| The streets were teeming with military vehicles and scores of heavily armed soldiers, either milling around by the bridge or directing traffic along Legarda Street. It was September 21, 1972.
Within a few minutes after I discovered that President Marcos had declared Martial Law, I immediately packed up and fled. To this day, I still believe I was one of the few civilians who woke up knowing that martial law was in place during the early morning of September 21, 1972.
I had been following Johnny Midnight's radio show since I first heard his frantic voice on the night the Ruby Tower, an apartment building in Sta Cruz, Manila, collapsed after an Intensity 6 quake struck the city in 1968. However, on the night of September 20th, 1972 after noticing that all music radio stations I turned the dials on were off the air, I switched to Johnny Midnight's slot. Surprisingly, I got the same hissing noise. Suspecting nothing, I went to sleep.
At that time, I was living in a boarding house at the Laperal Apartments located just across San Sebastian College along C. M. Recto, about two hundred meters from the historic Mendiola Bridge. Each of us, the eight male boarders in the house, was assigned a morning run to buy pan de sal for breakfast at 5a.m. over at the San Beda Bakery on Legarda near Mendiola Bridge.
This particular morning was my turn. I left the apartment and walked towards the compound gate with money in my pocket, enough to buy pan de sal for at least 17 boarders. At the gate, I paused momentarily to adjust my eyes to the dark surroundings. Then I saw rolls of barbwire stretched along the sidewalks and saw two Army tanks at the foot of Mendiola Bridge. The streets were teeming with military vehicles and scores of heavily armed soldiers, either milling around by the bridge or directing traffic along Legarda Street. It was September 21, 1972.
I felt the bristle of hair behind my neck and goose bumps on my arms. "Martial Law!" was the first thing that assaulted my brains. I rushed back to the boarding house, grabbed my shoulder bag and some clothes and took off without telling my waking roommates about what was unfolding outside during those early morning hours. I had been anticipating this for weeks but didn't realize it would happen that morning.
I skirted a phalanx of marching soldiers by the sidewalk, pretending I was an early morning riser bound for work and headed straight to the University of the East Dawn office located just next to the UE gate on Gastambide Street. The UE Dawn was the university's weekly student newspaper; I was one of the staff members.
| Just before I took off, I told the two security guards: "Pare, 'tingin ko Martial Law na." (Bro. I think Martial Law has been declared.) and described to them what I saw. I left them stunned.
Using my own key to the office, I got inside and collected from my locker all the original drawings of my cartoon strip "Ato Makabayan" that appeared every Friday in the UE Dawn. This cartoon had been a pain in the ass for the university administration and the military because it promoted the cause of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) as well as the armed struggle being waged by the New People's Army against the Marcos regime. More importantly, the cartoon strip character instigated the students towards militant activism. The four-frame "Ato Makabayan" cartoon (to which I simply signed off as "hdzNPA72") was being read by some 80,000 UE students.
I also retrieved the small Mao Tse Tung "red-book", the Mao Tse Tung round pins, the Mao Tse Tung grey hat, and Mao Tse Tung dark-brown field uniform shirt—all courtesy of the KM-University Belt—including other documents that could link me to the KM.
Behind our office was a small sewer opening (imburnal) next to the university perimeter wall into which I hurriedly dumped all my Mao memorabilia. Just before I took off, I told the two security guards: "Pare, 'tingin ko Martial Law na." (Bro. I think Martial Law has been declared.) and described to them what I saw. I left them stunned.
I grabbed one of the Quiapo-bound jeepneys on Legarda St. on my way to a refuge in suburban Paranaque—at my girlfriend's house, and stowed away there for two months until the heat of the Martial Law witchhunt cooled down.
Later that morning, at about 7, Metrocom soldiers raided the Dawn office and snatched five of my colleagues who came to the office to retrieve incriminating evidence of their involvement with the radical groups. They were hauled off to Camp Crame, a military stockade in Quezon City. (Two of them escaped from detention after four months and joined the NPA in Pampanga. The three others remained incarcerated for the next six months.)
