Senior moments may be filled with forgetfulness, but they may also be filled with memories.
I may not be able to remember the name of the plumber we call whenever we have a leak of some sort, but I do, truly, remember all sorts of past experiences in blazing detail. I especially remember one September morning in 1972 in which we awoke to the uncanny silence of no radios. I was 30 years old, teaching in the Ateneo, married to Oscar Evangelista, a U.P. professor, and mother of two small children, ages 4 and 2. We lived on the U.P. campus, on Juan Luna, the last street on campus. On the increasingly frequent occasions in which the military would enter the campus, students would flee by slipping through the backyards of our street and on to Commonwealth. We had been under military surveillance, mostly by helicopter, for months. Our four year old would routinely shake her little fist at these low-flying vehicles and shout “Makibaka, huwag matakot!”
We were with the students in our two schools heart and soul. My husband was Asst. Dean of Student Affairs under Dean Malay in U.P. Once we had gone to his office to pick up some forgotten papers and looked out the fourth floor window to see a whole phalanx of military, in gas masks no less, marching down towards Katipunan towards the campus.
Ateneo was awakening more slowly than U.P., but really both campuses were alive with discussion groups, protests, action plans. Both schools had seen students disappear into the mountains. Some returned; some did not. We had lived on campus during the Diliman Commune – I had to navigate the barricades on Katipunan and then hitch hike (more or less) to the Ateneo. We had seen the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. Pressures had been mounting; we had several friends who no longer slept at home.
But that morning – that morning, the first thing was no radios. We had indeed heard gunshots the night before, coming from the huge Iglesia ni Cristo which towered over our street; we found out later that institution had simply been unwilling to hand over their radio station very meekly. But in the end, it fell.
Martial Law had been declared, of course, in the middle of the night but we didn’t know that yet that morning: this was pre-internet and pre-cell phone. But the neighborhood buzz started at dawn. Rumors competed with facts concerning who had been arrested and where they had been taken. Ninoy Aquino, of course, and several other high profile political rivals of Marcos. But people had been picked up on campus too: Zeus Salazar, Dolores Feria, Etta Rosales and her husband, brother of my friend Chita Rosales, Joel Rocamora, Dodong Nemenzo. Our friend and frequent visitor Scotty – William Henry Scott – had been taken too. Bien Lumbera was underground but was captured some months later.
The morning of the declaration Oscar’s mother called early and told Oscar to shave his beard so he wouldn’t look so radical, and asked if we wanted to go stay with her. I remember in her perception the U.P. campus was a very risky place to be.
We actually did feel at risk, as rumors started immediately that we would be expelled from the campus and it would be turned into a military camp. Schools were closed, although faculty kept showing up, at least in U.P. and Ateneo. A couple of weeks later we were told that if schools were not reopened, we would no longer be paid. So the worst case scenario for us was that neither of us would have a job and we would have to leave our house.
Meanwhile we continued to live on rumors. Manila was under strict curfew from 10:00 P.M. till 5:00 A.M. Truck loads of body bags were said to be filing into the city during these lost, silent hours. Presumably the bodies were from fighting in Mindanao. But no one really knew.
The uncertainty of it, the powerlessness of the people to find out what was going on, were the worst parts.
I have much more to say about this another time. But my strongest feeling about those years now is this: It is no small thing to be without Civil Liberties, without Human Rights, without Constitutional Freedoms. And the idea that the Philippines could actually VOTE itself into this sort of situation truly leaves me in shock.