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Always Saturday for Gen X

Jonathan Olabre


September 23, 1972, the Day Martial Law was Implemented.


I remember images in black and white in the phosphor television screens when I was young, of rallies and demonstrations by students during the First Quarter Storm. I remember the image of a firetruck that was commandeered by the students that breached the gates of Malacanang on the front page of a newspaper even though I could barely read and write at that age. I remember me and my sisters rushing up to our father when he came home and asking him what treat he brought home to us. But instead of chiz curls, barbecue curls or pretzels by Habaya, he answered “tear gas”. My father was a policeman.


I looked out the window of our house one night and saw all the activity in our garage. Uncles and grand uncles all crowding aboard cars. Of my Lolo Jose, the family patriarch wanting to come along and carrying his Katipunan style bolo. He was prevailed upon not to bring it exposed. He wrapped it with a newspaper but it still retained the shape of a bolo. It was August 21, 1971, The Liberal Party Miting de Avance at Plaza Miranda was bombed and my grand uncle Senator Jovito Salonga was among the casualties.


One Friday, I was still buoyant because I made it to the Top 10 of our Grade 1 class. I was number 7 and I saw my name on the cartolina rocket that showed who were the top ten after the first grading period. My life included My Favorite Martian, UFO, Herculoids, Mightor, Moby Dick, comic magazines, studying and watching the Big News on channel 5 every evening.


But the following morning, I awoke to the loud voice of my grand aunt Aurelia, she was preventing my aunt Ybeth from going to school because my aunt Ybeth said she had exams that day at FEU. “Huwag ka na lumabas! Giyera na!” Lola Aurelia shouted. I went downstairs and there was nothing on the radio, no newspapers and the only channel broadcasting was Channel 9. To my delight, it showed only cartoons. I noticed the demeanor of the adults, they were grim. I was told not to go out the gate nor even come near the gate. I did not know why. That is how it was back then, adults made orders and children followed. I went to the backyard. I saw my grand uncle Delfin, Lolo Jose and several uncles digging. Then the M2 Carbines that went all the way back to World War II, several pistols and guns were slathered in grease, wrapped in plastic and buried.


Later on, there were Metrocom patrols along our street. They announced that there will be a curfew from 5:00 pm until 5:00 am the following day and that will be every day. No children were playing along the street where we lived. Later on that night the cartoons stopped and there was a sign on TV that there will be an important announcement. First came Francisco Tatad. He read Proclamation 1081. He made the announcement that Martial Law has been declared. Then after that President Marcos came on and he gave the reasons why he was declaring Martial Law. I was too young to understand everything that he said.

The next day my parents told me not to talk about the government. I was not to say anything bad about Marcos. I must not tell anybody what is being discussed inside our house. I was not to go out the family compound. I must sleep early. I felt no fear, just a sense of wonder on what was going on. But the truth will come out no matter what.


That only 3 newspapers were allowed and only 2 TV Channels at the start. Channel 9 and Channel 4. They showed only the activities of the government. It was a month before we returned to school. The first thing they did was to teach us the Bagong Lipunan March. I saw PC troops in Plaza Rizal. It was not true that we were self sufficient in rice during those years. It was not reported in the newspapers or on TV how I saw my mother and aunts lining up to buy rice, of how classmates mixed their rice with camote as extenders. The newspapers did not report how 70,000 were already imprisoned. That senators, congressmen, professors, artists, journalists, labourers and students were already being tortured in the camps. That Saturday would last for 14 years.


A Saturday wherein an economy would be hamstrung by non-industrialization, the start of a systematic campaign to dumb down the Filipino by spouting developmental programs and projects that were only Potemkin Villages. An economy sustained by huge foreign loans but would later weigh down the development of the country burdened by huge loan payments. That the PDAF and DAP were created by PD 1177 issued by Marcos in 1977. That a Presidential Decree for Automatic Debt Servicing, committing 45% of the annual revenue of the country to loan payments.


But what Martial Law has done was also akin to the disaster suffered by Philippine Society during WWII. That the best and brightest of those 2 generations were decimated, the flower of Filipino youth nipped in the bud. There became an imbalance on the good and bad in society. The effects can be seen with the profile of the leadership in government now.


The real damage is the loss of a sense of right and wrong, that those responsible were never really made to account.

The real damage is there are those who insist that we remain always on a Saturday. That betrays their words of moving forward. They do not want to pay for their sins.


The real damage is that there are those who refuse that Saturday ever occurred.

I am desperately waiting for Sunday.


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