I feared for my safety that morning because of my covert activities with the University Belt KM. Several months earlier, I found in my pigeonhole at the UE Dawn office a cryptic note addressed to "Ato Makabayan" (a name the campus radicals pinned on me). The note said that I had been appointed by the KM hierarchy in U-Belt as the "KM Writers' Bureau Chief for University Belt" effective immediately. In addition to the appointment, I was being ordered to prepare a three-page manifesto, single-spaced, based on a treatise, the so-called "linya ng masa" (militant nationalist line) for an upcoming rally. The document was attached to the note.
| For more than a year, I refused to get the mandatory clearance because it also required a pledge of allegiance to President Marcos and his regime.
The manifesto was intended for the planned massive joint demonstration the following Friday at Plaza Miranda, with a march to culminate at Mendiola Bridge, and if possible, "beyond" (meaning Malacañang Palace.)
When I delivered the final version of the manifesto for immediate mimeograph printing, I attached a note for the KM leadership never to include my name in their roster; otherwise, they wouldn't get anything from me. The leaders sent back a note saying they had no problem with that but with a warning to shut my mouth. And so, their weekly manifestos kept coming out and circulated all over the city, churned out right from my little cubby hole at the UE Dawn office.
Of course, I never knew if they really complied with my demand (not to list me up). On the morning of September 21 when the military cornered five of my radical colleagues, the soldiers, with help from the UE campus security office, also tried to look for "Ato Makabayan".
Shortly after I got married in 1973, I moonlighted as a consultant with the Public Information Office (PIO) in the newly-created Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) while working with the Times Journal as a regular reporter. When I tried to collect my first consultancy check, the DAR financial officer told me I needed a clearance from the NISA (National Intelligence and Security Agency).
What for? I asked, and he explained it was a new policy for employment under the Martial Law government. For more than a year, I refused to get the mandatory clearance because it also required a pledge of allegiance to President Marcos and his regime.
However, when my family ran into some money problems, the consultancy checks became the only solution, so I made up my mind and showed up at the NISA office in Quezon City.
I thought that it was just a simple act of oath-taking for me to get cleared. But I was wrong.
I was brought into a small room with a noisy air-conditioner, where a uniformed officer sat behind a work desk. In front of him was a thick folder. He began flipping the pages as he narrated one by one the dates and locations that dated back to my university days.
| Widely known writer, Adrian Cristobal, one of Marcos top advisers, had just delivered a speech at the hotel praising the Marcos government.
That thick file was a military intelligence dossier of my campus activities, which to my great dismay and amazement, made me realize how seriously they took what I did during my campus days and how extensive and efficient they were in monitoring my "harmless" exploits.
The officer confronted me with one picture, an 8" by 10" in black-and-white, apparently a telephoto shot, showing me strumming a guitar in front of a group of students.
"That's you, am I right?" the officer said.
It was a picture taken at the Silliman University in Dumaguete City on May 1972 during a National Writers' Workshop. The picture was taken shortly after we finished holding a DG (discussion group) and teach-in for the Silliman U students to initiate them to campus activism. The photo showed the students with their right hands in a clenched fist salute while singing the Filipino version of "The Internationale."
Another 8" x 10" black-and-white picture was shoved towards me. It showed me with some young men and women—apparently students—holding placards while picketing in front of the Magellan Hotel in Cebu City in May 1970. Widely known writer, Adrian Cristobal, one of Marcos top advisers, had just delivered a speech at the hotel praising the Marcos government.
More dossiers were set before me, including clippings of anti-government articles, essays, poetry, and of course, my "Ato Makabayan" cartoon strips. One consolation though was that NISA was unable to link me with the KM, which meant that the KM-University Belt honored its word about not showing my name in its roster.
I told the interrogator I was a family man now and those things were just figments of my restless student days, and that I badly needed the NISA clearance so I could claim my survival checks.
I faced him and said, "Okay, Sir, can I take my pledge of allegiance now?"
An Unexpected Scoop
As a working journalist, I found working under the regime irritatingly plagued with restrictions, having been used to my university journalism days when everything was "free-wheeling". In fact, while working with the Times Journal, then editor-in-chief J branded me a "company risk" and had attempted on several occasions to relegate me to some non-news story assignments. But then, the editors working under him could not let my "diskarte," my penchant for getting the story fast go to waste. They opted to keep me busy by retaining me in major beats aside from giving me a lot of juicy (out-of-town) assignments.
| Still vague at what she was trying to tell me, I told the Secretary that I was just pinch-hitting for a colleague...But she said it was all right. I could do it easily in a day or two. Hearing this, I hinted I was ready to listen.
