On Martial Law

If all you knew about Ninoy was that he was a martyr without understanding why, then any propaganda countering that can get a foothold. ~Patrick Salamat

He has a point. Kaya pala madalas ako makarinig ng linyang, Mabuti pa noong panahon ni Marcos…

Just out of the blue, I thought of revisiting Jessica Zafra’s blog. Back in college I read Jessica Zafra’s Twisted books courtesy of my younger brother. I read her blog occasionally (‘pag naaalala). A blog that my older brother told me was hacked so I checked if it’s okay now. Okay na sya ngayon. And may article pala sya tungkol sa martial law. Interesting yung title:

A reader asks: What was so wrong about Martial Law? Help us answer the question.

I got curious. Binasa ko during work. Dati kasi I asked a senior citizen colleague what happened to them during martial law. And she said nothing bad happened to them. They followed the rules imposed during martial law. It was only those who fought the Marcos regime who were tortured and got killed.

(Kaya tumagal ang martial law for 14 years. Many people chose to be quiet to survive.)

I am posting Jessica Zafra’s October 2 blog here. Her article is a compilation of responses from concerned readers who experienced martial law under Pres. Marcos, including Jessica’s own experience. Quite long but worth reading.


A reader asks: What was so wrong about Martial Law? Help us answer the question.

By Jessica Zafra

When I read this comment from a reader, my first instinct was to say something sarcastic. And then it occurred to me that this letter sums up the rift in our society at present. It asks: What was so wrong about Martial Law? And if we have no negative memories of the period, why should we care?

We need to answer this question respectfully and dispassionately, at the most personal, relatable level, without political lectures and economic models. With your indulgence, I have taken some of the comments from the previous post and added them here. I am also posting a column I wrote on the anniversary of the declaration of martial law 20 years ago. Please post your reactions in Comments. And please post the question on your social media sites and ask friends to answer it, too. Thank you. I apologise to those whose answers are redacted or not published. Our intention is to keep the discussion calm and civil.

Here is the comment from swanoepel.

batang martial law ako pero minsan ang sakit basahin mga nega article ex raissa robles at yung pinagkakalat ni senator hontiveros. kasalanan ko ba kung noong martial law eh maganda buhay ko at wala akong matandaan ng kanegahan nong time na yun maganda business namin at walang crime sa lugar namin napaka peaceful natatandaan ko pa after school nood lang ako ng mga old movies sa channel 9 ng Silveria ni dolphy at SuperGirl ni Ike Lozada yung may mga patay na bumangon takbo mga tao sa simbahan then eat bulaga(lets get physical dance contest) flordeluna Iskul Bukol See True etc puro magaganda natatandaan ko at wala akong matandaang gulo at may free klim milk pa nga tuwing sabado ng umaga sa plaza at sa school naman may libreng merienda everyday lugaw at ginataang mais at yung logo na BAGONG LIPUNAN kaka inspire maging honor noon dahil may mga gift pack pag graduation at I remember pag luluwas kami manila ang ganda ganda ng maynila at ang airport may balcony pa para makita pagsakay sa eroplano parang mga artista mga hinahatid sa airport noon at talagang well dress. Paano naman kami Sen Hontiveros yung mga walang nega experience sa ML?

Here are the reactions of friends and readers.


I was nine when Martial Law was declared, and I vaguely remember that when it started there was nothing on TV, then a fellow (whom I later learned was Kit Tatad) made some sort of announcement that upset the adults.

The early years are a blur. We were middle class at a time when the middle class was minuscule, my father was making his way up the ranks in a company that imported machines, my mom was a housewife, my grandmother lived with us, we three kids were in grade school. Imported things were rare and a treat to receive, and one had to go to the PX stores in Dau, Pampanga to get them and they were expensive. There were only four TV stations, and we would listen to radio dramas in the afternoon.

I did not know anyone who disappeared — back then.

By the time I was in college in the early 1980s, it was a different story.

What I do remember most about Martial Law in the ’70s was that there was always a sense of foreboding, that the shiny good stuff was a thin veneer over something worse — kind of like the art projects we would do in grade school where we would cover an Oslo paper with crayon colors, then cover the whole paper with India ink, then scratch out a drawing, letting the colors come through. I remember the Potemkin villages — the colorful and pretty walls that Imelda would have put up to hide the slums around the airport, so that visiting businessmen would not see them. (The airport itself was quite nice, and you could wave to all those relatives as they walked across the tarmac to climb up the stairs into the planes that would bring them to another country where they could make a life for themselves away from here. They all wanted to get away from here. Most of my mother’s cousins left.)

