Andoy is a friend of mine. People who know him always see the bright, sparkling eyes, and the ever-ready smile. True smiles, however, often come from the deepest hurts.
Too many people trumpet the idea that Martial Law was the golden age of the Philippines. It was not. It was a time when so many families were torn apart. It was a time when people lived in fear.
Such is Andoy’s story and this is what we share with you today.
As far as I can remember, I was around 4 years old (1980) when I uttered my first quip. It was the time when Nanay and I went to Camp Crame to look for Tatay.
My father had been missing for a few months and early reports said that he was captured by the military. I believe my mother feared that he was already summarily executed, so it was quite a relief to learn that he was still alive and that we could at last see him. When we arrived in Camp Crame, we were escorted to an area – a wall really – that had a small bond-paper-sized hole with thick prison bars. Tatay wasn’t there.
We had to wait for a couple of minutes before a man, hands cuffed behind him and eyes covered with a blindfold, was led to the other side of the small, barred hole. On one side of the wall was a man in his 20s, weak and distressed; on the other side of the bars was a young woman, also in her 20s, with a 4-year old child, confused and clinging to her hand. I can’t remember what Nanay and Tatay talked about, but I still somehow picture it as a solemn conversation laden with longing and fear.
After their short talk, Tatay was led away and Nanay and I had to exit the area. Since I was just 4 years old, I still couldn’t understand why Tatay was behind bars, cuffed and blindfolded. In my memory, I could feel Nanay‘s burden – how could she explain to her young son why his father was in prison? I sensed something was troubling her (I can still see her watery eyes in my mind) and I felt I had to do something about it. It was at that point that I said, “Nanay, naglalaro pala sila Tatay ng hit the pot dun sa loob.” And that made her smile.
My younger years were (relative to other kids’) somewhat normal yet somehow different. For example, prior to 1980, we moved from province to province, hiding from the military because – since they couldn’t find my father – they wanted to catch my mother and me and somehow use us so that my father would surface. I think I studied in 3 different kindergartens. When we returned to Metro Manila around 1980, I couldn’t even speak Tagalog (but I was quite fluent in Bisaya). From 1980 until 1986, my weekends were spent shuttling between our house and Bicutan (the place where political prisoners were kept). Just like any normal kid, I played with friends around my age. The only difference was that during weekends, my playground had high walls with barbed wire strung on top of them. During weekdays, Nanay would sometimes come home drenched with water as she just came from a rally that was dispersed with the help of firetrucks and water cannons. Since we knew that we’re still in the crosshairs of the governmentt, I was trained not to give my address to anyone (which led to some trouble when my new school bus forgot where I lived).
This was my childhood under the shadow of Martial Law.
Read other articles about people’s experiences during those days and you will see that I was one of the lucky ones – my father was still alive. Although Tatay was tortured (he underwent the water cure and this affected his hearing up to now), he was still alive. My mother, although heavily burdened by having a husband in prison (knowing full well that he could be killed any time) and raising a young son, was still alive.
For quite a number of my friends, Martial Law is series of distant events – history mentions lavish buildings, long bridges, and glamorous parties among the rich. For others, it was something more personal. For others, it was a father imprisoned, a tortured relative, a dead friend.
In 1986 though, EDSA happened. Everyone’s stories about it are quite different. For some, it was about a regime change, toppling a dictator. For me, it was something much much simpler. For me, EDSA means a time when a young 9 year old was finally able to hug his father outside high walls strung with barbed wire.
Each person’s story about Martial Law and EDSA – and, consequently, expectations about EDSA – differ from person to person. I share my history because we are again nearing a time when we will choose the next leaders of our country. Please, please be vigilant in choosing who will run the various offices in our government so that no husband will be tortured anymore, so that no wife will be oppressed, and so that no child will grow up in the shadow of fear.
Andoy, his Nanay, and Tatay live their lives like we do but people who don’t know them just think they’re your regular Filipino middle-class family.
They’re not. They are survivors of a very violent time. It was a family struggle to stay alive and stay together. Fortunately for them, they are one of the few families that have been able to stay intact.
Were they asking for all they experienced, as some Marcos apologists accuse? No, they did not. What they did do, however, was speak out against what they saw as cruelty and injustice. What made them different from most of us was the fact that Andoy’s Nanay and Tatay were not afraid to fight for what was right while many of us stayed silent out of fear. They chose to speak when others could not or would not and they paid the price for it. They were not the high-profile activists of the time.
In many ways, they are also like us though they carry the wounds of those days. Now, they celebrate the freedom that we all now enjoy. The difference is they paid for it more than we did.