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Archive for September, 2011

Life goes on

Contrary to what most young people today think, the martial law years wasn’t exactly the “dark years”, as some would have it. To anyone reading the history books or the countless articles written about those years, it might have sounded scary enough living under the rule of a dictator, but that was far from the truth. While it was true the press was muffled and a certain number of civil liberties were taken away from the citizens but overall, it wasn’t as draconian as one might think, certainly not the Orwellian type of society with “Big Brother” watching your every move (although it could be said differently for some); nor did it ever resemble that of other authoritarian regimes such as, say, North Korea where everything was rationed and strictly supervised. Neither were there random arrests and mass executions in the streets and countryside like what happened in Cambodia. And no, there weren’t any (at least none that we know of) internment camps like those set up in Vietnam after the communists took over where untold numbers were imprisoned. There were illegal arrests for sure but it was an exception rather than the norm. In short, friends and neighbors weren’t “disappearing” or dropping dead like flies en masse. That nightmarish scenario resides only in the minds of those who haven’t lived through the era.

For the millions of Pinoys life remained pretty normal — at least, in some ways — and went on unhampered, and unless politics runs in your blood, one wouldn’t worry about receiving sinister-looking visitors in the middle of the night and risk being whisked away to Camp Crame for an “interview”. Even days after the declaration of martial law there still were no telltale sign of a national emergency. People still went about their daily business without much hassle. Stores, cinemas and even bars and casinos were still operating although people had to rush home no sooner than the hands on the clock strikes 10 to beat the curfew.

To be fair to the late dictator, he didn’t exactly turn this country into a garrison state as some quarters would like you to think, but it still didn’t make everything he did right. The downside to the improved peace and order situation was the loss of one’s basic freedom: the right to free speech. Criticism of Marcos and the military was a no-no as long as you lived under their, err… protection.

While it was true that there were fewer crimes being committed — most notably during the early days of martial rule — one could attribute the “improved” peace and order situation to the imposition of curfew which, in reality, is a curtailment of one’s freedom. Another reason to the surprisingly low crime rate was the presence of more than the usual number of police and soldiers in our streets that, unfortunately, points to the creeping militarization of the country. That creeping militarization would eventually extend even to schools, as basic military training (CAT in high school and ROTC in college) became prerequisite for a high school and college diploma.

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Life during the Martial Law era: part 1

The Darkness falls

The first inkling many people had that something definitely was amiss that morning was the eerie silence of the airwaves. For the first time since the last world war, the radios were silent; it crackled with neither the sound of music nor that of human voice, but rather, of a ghostly, unemotional hiss of static. It was as if Manila’s still sleepy inhabitants woke up to a city seemingly frozen in time.

Even in those early years of the seventies, a full decade prior to the advent of cable news and entertainment services — and years before CNN became a byword — Manila’s airwaves was already a busy tangled web of electronic transmissions (AM was king then) what with its hodgepodge of radio stations and four, if I recall it right, television stations that broadcast a steady stream of daily news and assorted programming during the day.

The all too sudden disappearance of familiar faces and voices from both mediums was, for lack of a better word, unnerving to anyone so used to being bombarded with news from the past day’s events. More disconcerting than the silence of the radios, however, was that those bastions of free speech, the newspapers — especially those that made it their life’s work criticizing the powers-that-be — were suspiciously absent on the stands. It was a clear sign that things weren’t as normal as it should be, at least, not in this part of the world.

Far from becoming a ghost town, Manila was abuzz with life, as people went about their daily lives unperturbed — only to slowly realize that everything was indeed strangely different from what it was yesterday. Maybe it was the sudden appearance of armed soldiers in the once neutral streets of the city, or perhaps it was the absence of the many things that people have gotten used to and have taken for granted all those years that made many wonder what in heavens was going on; because along with the broadcasts and ubiquitous dailies, gone too were the daily rallies and protests that was becoming synonymous to the incumbent’s administration.

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