One day in 1977, just a year after I joined the paper, one of the more prominent desk persons told me to pinch-hit for a reporter covering the Department of Social Services and Development (DSSD), then headed by Secretary Estefania Aldaba-Lim. I protested because it meant I had to commute from my beats along Quezon Memorial Road in Quezon City which included the Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agrarian Reform, Bureau of Forest Development, the Energy Commission, the University of the Philippines, the SSS, and the Quezon City Hall, to Legarda Street in Manila where the DSSD headquarters was located. However, I was assured that it wouldn't be for long and that I could proceed to Port Area, Manila where our Manila Bureau office was located instead of reporting at the Chronicle Building in Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Times Journal operated.
"Medyo silipin mo lang, baka may story." She urged me. There was no point arguing with her so I dropped by DSSD every day on my way to our Port Area bureau where I filed my stories for the day.
One Friday afternoon, Secretary Aldaba-Lim's press officer asked me to see her boss as soon as I showed up at the DSSD press office. There were no other reporters that time and I thought that they had gone back to their respective headquarters to file their stories.
After a few "kumustahan", Secretary Aldaba-Lim went straight to the point why she wanted to see me. She explained that she had read a few of my by-lined stories and concluded that I could do one special job for her, i.e., a "small favor". Still vague at what she was trying to tell me, I told the Secretary that I was just pinch-hitting for a colleague who had gone on leave and I might not be able to pursue what she wanted me to do. But she said it was all right. I could do it easily in a day or two. Hearing this, I hinted I was ready to listen.
"Look," she said, "my office has commissioned a private research group to make a study on the status of social service delivery around the country."
"The study has been completed and as far as my department is concerned, it is an official document backed by extensive research and statistics."
| The Manila Times was the very first newspaper shut down when Martial Law was declared.
Secretary Aldaba-Lim said: "Freddie, I want you to write the story in your paper. No reporter knows about this because I want it to come out in the Times Journal."
I warned her that the other reporters covering DSSD would immediately howl in protest if they knew I was being given an exclusive.
"I don't think their editors will use the story." She was referring to the editors of Bulletin Today and the Daily Express—two mainstream dailies controlled by the Marcos government.
But I told her that the Times Journal was owned by the brother of First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, and they "belonged to the same club." But the Secretary said she knew who were sitting at the news desk of the Times Journal and that "they had balls" unlike the other editors." They were former Manila Times editors.
The Manila Times was the very first newspaper shut down when Martial Law was declared.
After browsing through the first few pages of the red book-bound, two-inch thick study, I was a little concerned considering the explosive nature of the document. Anyway, I assured Secretary Aldaba-Lim that I would file the story on Sunday for Monday's paper. "Good luck, Freddie.", she told me as I left her office.
That Sunday afternoon, I came to work earlier than usual. Having studied the DSSD document thoroughly, I banged out the story and came up with a three-page copy, double space.
As soon as my editor read my copy, he told me to stay put. "Don't go drinking yet, Freddie; just hang around and keep the document with you.." The story went through the other guys on duty that Sunday and by 5pm, he told me I could leave now.
The next morning, Monday, Times Journal hit the streets with the brave, screaming headline:
"13.5m Filipinos lack
food, clothes, shelter"
with the subhead:
"Poor delivery of social services revealed
in study funded by DSSD"
And with my by-line, By Alfredo P. Hernandez.
| I would like to introduce to you Alfredo P Hernandez. of the Times Journal. who's with me right now. Siya po ang ating magiting na bayani! (he is our hero of the day)
I was used to seeing my stories grab the headlines of Times Journal, so my first reaction when I saw the headline while waiting for a jeepney ride in Baclaran on my way to work was: "Hmmm, mukhang walang istorya kahapon kaya ginawang headline." (Hmmm, looks like they had no other stories yesterday that's why it was used as the headline.)
