Because commemorating Martial Law means mourning the dead and the living

I wrote this a few months ago, when I was angry at the news. (So what else is new. In the Philippines, and in the rest of the world.) Today, 21 September, is the anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’s imposition of Martial Law in 1972, thereby plunging my country into a long and dark night from which there would be no waking up until around 1986. Some people will necessarily be happy about this date, because they think the Marcoses are not sinners.

I always feel like sackcloth and ashes on this date. 

“Martial Law is trivia.”

“Martial Law is history.”

“Martial Law is done and over with, so let’s move on.”

Well, let me tell you a thing: Martial Law — and its horrors and abuses and all the other things that are far too terrible to merely be subsumed under the farcical term shenanigans — is not trivia to me.

Trivia, they say, and who are they? Imelda Marcos. Imee Marcos. And the current arch-sinner, Bongbong Marcos, who whines about being cheated precisely because he thinks that what he says, goes. The Marcoses who stole billions from the country’s coffers and threw them away to buy art and real estate and atrocious displays of conspicuous consumption are the same Marcoses who are trying to get back into power — for what? So they can do it all over again!

And we are letting them do that, because we are bombarded on all sides by their own self-serving claims that Martial Law was good and beautiful and not, say, a howling wilderness of hunger and poverty, a blank bleak silence of the tortured and the maimed and the disappeared and the raped and the dead.

None of those things are trivia, by the way. Just the opposite. Imagine a student who dared to put his hand up at an open forum. He wanted Imee Marcos to answer a question. The student in question was — ahem –– dealt with in the parlance of the time, meaning, Imee Marcos only had to nod at her bodyguards and the student was picked up, assaulted, and killed. On the same day as he asked the question.

The name of that student — Archimedes Trajano — is not trivia.

Again: Imagine a sixteen-year-old boy. He would have had his whole life ahead of him — he would have still been around today — had he not been the son of a man who had had enough of the Marcoses’ terrible deeds, the son of a man who stole away from the regime and wrote a book whose title has since passed into common parlance. Ever heard the phrase “conjugal dictatorship”? Then you know the title of the tell-all book that Primitivo Mijares wrote.

And that means you know why Primitivo’s son was abducted and tortured. Boyet Mijares got his skull bashed in, got his hands smashed to bits, got turned into bloody dead pulp –and for good measure his corpse was thrown out of a military helicopter.

The names of those two people — Primitivo Mijares, and his son Boyet — are not trivia.

I’m hammering at the topic of Martial Law being promoted as trivia and being written about as not trivia because the entire idea was introduced to me as, yep, you guessed it, trivia. Specifically, as facts and figures that I needed to remember, because I was going to be competing in a nationally televised quiz show.

And now I feel like some of you are going to look at me funny and go, OMG, you were on Battle of the Brains?

Yes. Yes, I was. I competed in two separate seasons, actually. And every time I got ready for the competition I studied the hell out of the quiz topics. David Celdran had all these questions to ask on Science, Mathematics, History, General Information, and Arts/Literature, and those of us on the team had to be on our mettle every time. We needed to have all these facts and figures and answers.

We competed on the show some time after 1995 and that meant that people were actually still talking about Martial Law, because in that year ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation had released through its film and TV production arm Star Cinema a movie called Eskapo: a dramatization of the company’s fortunes during the Martial Law era. The title in this case refers to Eugenio Lopez, Jr., at that time the media network’s head, and to Sergio Osmena III, currently Senator Osmena III — who were political prisoners under the Marcos regime and who broke out of prison in a daring escape.

If nothing else, the movie had a point to make: that it was a true story, that most of the people being portrayed by the show business stars of the day were actual real and living people, and that these people had emerged from the horrors of events that were well within the idea of recent. After all, 1995 was less than a decade removed from 1986 and People Power. It was possible to find those who survived, or the families of those who didn’t, and it was possible to remember some of the terrible deeds that were committed under the aegis of the “Bagong Lipunan”.

And the point is this: it is still possible to find those who survived, and it is still possible to find the families of those who didn’t. It is 2016, thirty years after the EDSA Revolution, and to these people Martial Law is not trivia, and it will never be: for Martial Law is stamped upon them, more indelible than the ink we get on our hands when we go to the polls.

Martial Law is not trivia to me: it started out that way, with having to memorize when it began and when it ended, with having to memorize the perpetrators and the heroes and the living and the dead.

But knowing the dates and the names, knowing the faces, led to –- and still leads to -– talking about the horrors. To discovering what else was done. There are books upon books devoted to these dark deeds that were done in the name of staying in power. Trivia? I say no: this is history, this is our own history, this is the history that has shaped and scarred the Philippines for the past thirty years and more.

I’ve been reading about Martial Law for a long time. And I can in no way claim to be an expert. There is still too much to learn. There is far, far too much to understand. And understand is a conditional thing, because: how can you wrap your head around a family so obsessed with money and riches and worldly goods and reputation that they had so many thousands of lives so casually snuffed out?

Is it possible to say that the victims of Martial Law are items of trivia?

Is it even rational to say that Martial Law is something to move on from?

You tell me, after you’ve been confronted by the testimony from the living and the dead and from the perpetrators. Not trivia, but evidence. Specifically, evidence against those who are even now seeking to revise history, to deny that Martial Law ever happened.

Martial Law is not trivia. And it should never be.


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