Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Day Manila Fell Silent (Part I)

[Talk at the Bliss on Bliss Studio, New York City;  September 9, 2012;  part of Re-Collection, A Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines]

Ironically, the most quiet day in Manila of contemporary times began with noise:  a loud pounding on the glass door of the penthouse apartment where I resided at the time.  The friend who was hollering and shouting and bruising his knuckles on the glass, blurted out, as soon I slid the door open, “martial law na…[martial law already]”  A split second of silence, then I turned and clicked on the radio.  Nothing but white noise.  Turned on the TV.   Nothing but a white screen and static.  The friend, looking pale and distraught, said, “no TV, no radio station… everything’s closed down.”  We eyeballed one another.  I suddenly remembered the last item in the late night news:  a visual of a demolished car, its roof collapsed; a male voice saying that the car of the Secretary of National Defense had been attacked but he was not in it…  My immediate thought had been “what?  They attacked an empty car?”  The news was so truncated.    And as I was going to bed, I noticed that the government building behind our apartment building was all lit up:  floor after floor, from top to bottom, all the lights were on.   I said then, “something’s happening;  and it’s happening all over the city.”

 Now this friend blurting out his news, his eyes crazed with fright, triggered a kaleidoscope of memories.  This would become a habit with me ever after, this going into mental hyperdrive, correlating incidents and data.  The final memory that cascaded down was that of the smiling Senator Benigno Aquino, as he said to me, as he stood in the red carpeted foyer of the old Senate, “Marcos will not catch me lying down.”  I said, somewhat facetiously, “ah well, good talking to you, President Aquino.”  It would be my last face-to-face with the senator.  In 1984, when he was assassinated, I muttered to myself, “I’d better fix my papers; Marcos will fall.”  I was in New York City by then.  I had filed for political asylum but it was just on file. 

What is the point of this recollection?  It is to stress that martial law was personal… PERSONAL.  Everyone felt it, was affected by it, had an opinion, a thought, a feeling, about it.  The day it was declared, with a friend standing there, his hair practically on end, I remembered how, a week before, a minor journalist on the military beat had generously offered to check if my name and address were on an arrest order.  Young though I was, I wasn’t exactly naïve.  I gave him an old address.  Sure enough, the place was raided. 

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