Thinking of a good follow-up to the story, I decided to drop by first at the DSSD headquarters that morning. Seeing me at the premises, the Press Officer immediately whisked me to the social hall.
"Freddie, tuwang-tuwa si Ma'am; she said she was right in giving you the story."
"Why? What's the big deal with that story?"
"You will know later. Let's go to the social hall."
The social hall was jammed with close to 500 social workers from across the country, who, I was told, were to start that morning a weeklong national conference.
Quite excited, the Press Officer approached the Secretary who was huddled with some DSSD officials by the stage, and whispered something to her while looking at me.
Seeing me, the Secretary walked towards me, held my right arm and led me up the stage.
"Ma'am, bakit po?"
"You will know very soon."
Then, Secretary Aldaba-Lim walked towards the microphone, still holding my arm. After getting the audience's attention, she said: "Ladies and gentlemen. I would like to introduce to you Alfredo P Hernandez of the Times Journal who's with me right now. Siya po ang ating magiting na bayani! (he is our hero of the day)
| I was feeling a million goose bumps crawling all over my body, and was a bit embarrassed by the applause.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
She continued, "Kung hindi po sa kanya hindi malalaman ng buong bansa ng lipunang Pilipino kung ano talaga ang katotohanan tungkol sa status ng social services dito sa ating bansa. Tayo pong mga social workers ay alam na puro cosmetic solution lamang ang ibinibigay ng ating gobyerno sa mga mahihirap."
(If it weren't for him, the facts about the status of social services for the poor in our country would not reach the public. We know that the government has been merely dispensing cosmetic solutions for the poor.)
"At kahit po nasa ilalim tayo ng Martial Law ngayon, mayroon pa ring journalist na tulad ni Mr. Hernandez ang hindi natakot ibunyag ang totoo sa madlang Pilipino. Siya po ang ating bayani."
(We may be under Martial Law, but there are still journalists like Mr. Hernandez who are not afraid to expose the sordid truth. He is our hero.)
With that remark, the audience stood up and applauded. I was feeling a million goose bumps crawling all over my body, and was a bit embarrassed by the applause.
The President's phone call
While the Secretary was explaining to me about the conference, her assistant sidled up to her and whispered something. Suddenly, the Secretary's face changed expression but told me to follow her as she had an important call waiting and she wanted me there.
Picking up the phone, Secy Aldaba-Lim said softly: "Good morning, Mr. President, sir. What can I do for you?"
She listened intently for a while and then replied: "Sir, I am willing to resign anytime. yes, Mr. President. My office commissioned the study."
She listened some more and then glanced at me. "Yes, Sir, the reporter is with me right now. He's Freddie Hernandez."
|...inside my head, scenes of people who were hauled off to Camp Crame for acts that were deemed sins by the Marcos government kept flashing in my mind.
"The President would like to speak to you, Freddie," she said softly, and handed me the phone. By then, I felt a nasty shaking in my knees. The President of the Philippines wanted to talk to me and I didn't know how to react.
The first words that I heard from him were: "Is this Mr. Hernandez?"
"Yes, Mr. President, Sir. Freddie Hernandez po."
"Okay. Alam mo Freddie, masyadong sensitive ang balitang inilabas mo." (You know, Freddie, the story you wrote was highly sensitive news.) I remained silent. My throat was dry. I was shaking.
The President went on, "Alam mo, Freddie. dapat, ano, atin-atin na lang sana ang mga bagay na ito. Ang First Lady naman natin eh ginagawa ang lahat para mapabuti ang katayuan ng mga mahihirap nating kababayan." (You know, Freddie, it could have been kept, uh, just among us. The First Lady, after all, has been doing her utmost to raise the standards of the poor people in our country.)
"Yes, Sir." I said, then I told him, my voice sounding very worried and pleading: "Sir. I just wish you will reconsider whatever plans you have for me."
I didn't know why those words came out of my mouth, but inside my head, scenes of people who were hauled off to Camp Crame for acts that were deemed sins by the Marcos government kept flashing in my mind.
Immediately after I said those words, I heard him laugh mildly, briefly. "Don't worry about it, Mr. Hernandez. All I would like to request from you is to help me and the First Lady promote the positive side of government programs to improve the lot of the people."