My clearest memory was of a regular family dinner in the early days, asking “what is Martial Law” and having all the adults suddenly shush me up and whisper that I shouldn’t ask such questions where I could be heard — such talk could only take place upstairs in the bedrooms at night after the family had retired. They were afraid the maids would hear. The maids who were from Leyte. Leyte was where Imelda Marcos was from. They were afraid the maids would report us. All these years later those fears seem ridiculous — those lovely ladies still work for the family after all these decades, but at the time no one knew and everyone was scared and nobody trusted anyone else. There were too many whispered stories of what happened if you were overheard.

We learned to fear people in uniform. Avoid them at all cost. Approach anyone else for help but not a man in a uniform. We would see men caught for breaking curfew or for wearing their hair long pulling up weeds at the landscaped areas along the walls of Camp Crame, and we knew that on the other side of that wall there were much darker things happening. What exactly, we kids did not know, but we knew it was bad — it was like the boogieman under your bed or in the closet at night.

Every Sunday the family would visit friends in Greenhills, and as we kids played, we would hear more whispers when we went near the grownups — we’d hear names of people we read about in the papers, of land someone was forced to sell. Then my parents would hurry us all into the car and my father would drive like a crazy person to make it home in Pasay City before curfew. If we did not hit any red lights, the trip took 15 minutes.

There were two break-ins that I recall happened during Martial Law, and there were some thefts in our neighborhood. People say there was less crime back then — but I think they should remember that there were way fewer people back then too, so fewer criminals.

I remember the Noise Barrage in 1978 — we piled into the car with my dad and drove around honking the horn and it was exhilarating when we heard so many others making noise too. It felt so good not to whisper, be quiet, be careful, trust no one.

It was the same feeling I had many years later when we heard Marcos and his family had fled.

These days I am starting to get this uncomfortably familiar feeling. These days I find myself again watching what I say. I find myself telling friends to “shush,” to temper what they say on social media. Be careful. You do not know who will read you. You don’t know what will happen next.


Although I was apolitical, my two younger brothers were members of the Ateneo student government and were briefly detained. Also, when I was at Harvard in the early 1980s, Imelda was reported in the US papers as buying whole shows of expensive art—she was starting her Renaissance, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art collection, some of which was later recovered by the government. She was also using government money to buy million-dollar real estate and jewelry for herself and her family. By then Swiss accounts using government money had been opened for herself, her husband and their trustees. They had installed dummies in the key industries, which later settled with the new government. It was an era of unbridled greed and corruption.


Halos parehas pala na experience natin nung Martial Law, ah. Grade 2 ako nung na-ideklara ang Martial Law. Actually hindi ko masyadong naiintindihan kung ano yun. Nakita ko lang ang picture ni Marcos sa dyaryo tapos walang pasok ng ilang linggo kaya masaya ako. Lalo pa akong masaya dahil panay cartoons ang palabas sa Channel 9. Wala kasing ibang channel nun time na yan. Pagbalik sa school ang naalala ko, tinuruan kami ng “Himig ng Bagong Lipunan”. Sa totoo lang, ang ganda ng kanta, nakaka-proud!

Sa Don Bosco ako nag-aral, dalawa kami ng kapatid ko dito, apat sa U.P., isa sa St. Paul’s Q.C. at yung bunso bubwit pa. Six boys at 2 girls kami sa pamilya. Naalala ko rin yung logo ng New Society. Actually, sa advertising ako nagtatrabaho ngayon at sa perspektibo kong ito, ang husay ng kampanya ni Marcos at ang logo niya ay da bomb! Favorite graphic design ko pa rin yun. Ganun rin ang routine ko: school, bahay, sa hapon, nood ng “Anak ng Bulkan”, “Magnificent Bakya” sa Piling Piling Pelikula. Kapag half day, “Eat Bulaga”!

Tahimik nun for a few years. Parang maayos naman. Isang hapon, pag-uwi namin ng kapatid ko galing sa school, may naka-park na dalawang Metrocom sa harap ng bahay namin. Hindi ko alam kung naalala mo ang METROCOM. Yan yung “special action force” ni Marcos para sa Metro Manila. Anyway, medyo kinabahan kami ng konti kasi bakit may MTEROCOM sa bahay?Pag pasok namin, pinaakyat kaagad kami ng kasambahay sa kwarto namin. Nakita ko na may kausap yung parents ko at yung taga METROCOM. May kasamang kaibigan na abugado yung parents ko.

