I left the homeland before Martial Law was imposed by Presidential Proclamation 1081 and signed into law.
I left friends and the free and fun-loving existence I was living then. Returned to the rote of efficient and money-pursuit kind of life in America. I had been living a charmed life that quickened under PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association). An expatriate transformed into a native. Enthralled by the sound of the street language and reborn with a Filipino soul by the camaraderie and stage rehearsals under starlit nights at Fort Santiago . . . Slipping into being Filipino, inroads via Cecile Guidote's hoarse voice barking out stage instructions . . . Those late nights spent at an outdoors theater-in-the-ruins, where soft melodic strains of "Two for the Road" over the park's loudspeakers signaled that the gates at the Fort would soon be closed. I can still see Mr. Ferrer's easy stride heading towards us and with that laconic smile, the Keeper of the Keys was telling us to head for home. We didn't, of course. With Lino Brocka as the ringleader, about a dozen of us would saunter over to the late-night outdoors café at the Luneta if only to wind down, regale one another with tales of rehearsal gaffes and, before the sun rose, like bats, we would lock down safely in our homes to sleep off the early hours of the morning.
Those were pre-Martial Law days. But a bubbling brew spilled over unchecked, heralding that some form of a government clampdown was imminent. The students were restive. The farmers in groups invaded the city. Manila's baton-wielding police force was not taking any of these sitting down. A year before, the mere idea of "Martial Law" was scoffed at. Unheard of! But the masses carried their sense of paranoia like a safety precaution, "just in case . . ."
We too were mass-made, so to speak. As PETA neophyte stage stragglers, we knew our place in the sun. We were of a different breed. Our patron was Manila Times Columnist, Teodoro Valencia . In contrast, First Lady Imelda Marcos Herself dispensed her patronage to theater icons (nurtured at the CCP by "Mam") and guaranteed that Philippine culture be viewed only in extravagant choreographic cultural showcases. Our theater was "pang masa", perceived as hoi-polloi. Hers, on reclaimed land, at the far side of Roxas Boulevard, was for the likes of visiting foreigners who would ooh and ahh at the grandeur of her Cultural Center of the Philippines and who could be relied on to report in the international press the progress of Filipino society.
Back in the States, the headlines in local Philippine papers screamed out the possibility: Martial Law ad nauseum. Columnists bantered and predicted. A matter of days, they warned. The message of precaution was clear and strangely accurate. My parents laid down their own terse proclamation: Enough play
(how true the pun!).
When the Marcos' sledgehammer came crashing down, Martial Law and all its bitter fruits fragmented the communities abroad. In New Jersey where we lived, the professional expatriates touted the success of Martial Law: the streets were litter-free, curfew halted crimes, and "peace and order" was in plain sight on the nightly news: yellow-tee-shirted Metro Manila aides (walis tingting in hand), smiling for the cameras, now gainfully employed. Five years into Martial Law, the anti-Marcos activists were as strident and mean-spirited as the forces they opposed. Their demos increased. Their numbers multiplied. Marcos and his henchmen dug in their heels.
I was in hot water myself. A Black List developed by the Marcos government included my name among the expatriates because I was in a roster of an east coast (must be leftist) magazine, Ningas Cogon. My parents were apoplectic! Did I turn communist behind their backs and how could they face their friends!
I walked through those years detached from the issues, unconvinced by either side. That is, until one midnight call from a close friend of PETA days assailed me on my connection to Doris Baffrey, the ASTA bomber. How could I fall for the deception, she asked. Didn't I know that it was all a farce-that Doris went home every night and returned to her so-called prison cell during the day? I heard every stinging word and was stupefied. Had we all fallen this low? This crassness so blindly and ragingly hurled was a mirror of what we were Becoming. Had the dictator succeeded in making us enemies of each other?
* * * *
This retrospective issue is necessary for all our wounded psyches. For that one particular sore that won't heal. Remembering those years and what havoc they wrought in individual lives, airing the festering wound and bringing it to sunlight, or pondering on those times might guide us to new ways of thinking. Remembering how and why the years accumulated to produce our passivity in the face of Power Run Amok-even this shame!-must be confronted. Marcos was not alone in his ego-maniacal quest for "greatness." Even today, we enable The Benign Violators to invade our space, stunt our thinking, reduce our self-integrity into self-protective insulation. They will push to have their ways. Inch by accumulating inch.
21 September 2007
ART DIRECTOR AND WEB DESIGNER
Victoria Paz Cruz
2007 RESIDENT POET
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR FOR THE ARTS