Having said that, the President asked for the Secretary again and I opted to withdraw from the room. I was still wired and stressed when I returned to the social hall for some refreshment.
|...it was obvious that the First Lady was breathing down his neck for failing to tame the Times Journal editors, who were actually Tatad's bosses over at the defunct The Manila Times.
Later, when I talked to Secretary Aldaba-Lim again in private, she told me about her frustrations in running the department over the past six years. She complained that the plans and strategies she wanted to carry out to improve the delivery of services to the people were not happening. And that she was outraged by what she called the "hypocrisy of the First Lady" in making it appear that things were going great for the poor Filipinos. I asked her if she was really quitting her job as the Secretary.
"Yes." And added, "I can no longer stay."
The Ire of the Media Censor
When I showed up at the editorial floor that afternoon to file my stories for the day, I was immediately summoned by my news editor. And everybody was looking at us.
"Dala mo ba'ng sepilyo mo? Yong sa akin, dala ko." (Did you bring your toothbrush with you? Mine's with me.)
"Boss, bakit." (Why?)
"May mga Metrocom diyan sa ground floor. Tipong maka-Camp Crame tayong dalawa dahil sa story mo. 'Wag kang aalis. Dyan ka lang sa desk mo." (Metrocom's at the ground floor. Looks like we're headed for Camp Crame, you and I, because of your story. Don't you dare move. Stay by your desk.)
I protested vehemently. I told him the story was reviewed by five desk persons including him and not one objected to having it printed. He just whistled and went on reading some raw news stories.
Apparently, early that morning, at about 6, Kit Tatad, the secretary of the Department of Public Information (DPI), the official Media Censor, woke up my editors at their homes and summoned them to Malacañang. At his office, Tatad gave my editors a dressing down for allowing the story to see print. Of course, it was obvious that the First Lady was breathing down his neck for failing to tame the Times Journal editors, who were actually Tatad's bosses over at the defunct The Manila Times.
The Senior Editor, who was very upset and annoyed, called for me, wanting to know where I obtained the document for my story. I told him Secretary Aldaba Lim gave it to me personally. Then, considering what I said for sometime, he told me to hold onto the material, "just in case."
Meanwhile, he appealed to the Press Secretary to reconsider an earlier order from the Palace to escort the news editor and myself to Camp Crame. By late afternoon, we learned that the military men who were sent for us pulled away and disappeared.
One of the editorial staff told me that that same afternoon wire agency reporters from Reuters, AP, UPI and some other foreign media where looking for me as they wanted to photocopy the DSSD document. However, I refused and told them they could just quote the Times Journal for the story if they wanted to send it to their agencies. For the foreign media in Manila, especially the wire agencies, the DSSD story rated high. It was one of those very few that slipped past the tight censorship imposed by the Marcos government and was read all over the world.
A few weeks after the phone incident with President Marcos, Secretary Aldaba-Lim resigned from her position. While the official reason for her leaving the post was that she was to take a new job at the United Nations as the assistant secretary general of Unicef's International Year of the Child, I knew for a fact why she had to go. She also told me of her closed-door fight with Imelda over the story. Just before the Secretary left for New York to prepare for her new job, she sent me a bottle of expensive whiskey with a brief note: "Dear Freddie, thanks for everything. Keep it up. You're a hero." and signed "Stephanie". (She passed away on March 7, 2006 at the age of 89.)
The "company risk" moves on
There were other instances that placed my editors in hot water because of my stories, but which they decided to print anyway as they could not afford to waste good ones, even if some stories would earn them a dressing down from the chief Martial Law censor, Press Secretary Tatad.
I also never told them about my phone conversation with President Marcos. I felt it might further complicate matters and my relationships, not so much with my editors, but with top management.
I finally left Times Journal at the end of 1983 after some 20 or so reporters and myself were sacked for organizing a company union. Working with this newspaper for eight years, I went on to wear on my shirt the tag "Company Risk" that the Times Journal Editor-in-chief had pinned on me. But then, this did not prevent me from getting a new job immediately after I was fired and continued my calling as a working journalist.
© Alfredo P. Hernandez