Maya’t-maya, naka-alis na yung taga METROCOM. Umakyat kaagad yung parents ko at dali-daling tinawag kami para mag rosaryo. Gawain namin yan every evening kasama ang lola ko. Walang paliwanag sa amin at derecho lang kami sa pagdasal ng rosaryo. Medyo na weirdan ako dito kasi hindi namin alam kung anong nangyayari. Ang napansin ko lang ay may kulang sa amin. Yung isang kapatid kong lalaki na nag-aaral sa U.P.. Patapos na sana ng rosaryo, sa bandang recitation ng “Hail Holy Queen’, bigla na lamang bumuhos ng iyak ang nanay ko, pati na rin ang lola ko. I have never seen my mother cry because medyo hindi siya emotional na tao. So nagulat at kinabahan ako.

Finally, tinipon kami ng Father ko at inexplain niya kung bakit dumating ang METROCOM. Yung isang brother ko na wala sa bahay ay nahuli pala at na-detain sa Camp Crame. Sabi ng METROCOM, nag-participate daw kasi siya sa isang “lightning rally”, illegal assembly daw yan. Yung father ko ay duktor. Nagtrabaho siya sa mga kumpanya na pag-aari ng mga Lopez, wala naman kinalaman ito sa paghuli sa brother ko pero yung kaibigan niyang lawyer ay kilala niya yung Heneral na nag-OIC sa Meralco. Yung Meralco, sa mga Lopez yan at sinequester ni Marcos. Anyway, sabi ng tatay ko, makikiusap sila sa Heneral para tignan ang kaso ng brother ko. Parang bangungot yung nangyayari nun kasi wala naman akong hinala na may subersibo sa pamilya namin. Kasi yung pagturo sa amin sa Don Bosco ay yung “Old Society” magulo at ang mga kabataan na nag-po-protesta panay komunista.

Hindi ko sukat akalain ng yung brother ko ay komunista, at least yan ang dating sa akin. Tumahimik na lang kaming lahat at doon ko naramdaman ang takot. Kasi pag-nabansagan kang aktibista, komunista, kalaban ka ng pagbabago, ng New Society eh bawal na bawal yan. Hadlang sa progreso. Lumipas ang mga ilang araw, finally na-release yung brother ko. Siyempre pasalamat kami na buhay siya kasi ang daming tsismis nuon tungkol sa mga dinudukot ng militar at hindi nalang nahahanap. Ang kuwento ng brother ko ay kakalabas lang niya ng library sa U.P. nang biglang may mga estudyanteng nagtatakbuhan. Hinahabol ng mga pulis. Nadamay yung brother ko. Ini-explain niya na galing lang siya sa study gorup at palabas lang ng library pero dinala pa rin siya sa Crame.

Cut long story short, blinotter, pinahawak sa kanya ang isang karatula na kinumpiska sa rally at kinunan siya ng litrato. “Ebidensya” na ginamit laban sa kanya. Hindi sila kasi pinatawag sa abugado at kung sino man. Kaso kaagad. Nabigyan rin ng “conditional release” siya ng militar, sa tulong ng pakiusap ng kaibigan ng tatay ko at regalong Johnny Walker Blue. Sa conditional release ng brother ko, officially nasa “listahan” na siya ng militar, kinailangan niyang mag-report once a week sa official custodian niya sa Crame. I-re-report niya kung ano yung activities niya at sino ang mga kinausap niya nung liggo na yan. Bawal rin siya bumiyahe sa labas ng bansa kaya hindi namin nakita yung sinasabi mong maayos na airport na may viewing deck.

Nakabantay na rin ang tatay ko kasi naging personal physician siya ni Mr. Lopez Sr. Kapag may balak lumabas naman ang brother ko outside ng Metro Manila ay kailangan niyang magpaalam sa militar. Kelangan niya sabihin kung saan siya pupunta, sino kasama niya at ano ang pakay niya. At pagdating sa patutunguhan niya, kelangan mag-report siya sa Military Provincial outpost para verified na tutoong pumunta siya sa lugar na ipinaalam niya. Pagbalik sa Maynila, kelangan mag-report uli siya sa Crame na nakabalik nga siya. So isipin mo lang ang hassle kapag luluwas kaming pamilya para mag-bakasyon. Mula noon, sinabihan kami ng father namin na wag na wag namin ikukuwento kung anong nangyari sa kapatid ko at mag-iingat kami sa pananalita namin sa publiko lalo na kung tungkol sa gobyerno.

