tumultuous aftermath of the Snap Elections. However, the Philippine government documents proving Mr. Marcos still enjoyed mass support, which Mr. Ople had brought from Manila for his meeting with US State Department officials, inexplicably disappeared.

Ambassador Alexander Melchor, who was supposed to accompany Mr. Ople to the State Department, was also a no-show for Mr. Ople’s State Department meeting. Then Navy Attache Fernandez “Jun” Tucay had picked him up from the airport earlier. He recalled how Mr. Melchor told him then “about the grave situation in the country, and had urged (him) to switch sides. That Ponce Enrile jumped out from the Marcos bandwagon because of his displeasure that he did not get the blessings of Marcos to become the country’s prime minister instead of Cesar Virata. On Ramos’s case, Melchor expressed the former’s disgruntlement on why General Fabian Ver continued to hold on to his position as chief of staff-AFP, despite the fact that “orders had been signed and published designating (Ramos) as chief of staff vice Gen. Fabian C. Ver.”

The book’s contributors hope these stories and lessons from a time of terror and anguish, will be as candles in the growing darkness, for Generations X, Y, Z, and i. Karl Marx said that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” May these so-called Millennials not tread along either path, but mindfully analyze their present situation, not merely in academic or intellectual terms, but as being integral to the broader, holistic domains of spirituality and belief in a transcendent God. Martin Luther King reminds us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Meanwhile, as the late poet Maningning Miclat, who was born in the spring before the imposition of Marcos Martial Law, wrote: “Fragments of memories tiptoe into the vignettes of here and now. For all that was heard, for all that has been, we become the keepers of our voice.”

For details on the release of the local edition of To Be In History, call the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture, 470-1044 or 0925-710-1950.