Outside Manila: September, 49 years ago

Column box-Tito Genova Valiente-Annotations

Our city had two Black Saturdays in September, 1972.

A local paper of Naga City in Camarines Sur, Naga Times, in its issue dated September 24, 1972, bears this headline, PC Calms Public. Martial Law had been declared a day before this issue came out.

“PC” refers to the Philippine Constabulary, a police force formed by the American colonial government, which was later merged with the Integrated National Police to constitute the Philippine National Police.

The headline, with its drophead, says: “No military takeover is assured here.” The article continues: “There is no cause for fear. Keep calm. There is no military takeover of the civil government. Life will be as normal as possible.” The assurance of normalcy is further explained in the succeeding sentence as it mentions the local leaders, including Col. Antonio T. Barrameda, then Provincial Commander, assuring the public that “the civil government here will continue its business as usual.”

Boxed beside the headline article is an article on “The General Orders.” Explaining this, the article states: PRESIDENT MARCOS issued 6 General Orders, all dated 22 September 1972, to implement his Proclamation 1081 declaring Martial Law throughout the Philippines.” The article summarized the said orders, which provide that “he is governing the nation and directing the operation of the entire government in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces as vested in him by the Constitution.” Forming part of this order, Marcos “orders the Secretary of National Defense (Juan Ponce Enrile occupied this position at this time) to arrest and take into custody all (underscoring mine) named in a list (attached to GO 2); as well as all persons (underscoring mine) as may have committed crimes of insurrection or rebellion; crimes against national security, the law of nations, the fundamental laws of the state, public order; crimes involving usurpation of authority, improper use of names, uniform and insignias; and those guilty of crimes as public officers, or those who have violated any decree promulgated by him [Marcos]—until ordered released by him [Marcos] or by his duly authorized representative.”

Right below this article on the General Orders, is an update on a news that has nothing to do with martial rule or with the nation. It was placed under the main title, Aftermath of a Black Saturday. It is about the Colgante incident, which refers to an old bridge (Colgante is a Spanish term that means “hanging, suspension bridge”; during the tragedy, the bridge was not technically a suspension bridge anymore) spanning the Naga River. The bridge crashed on a Saturday, September 16, 1972, during the annual fluvial procession that ferries the icon of the Virgin of Peñafrancia from the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral back to her shrine by the river.

This particular news says: “The official count of the dead in the Colgante bridge disaster is now 111.” To many, this number was not correct as they felt there were more deaths from that incident. The news continues: “Meanwhile, in other developments, some 20 damage suits against the city arising from the worst accident that ever happened here are expected to be filed this week…”

Two photos at the bottom of the bridge shows the rescue operations following the Colgante mishap. The caption states how “when the Colgante bridge collapsed under the weight of hundreds of people watching the fluvial procession last Saturday afternoon, more of them died than in the bloody Peñafrancia fiesta in 1898, when Filipino civil guards rose in revolt, killed Spanish civilians and ended 333 years of Spanish rule.”

On the same front page is the editorial written by the editor of Naga Times, the inestimable Luis F. General. According to the editorial: “President Marcos has placed the entire country under martial law. And the question of the day—perhaps of the decade—is: What is the meaning of martial law?”

General proceeds further in the editorial: “It seems the simplest, the safest and most accurate answer is, to paraphrase Justice Holmes, that the meaning of martial law is what the president does and nothing more pretentious. There is now law, no interpretation by our Supreme Court that defines with enough precision the mechanics and matter; the height, weight, and breadth; the extent and limits of the powers that the President has assumed, as both the Executive and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, with his declaration of martial law.”

The editorial has foretold the future: martial law would last for decades; the same questions asked by the editor would be asked by more but they would be asked “subversively”—until the democratic space was restored again.

Atty. Luis F. General, one of the staunchest and most prominent Marcos critics in the region, would be arrested like many other journalists and politicians. The arrest, according to the late editor’s son, Atty. Luis Ruben General, himself an outstanding lawyer and writer, took place on September 25, 1972, a Monday. This was a day after what would be the last issue of that brave paper.

When the Colgante came crashing down that Saturday, the Bikolanos, especially those who had claimed to have seen apparitions of the Virgin on the late evening sky over the city, thought that was an omen. But a week after that tragedy, on another Saturday, martial rule was declared by the dictator, bringing in years of injustices, disappearances and death.

With the fall of that bridge was also the fall of a Republic.

E-mail: titovaliente@yahoo.com

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