Yan po lamang ang experience ko sa Martial Law. Naging maayos pa rin naman pero may malaking halong takot. Tahimik ba ang buhay nun? Mga ilan taon rin maayos pero unting-unti medyo napansin rin namin na bumalik ang criminalidad sa baranggay namin. Ilang beses kaming ninakawan, yung brother kong nakulong ay minsa’y na-hold-up pagkagaling niya sa Crame, at nung pinasukan ang bahay namin at ni-report ng nanay ko sa pulis, ay aba siya pa ang binasahan ng “Miranda Rights”, yan yung binabashan karaniwan sa mga kriminal tungkol sa mga karapatan nila; “Ikaw ay may karapatan sa abugado, may karapatan kang manahimik dahil baka magamit ‘to laban sa iyo, etc..”. Siyempre umurong na lang ang nanay ko. Dalhin ka ba naman sa isang kwarto at paligiran ng mg pulis.

Masaya naman ako para sa mga ibang nakaranas ng kaginhawaan nung Martial Law. Na walang naging masamang karanasan na masama. Pasalamat rin ako na ito lang ang naranasan namin. Komunista ba yung kapatid ko? Sabi niya hinde. Pero merong siyang mga kaibigan na namundok at napatay. Well sabi naman ng iba, life choice mo naman yan eh. Karapatan mo rin naman wag pakinggan yung mga kuwento dahil naging maayos naman ang buhay ninyo. Karapatan mo rin naman magreklamo na naiingayan ka kay Risa Hontiveros. Pakiusap ko lang ay sana maalala mo lang kung ilan ang nag-buwis ng buhay para magamit mo ang karapatan na ito. Mabuhay kabayan. Nuod na tayo ng Eat Bulaga! Buhay pa rin siya!


I have martial law stories from my family. My mother and her sisters were in the Diliman commune in UP. They lost a lot of things in the dorms and had to leave to the province when they started teargassing the area. They were lucky enough to get away during martial law, make happy memories, and soon my mom went back to study in the provinces, where she met my dad.

Meanwhile, their cousin and her husband – student activists back then too – were less fortunate. Her cousin escaped prison when she had to give birth, while the husband was detained and tortured until Marcos was booted off. My mom’s best friend have a “desaparecidos” brother too – they arrested him at home and they never saw him again. Titas and titos went to People Power, while my parents stayed in the provices because nobody was there to babysit me.

Growing up, martial law and the crimes of the Marcoses were very real to my family, and until very recently I thought everybody felt the same way (except, I thought, if you’re Ilocano). It was hard for me to hear my that some of my best friends wanted to support BBM last election – I never imagined the rift being so wide. I try to take up as a duty to tell my family’s story, and to balance it out with some good (my mom would insist that the first Marcos term was ok), and hope that they would think about how real this was for a lot of people, and how it wounded a lot of families.


I was born during the Martial Law and belonged (and still do) to the middle class. My parents were former activists during their college years in the 1970s. But they didn’t end worse. As a matter of fact, my old man even joined the government because he felt then he (I don’t know with others of his kind) could make a difference under the New Society. For the record, I have relatives who are still hardcore Marcos fans/loyalists. However, in February 1986, he and my mom joined others in Edsa Revolt/Revolution because they had enough with the excesses with the royal family, especially the rampant corruption and the declining economy manifested in the 1980s. Yes, Marcos is the most intelligent, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.


Not starting a fight but just because my family, your family, or whoever’s family did not have members who suffered during martial law does not negate the tens of thousands who were imprisoned and tortured, the thousands who were murdered, and the countless more who were never seen again. Just because martial law was smooth sailing for you and your family does not make the fact that it institutionalized cronyism, state-sponsored killings and tortures, and corruption.


Me too, our family never experienced hardship during martial law. Nakinabang pa kami, ika nga. Imelda was so gracious to have given us a Jeep for our livelihood; and during the 1986 election campaigns, it was used to “hakot” audiences in exchange for one sack of rice. Never mind that the “hakot” audiences were all of our neighbors including children because my Dad promised there was free food and snacks. My Dad went to Malacañang and had his picture taken with Marcos putting his hand on my Dad’s shoulder. My Dad had the picture enlarged and framed. I went to school with Sunkist oranges and Granny Smith apples as “baon” while my classmates looked on with envy. This was the time when having imported things was rare.

