The small Vauxhall sedan had the EDSA highway practically all to itself, Mang Maldo, the family driver, repeatedly gushed to “Ma’am,” the grandma, and to the daughter, the young mother who held Ma’am’s precious baby grandchild in her arms. Why was it so eerily quiet?
In the stillness of EDSA, the car radio came on with the cold, steely answer to the chilling question. Though announced two days later, President Ferdinand Marcos had declared martial law in the country through Presidential Proclamation 1081, dated and signed Sept. 21, 1972. On the rear-view mirror, Mang Maldo saw olive-drab military six-by-six trucks unloading armed soldiers and rolled barbed wire where the car had just passed.
Martial law came like a rending rifle-butt hit on the gut of the Filipino. No one, or maybe hardly anyone, had advance information hat this would happen. But of course! A power-grab has to be swift and total, final. And the Filipino people cowered and slunk into the safety of acquiescence, justifying acceptance in the singing of the propagandist hymn of the glorified “Ang Bagong Lipunan” (the New Society).
It took 11 years for the common tao (folk) to awaken against martial law, when oppositionist Senator Benigno Aquino was killed going down the stairs to the tarmac from the airplane that brought him home on Aug. 21, 1983 from US exile. The utter deviousness of the obvious double-cross irreconcilably broke the trust of the Filipino for Marcos and his dictatorship. Yet the whisperers against the “Conjugal dictatorship” of the Marcoses were careful not to rouse the demon lest it lashed and tore at anyone and everyone in the fury of arrogant power.
It was the youth that squarely faced the demonic dragon and openly protested against the dictatorship. The young mother in the middle-class car on the silent EDSA when martial law was proclaimed was studying at the University of the Philippines (UP) then, and she experienced students being called out of their classrooms by student activist-leaders to assemble in front of Palma Hall to rally against Marcos. They organized early evening teach-ins at the Sunken Garden to understand and be impassioned over the rights lost by the trashing of the democratic Constitution. Sometimes the UP students joined other young activists from the other schools in Manila.
Parents and older adults perhaps quietly admired the fervor of the youth and eventually let go of their hedges to keep the understandably more certain status quo for day-to-day survival. The overbearing mundane responsibility to provide for, and protect the younger generation superseded noble but nebulous rights and freedoms — but the youth themselves had more clearly seen how the future of their generation and future generations was more urgent than the present compromises for mere survival.
And so the faux lifting of martial law and a rigged re-election were the last attempted compromises offered by Marcos to keep himself in power. But no more was the symbolic EDSA silent and accepting. On Feb. 25, 1986, the EDSA People Power Revolution ousted Ferdinand Marcos, dictator for 14 years.
In the exhilaration and exuberance of the restoration of freedom and democracy, a revolutionary government was formed, installing the “real winner” of Marcos’ February snap elections, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, widow of the slain Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., as president. The 1987 Constitution was installed which strengthened democratic political and human rights of Filipinos, highlighting that never again should martial law be imposed beyond a limit of six months as approved by Congress, and only upon actual invasion or rebellion, not merely imminent danger thereof as specified in Article VII, Section 18.
Are Filipinos living happily ever after EDSA I? One can tell from the stillness of the EDSA highway that Filipinos are perversely content with their present condition. It is quiet on EDSA — no blowing of horns, only the lowest-gear purring of engines idling and then moving inch by inch on the laborious two-hour, 10-kilometer route from Cubao to Makati. A huge parking lot, EDSA is, everyone accepts with misplaced humor. And that demonstrates the Filipino trait of adaptability and compromise.
But adaptability and compromise are unpardonable when principles of liberty, equality, and Life itself are exchanged for personal “peace” — “para wala na lang gulo” (just so there will be no trouble). The Marcoses are back in power, according to the May 24, 2018 report of Interaksyon: Imee Marcos, Ferdinand and Imelda’s eldest, is Senator; Imelda is Ilocos Norte’s 2nd District representative; Matthew Marcos-Manotoc, Imee’s son, is a senior board member in the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan; and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, former Senator, is still contesting his claimed win for Vice-President in the 2016 elections.
And the Filipino people have elected Rodrigo Duterte, an unabashed Marcos admirer-supporter as President, and through him have other Marcos die-hards been appointed and/or given high positions in government. It exacerbates the tragedy even more that former EDSA activists who helped oust Marcos are now shamelessly pro-Duterte, pro-Marcos, and showing themselves inclined to justifying continued martial law, partially or totally, over the country.
Except for a few EDSA Revolution stragglers called “Dilawan” (“Yellow,” as in former President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III’s Liberal Party color), some “Reds” or communist/communist-inclined political voices, and some “Whites” (civil society rights advocates not directly aligned to Yellow or Red) — the general public is quiet and accepting. Survey outfits whose results are presented in the media have convinced the public that the present governance is popular and trusted above any other president since EDSA I, including the democracy icon, Corazon Aquino herself.
But in at least the last two anniversaries of EDSA I, the youth have loudly declared themselves not laid-back like most of their elders about the suspected creeping dictatorship of a strongman president. Though many have wrung their hands and fretted about the revisionism of Philippine history by the new slants to glorify Marcos’ martial law and the omission of mentions of the violence and atrocities in that dark age of his dictatorship, the energetic and passionate youth are the ones who come in throngs to rally at each angry remembrance of Marcos’ declaration of martial law.
The inaction on the revisionism of history was frontally addressed by the announcement on national television on Monday last week by the University of the Philippines (UP) that it will be offering a subject on martial law starting January 2020: Philippine Studies 21: Wika, Panitikan, at Kultura sa Ilalim ng Batas Militar (Language, Literature, and Culture under Martial Law). Last year, on Sept. 21, UP marked the first UP Day of Remembrance for martial law victims with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission (HRVVMC), formalizing institutional partnership in establishing the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial now being built in UP Diliman, for completion in 2020.
Anti-martial law activist Judy Taguiwalo, in her UP Day of Remembrance proclamation speech last year, spoke about 3,257 killed, 35,000 tortured, 1,838 disappeared, and 70,000 imprisoned during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation has thus far listed 85 martyrs of the Marcos regime from UP.
Senator Imee Marcos obviously hurts at the continued demonizing of the Marcoses. In a television interview cited by Rappler on Sept. 18, she said, “The problem with academic freedom is that it’s the freedom of only one side, and not the other side.”
“Demonizing the demon” is the rightful fight for freedoms and rights by the youth who cannot rely on complacent compromises engaged by older generations.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.