(From the book “Turning Rage into Courage: Mindanao under martial law” published by MindaNews Publications and launched on the 30th anniversary of the Proclamation 1081 on September 21,2002)
Things are really just what they are, like a storm is a really just a storm. But strong winds and rain on the night of Sept. 21 take a different meaning. That was how my mother remembers that evening – the weather becoming a harbinger of what is to come: a son going up to the hills, a daughter in detention, and a raid in the house.
And sometimes, a bad thing in the context of another worse one becomes something better. When the military knocked on the door of our house one late evening, my mother had another thing in her mind. You see, we had another brother who was serving as a soldier-engineer whose battalion was putting up electric lines in Lanao del Sur. What my mother was thinking on seeing the soldiers was that there was an ambush and they were there to tell her that her son was one of the casualties. When the officer told her they were there for, shall we say a “raid,” my mother was so relieved and was just so happy that she blurted out, “Ow! Come in, come in!” I think she was ready to serve them snacks. With such a hearty and effusive welcome, the soldiers did their job with much respect and politeness.
My own memory of the night before the declaration was a scraggly, thin young dog that followed me on the street. It just refused to go away even if we threw stones at it. It followed me up to a house which I don’t remember very much. But the dog, I remember. I knew we called Marcos, “tuta” and all the other stuff but I think I remember the dog for the strangeness of that evening and what came afterwards to the whole nation.
I was really away from home in a university during the declaration (of martial law) and as a campus activist, one parent saw it fit and proper to bring us all in – including her daughter – to the military. We also thought at that time that there was nothing else to do but that. And so we were detained and stayed inside for five months.
What comes to mind thinking about these times? A file of Playboy magazines. The officer who lived with his wife and son just beside the makeshift building where we were placed was friendly and so was his wife who invited us in their pad. And there, I saw my first Playboy Magazine. I don’t know which was more shocking, the news coming in from outside or what I was reading.
Another clear image is a kindly older captain who brought us to the beach with his family. Surely it was against the rules but living inside the camp had made us part of the family. One sergeant, together with his wife, gave us a party when Christmas came. They took turns in tapping our shoulders when some of us bawled – even hardcore activists missed Christmas party spent away from home.
I wrote to a boyfriend that I was changing my concept of the “enemy” and even wrote a poem about it. He was mad, and I think was close to labeling my poem as counter-revolutionary.
I also remember, that now and then, there were women who were placed inside among us because there was no other place temporarily to put them even if their case was not political. One of the women came in with bloody hands. She was escaping her husband who ran after him with a bolo.
There were others who told us their life stories as they waited to be bailed out. I listened to them, enthralled at the strange ordinariness of preoccupations. I was perplexed that I was working to change and improve the Filipino society, but not these painful lives.
And then we were transferred to another camp used as a training ground for new soldier – recruits. And like us, they were all young, and most of them were sons of farmers from the nearby towns.
We were then “incarcerated” in a duplex where on the other side lived the family of the highest ranking officer of the camp. What was good about it was there was a golf course in front which became our playground. And then every Sunday we attended the mass where all the other young would-be-soldiers were in attendance. I guess, the mini-skirts attracted more attention than the priest. I knew somehow that two of the girls had boyfriends there before we left the camp.
I got to know later that the soldiers there were all sent to Sulu and months after I got home, I received a letter from one of them. I could not remember who this was but I was touched. He was describing that he was in the middle of a cogon field and he could see the maya birds alighting and flying away. They were there waiting for the enemy to come. With nothing much to do, he thought of writing to me. I was informed later that they were all killed.
Lastly, I remember missing the movie “Love Story” while inside, while outside, things started really to get serious. I forgave myself, I was 17.
And somehow, thinking about those times I knew I had first important lessons about life, about people, about kindness, and loneliness. They were not really political.