Oo, nakinabang kami noong martial law. Pero naiisip ko na yung jeep na ibinigay sa amin, inagaw sa mga batang nagutom at namatay sa Negros. Oo, hindi magulo sa lugar namin. Pero naaalala ko kung paano ako sinaway ng lola ko from singing an anti-martial law ditty that I and my playmates were singing in all innocence. Bata pa lang kami pero na-censor na agad ang kadaldalan ko. #NeverAgain

Naaalala ko rin tuwing pumupunta kami ng Quezon province at kung gaano kahirap ang pagdaraanan para lang madalaw ang lolo at lola ko. Inaabot ng 10 hours yung 4 hours lang ngayon. Twenty years sila sa pwesto pero wala silang ginawa para sa probinsya ko. Kinakayod ng bao ang kalsada tuwing tag-ulan para lang may makadaan na sasakyan. Kung hindi nila kakayudin, magugutom sila dahil walang goods and services na makakarating. Considering na ang Coco Levy fund ang nagpayaman sa mga cronies nila. Mali pala ako, sa mga coconut farmers pala galing yung jeep namin kaya wala kaming utang na loob. Kapag naaalala ko yung paghihirap ng mga kaprobinsya ko, nabibwisit ako at malamang, high-pitched at garalgal na sa galit ang boses ko.

My article from 1994 (republished in 2012), Big Bad Marsha

Forty years ago today there were no classes. There was nothing on TV either, and for some reason my mother was glued to the radio. I had no idea what was going on but I wasn’t complaining—I was happy not to be in school. I was terrified of school, and had in fact dropped out of my nursery school for a month. It was not so much the teachers who scared me, although Sister Leticia in Prep had the basilisk’s talent for turning children to stone with a single look, or the lessons, which I actually, nerdily enjoyed, but the games. I was spectacularly awful at games: always first to be hit in “touching ball”, always first to fall in Chinese garter. But the game which really caused my teeth to chatter was a seemingly innocuous one called “Open the Basket”…

Going back to that fateful day in 1972, I did not see anything unusual in the sudden suspension of classes. In the preceding months classes had been suspended often—the reason had something to do with law and order and Plaza Miranda. On this day I overheard my mom talking to a friend on the phone. She was using her “Keep your voice down, I don’t want to scare the child” tone, which always succeeded in scaring me. She looked worried, and she uttered the words, “Martial law”. Then she looked out the window, as if she were expecting a tank to rumble down the street.

I thought that the object of my mother’s anxiety was a Chinese woman named Marsha. I wondered who this Marsha was and what she looked like. Since she was discussed in hush-hush tones, I figured she was either a powerful being like Gigantor, or a horrifying crone like the evil aunts Etang Discher played in those old movies on TV. I had a great fear of Etang Discher—I thought she would try to drown me.

That is all I remember of the day Marcos declared martial law. For the next fourteen years Big Bad Marsha lived in our house, and even if we couldn’t see her she was a malign presence. Sometimes she seemed to possess my parents in much the same way the demon possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist. I would ask a perfectly harmless question like, “What’s martial law?” or “Why does everyone have to be home before curfew?” and my parents would look alarmed, say “Sssh” and change the topic. The immediate effect of martial law was to make my parents paranoid.

My recollections of the early years of martial law are vague and disjointed. I’m not even sure these memories are mine—I could’ve read them somewhere and filed them away as my own. I remember some big to-do about an assassination attempt on Imelda Marcos: someone had tried to stab her, and for some time afterward she had her arm in a cast. I remember the Madame’s plan to force-feed the City of Man with high culture by way of “Renaissance Theatre”. On Wednesday nights all the TV channels would air cultural programs—ballets and such—and we were expected to view them as avidly as we would Combat or Star Trek. Most of all I remember Apo Makoy butting in on all my morning cartoons to deliver yet another loooong and booooring speech.

I was one of the lucky ones: my parents had neither political nor economic interests, and being exceedingly middle class their abiding concern was to not rile anyone in power. We were not openly harassed or persecuted. We proceeded on our orderly way, quite unaware of how Big Bad Marsha was screwing with our minds.

There is a vast gulf which separates the people who grew up in the Sixties with the martial law babies. The Sixties kids had freedom and experimentation and a sense that they could do anything. We had “Sssh” and restrictions and the weird fear that we would disappear for no reason at all. Most of us were not arrested or tortured or thrown in the slammer, but there was no need to: we were already being programmed into a generation of zombies.

Incredibly, I hear people talking fondly of the martial law years: how clean the streets were then, how organized things were, how manageable the traffic. They conveniently forget that these things were achieved by scaring us shitless. We’ve been through all that. Screw us once, shame on them; screw us twice, shame on us.

Taken from http://www.jessicarulestheuniverse.com



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: