BY the time I write my column next week, there should be a new president. That person could resume the dark, evil days of martial rule in which my generation spent as a 19 or 20-year- old citizen, or one that would promise, at the very least, a hope for a new beginning.
In September 1972, I joined a generation that was either coming out of high school or spending a few months in college. That generation spent the elementary years when the country was one of the more comfortable economies in Asia. One dollar was equivalent to two pesos. Converting the currency was easy: a comics or a chocolate in dollar was simply multiplied by two.
By the time we reached high school, the president was threatening the youth. Activism was on the rise in schools and young minds were seen as impressionable enough to embrace ideologies that would run counter to the developmental track engineered by a man who would later transform himself into a dictator.
The ’70s was called the angry decade. Anger, of course, implied an unthinking state, what Buddha describes as similar to grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else, and where you are the one who gets burned.
What we had was not anger; what we had was rage. This was the energy that pushed young men and women to search for a new path to progress. But rage was not enough. Rage worked in a space that was untrammeled. The government saw that space, which was meant for the generation that was young then. The oppression began. The killing rose. Rage must be murdered.
Martial Law came, enforced at the behest of a world perceived to be losing its grip on reality. But that reality was created by a government aimed at disfiguring notions of freedom and choice in favor of an authority disguised as a benign force leading to nationhood.
The population increased as poverty increased. My generation began to share territory with another generation, the latter losing memories of other presidents. It mattered very much that leadership had to change. Eternity is only for the divine. And yet my generation matured with only one top leader overseeing what we did not realize to be a slow decay of this country. He proclaimed himself the father of this New Society and he possessed a name, a brand that would be shared by his kin—all mutant tyrants, all aberrations of the political, mere shadows of the sovereign.
I am in my city now, where I saw the force of dictatorship. That force permutated—some as explicit as in the jailing of those who dared criticize the dictator or any member of his family. The same force manifested itself subtly in a daily life guided by shallow slogans. Martial music was played everywhere, its melody and rhythm ironically similar to those that guided the movement of the youth brave enough to battle it out with the establishment.
In my neighborhood, there was a family whose father was a PC, an abbreviation for Philippine Constabulary. We really did not understand his work. He was not a policeman but he would come out smart in his khaki uniform. A gentleman. When Martial Rule came to the land, he was a feared man. He stood for the might of a State that brook no reason and listened to no pleas for mercy.
By the mid- and late-70s, those of us educated began to graduate. We looked for employment. The good ones landed in various government corporations. We had stories to tell in whisper when we came home late at night, how our office was being used by the State. The more colorful ones were about those organizations that were used by the First Lady. From the Department of Education that fielded their teachers to dance along Roxas Blvd. when dignitaries visited the country to technocrats depicting the abridged history of the Filipino people in tableaux vivant. I belonged to an office that prepared sandwiches for the “performers,” which included young boys and girls waving little flags of whatever country the visitor was representing. The Woman learned this from her visit to China. She was also replicating the grandeur she witnessed when she was sent by her husband in 1971 to Persepolis for Iran’s celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. Deep into dictatorship this would be the trend: Imelda sailing on, her voice getting deeper and deeper to simulate intellectualism, which no one in the Cabinet dared question, while Marcos stayed in the country, exhibiting already the anxiety of leaving the Palace for that was tantamount to vacating the throne while three or four of his sycophants salivated at the thought of usurpation.
Then 1986 came. I was there at Edsa. With my generation. The generations that survived the conjugal and familial dictatorship found themselves running the private and public institutions. We were forming the opinions of the cities, towns and barangays.
Presently, it is my generation and that which followed us that should be teaching or imparting the dreadful lessons of the ’70s and ’80s. We have so much to give having come from the honor of facing three options: to fight the government and go to the hinterlands; to disappear and be accepted as having died; or to live and work in offices and communities that thrived under false statistics and be afraid to speak ill of the government.
The same generations now alive are wondering why there are Filipinos dreaming of the dictatorship as the Golden Age. Where did our knowledge go? What happened to our memories? Possessed of answers, we are left to asking questions if only to save our face and the happiness that we felt was stolen from us by the dictatorship. The youth could look to us but we have no answers why the son of the dictator and his family are back, not with a vengeance, for they have no right to possess that. My generation has opted to be dumb. We elected not to talk. We have chosen not to remember.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano