26 July 2016


Option #43: Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (Student Edition) by Raissa Robles
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter or see the Giveaways page for more details)

Filipinos woke up to find a country where the streets were quiet, patrolled by armed soldiers. Crime had vanished, squabbling corrupt politicians had been carted off or had fled, and the scurrilous press had been silenced.

Only the newspaper run by a Marcos crony was available, and there were no radio or TV broadcasts, except for one station that repeatedly transmitted Marcos's declaration of Martial Law . . . in between almost non-stop airing of American cartoons.

Marcos claimed that what he had in mind was a government-led "Revolution from the Center" to counter the Communists. His centerpiece programme--to create a New Society that would close the wide economic gap between the rich and the poor because "what good is democracy if it is not for the poor?" He claimed the New Society had the interests, objectives, and needs of the poorest of the working people take precedence over those of the rest" . . .

SURPRISE!!! =D We have one more book for the Philippine Literature Giveaway Pool! This is the first year that a seventh book gets to make it, and what a deserving seventh book it is.

Marcos Martial Law was actually supposed to be Option #38, because I wanted some strong, well-researched non-fiction to ground me after dream-state wanderings of Option #37: Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda. But I was a few pages in when I realised it was too big to bring in so early in the giveaway. Instead, I decided, I would let it have the last word. And it begins with an answer to my biggest question about Option #42: Reportage on the Marcoses by Quijano de Manila: how did the 1970s affect Nick Joaquin's earlier rosy view of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos?

Arrested on April 25, 1974 . . . [Pete] Lacaba was among those who told the Amnesty International Mission in 1975 that he had been tortured. He was released in 1976. The release had nothing to do with compassion or justice. Imelda Marcos, self-appointed patroness of the arts, was pressuring novelist Nick Joaquin to accept the National Artist Award. Joaquin had steadfastly refused until prevailed upon by his friends [journalist] Luis Teodoro and [novelist] Ninotchka Rosca to accept, in exchange for Lacaba's release. They were concerned abut the young prisoner's fate, following reports that Lacaba's brother, Emmanuel, had been killed by authorities.

Lacaba told me in an interview on February 9, 2016, that Joaquin had initially wanted to make his release a condition for accepting the National Artist Award. However--Joaquin would later narrate to Lacaba--writer Carmen Guerrero Nakpil suggested a different approach. She advised Joaquin to receive the award first and then talk to Marcos. "I think he won't be able to refuse you," Nakpil advised.

And that was what happened . . .

Remember also that the Philippines was still under Marcos's martial law in 1981, when the first edition of Reportage on the Marcoses came out. Joaquin couldn't have added a critical foreword without putting himself at risk of torture and possible execution. Should this have been "corrected" in the subsequent reprinting? My humble take is that the "time capsule" aspect gives the reader a starker idea of the Marcos administration than a thousand words ever will . . . but then again, I formed this opinion after reading even more words than that in Marcos Martial Law.

Journalist Raissa Robles has chosen to focus on the single most atrocious issue of Marcos's "New Society": the systematic torture and execution of thousands of political detainees by the military. (After the regime fell, over 70,000 people came forward to tell their stories--a number that does not include all the people who simply "disappeared.") Yes, it was terrible that Marcos cracked down on the free press, spread lies through government-controlled media, stole successful companies from their rightful owners to give to his friends, jailed opposition politicians, rigged elections, made off with billions in taxpayer money, and sank the country deep in international debt. But all this was relatively forgivable compared to what he let his military get away with for a decade, which was tantamount to human sacrifice. All men in uniform could, with impunity, arrest anyone suspected of being a subversive--or anyone they could simply say was a subversive (in short: anyone at all)--and "to torture evidence into existence." (I borrow the wording of Amnesty International's own report.) And because even violent beatings and gang rapes can get boring after a while, they quickly grew creative. If you think forcing water down someone's nose is fun, you've never forced a mixture of gasoline, soap, and pepper down someone's nose.

Now I recall a torture scene from what did become Option #38: Killing Time in a Warm Place by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., in which one political detainee has his head dunked into a toilet that the guards had presumably relieved themselves in, and another prisoner, who has had food poured on him, is forced to wipe himself off with the first man's urine-soaked shirt. Yet the tone is not horror, but the resignation of someone who wants to get the day's humiliation over with so he can spend what is left of the evening with his pals in their cell block. Think: La Vita e Bella meets Breaking Bad, with Filipinos. (What?)

Marcos defenders may now argue that these countless human rights abuses by the military were a bug, not a feature of martial law. That is, we could have balanced the promise of peace, order and economic prosperity with a well-disciplined military; things just tragically didn't turn out that way. For them, Robles makes a water-tight case that the use of the military to terrorise civilians was official policy.

Oh, along those lines, remember those Hukbalahap and Communist threats which inspired Option #40: My Brother, My Executioner by F. Sionil Jose? Surprise, surprise: they were greatly embellished in the press so that Marcos could create a state of fear in the country. That they turned out to be the best thing for Huk and Commie recruitment was also less irony than more deliberate design: Marcos knew how much he had to gain as the conflicts grew bloodier and bloodier. I mean, not all of us have governments wealthy enough to start or join wars abroad so that we can make human sacrifices out of foreign civilians. Some of us have to make do with our fellow citizens.

And Robles doesn't flinch from the idea that the worst atrocities of martial law were made possible because the general population decided to take the path of least resistance. If the cost of peace, order and economic prosperity was the disappearance of teenage activists and Communist leaders (arguably some of the most annoying members of any society), well, it seemed that the majority of Filipinos were willing to make that deal. And it's debatable that ordinary Filipinos might never have risen up against Marcos if he hadn't sent millions of us below the poverty line first.

The final chapter of Marcos Martial Law, on the strange Filipino "amnesia" when it comes to the Marcoses, fits right into my Marcos Pa Rin theme--which, I hasten to assure any new visitors, means not that I want the Marcoses back in power, but that I don't think they've ever lost their grip on the Filipino people. Robles seems to agree with me, comparing their political network to a tree that was chopped down at the trunk, but whose roots were left alive and intact. Sadly, this last chapter feels haphazardly put together, compared to the rest of the book; I suspect it was rushed so that Robles could publish Marcos Martial Law before this year's presidential elections, in which another strongman seemed likely to win the popular vote. (Spoiler: he won by a landslide.) I hope that she rewrites it for future editions, the better to explain that the real horror is not in what we barely remember, but that we've decided to forget. 

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you think you have time for only one "Marcos book" in your entire life (and you have a strong stomach).

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Image Source: Marcos Martial Law: Never Again by Raissa Robles


cyurkanin said...

"...Yet the tone is not horror, but the resignation of someone who wants to get the day's humiliation over with so he can spend what is left of the evening with his pals in their cell block." - This is a common theme among survivors of hellish prison camps (and some husbands, I hear... lol).

Enbrethiliel said...


Interesting! It does come across as very realistic in Dalisay's novel. But after reading the more harrowing stories in Marcos Martial Law, I wondered whether Dalisay chose the tone he did for a more literary effect.