Curators of Nightmares?

by Juan L. Mercado


“Happy Grandparents Day” proclaimed the Sunday handcrafted cards  from Kristin 8, and Katarina, 5.  We shared ice cream, sweets, then  chatted. “Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild,” a  Welsh proverb says.

Yet, unease bugged us. Earlier, we sifted through files, for use in this column to mark 40th anniversary of martial law. How would it affect these kids?

Curb freedoms to save the Republic, Ferdinand Marcos declared on Sept. 21, 1972.  Proclamation 1081 suspended human rights, padlocked Congress, censored the press, salvaged many, co-opted more. A 14-year corrupt dictatorship followed.

“It was one of the best things that happened,” Imelda Marcos declared. “Tayo ang nagligtas ng demokraysa,”  The Marcoses always tried to  scrub a nation’s memory blank about summary executions, torture, theft, etc.  “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase it’s memory,” historian Milan Hubl cautions.

People Power restored freedoms. But did nationwide amnesia set in?  Our grandson Adrian is a high school senior. “I  know little about martial law,” he admits. “Were you not jailed lolo?”  Neither does his sister Camille, a senior at  University of California Los Angeles. Will Kristin and Kathie be also clueless when they grow up?

We won’t be around then. ‘Our birthday suits need pressing,” journalists imprisoned by Marcos can crack with Bob Hope.  Our number is dwindling.  There is little time left. Demography 101 tells us. So, we recall, compulsively maybe. Perhaps our stories may offer insights, specially for those too young to remember.

Forgetting embeds injustice. Falsification of history invites repeated abuse.  It prevents healing. Systematic distortion of facts abort essential reforms.  Three accounts follow, in no particular order,

Story  1:  Siyam-siyam monsoon rains lashed Luzon. Defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile’s bogus ambush, at Wack Wack Golf  Club, was days away. But details of Proclamation 1081 had leaked. At a Press Foundation of Asia meeting, publisher Joaquin Roces sat next to the Indonesian journalist and Magsaysay Awardee Mochtar Lubis. “Sukarno and Suharto arrested you, then padlocked your newspaper,”  Chino  said.  “What is your advice ?”

The conference room fell silent. Lubis’s reply was measured. “First, be friendly with your guards. They’re human. Second, keep busy. Third, don’t let prison embitter you.”

Among 22 Manila-based journalists arrested in the first sweep were: Chino, plus Free Press’ Teodoro Locsin, Napoleon Rama, Max  Soliven. All would add to Lubis’s guidelines: “Draw up a power-of-attorney for the wife.” This can ease burdens for her.

Story 2:   Chronicle’s Ernesto Granada. Graphic’s Luis Mauricio and other detained journalists filed out of the  “Black Maria” van, then entered  the  Supreme Court. There, our pro-bono lawyer Joker Arroyo told us: National Press Club president Eddie Monteclaro filed a habeas corpus challenge (GR L33537 to 73) on our behalf, our pro-bono lawyer  Joker Arroyo told us:.

“Look at  them,” Arroyo  whispered. As the justices filed in,  Arroyo whispered: “Look. Those guys won’t oppose Marcos. But staying in may offer you what thin protection a habeas corpus still affords.” “We stayed in. And Joker proved right.

Marcos sidetracked the challenge by piece-meal releases, rendering cases “moot”.  The  Court later abjectly surrendered it’s  right over habeas corpus. Benigno Aquino intended to question that capitulation. But he  was cut down by an assassin’s bullet  at the airport tarmac.

Story 3:   “All journalists follow me  please,” Col. Generoso Alejo told detainees crammed into Camp Crame’s gymnasium. “You have a visitor.” Outside, an eerie silence blanketed streets, emptied by the dusk-to-dawn curfew. This was martial law’s first week.

Evening News’s Luis Beltran rose from his bed grumbling. From the upper bunk, I shimmied down. We followed Daily Mirror’s Armando Doronila and 18 others, nailed with Proclamation 1081 warrants.

Our “midnight visitor” was our jailor: then PC Commander General Fidel V. Ramos. “Nothing personal, gentlemen,” he said.  “I was ordered to neutralize you. Please cooperate. And we’ll try to make things easy for you.”

That was four decades ago.  Did we cooperate —  by forgetting? Eight out of 10 students today barely recall the kangaroo trial of Benigno Aquino Jr. before Military Commission No. 2.  Or why he was gunned down.

Under the “New Society,” the Philippines became a gulag of safe houses where citizens were tortured, maimed and salvaged, Amnesty International noted. The Metropolitan Intelligence Security group (MISG) ruled as Marcos’s torture chamber. The notorious Col. Rolando Abadilla and Lt. Panfilo Lacson (PMA ’71) were MISG “stars.”

Today, do we care?  Forget martial law, Joseph Estrada whimpered. To the end, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shivered at People Power’s capacity to bring her corrupt regime down.

Rites of remembrance are about “a fine line we tread to honor a difficult past,” Boston Globe Columnist Ellen Goodman once wrote. These exercises “are about the moral costs of both forgetting and remembering injustice to lives lost or forever changed by brutal rulers. Does remembering with undiminished intensity, over time, make us curators of our ancestors’ grievances?  Can we honor the past without being trapped in it?”

We forget at the cost of betrayal.  Amnesia over past crimes ‘reflects a weak sense of the nation and of the common good,” Sociologist John Carroll  writes in “A  Nation in Denial”. “Unless  (the country reaffirms) those values, it may be condemned to forever wander in the valueless powerplays among the elite.


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