Martial Law, my dad, his classmates and his generation

WHENEVER THE country collectively remembers Martial Law on its anniversary, we come across a plethora of stories about the resistance and the struggle.

The youth were at the forefront of the struggle against the dictatorship. We now immortalize the lives of martyrs who died young, like Ed Jopson, the Jesuit-trained reformist who later became a leader of the Communist Party; Sputnik Lansang, the precocious kid who left Philippine Science High School in his second year to become a full-time revolutionary; and Lean Alejandro, the student leader who inspired a generation of Martial Law babies, regardless of their political identity.

Of late, the youth activists who fought the dictatorship are publishing their stories. Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years (2012) is one volume written by the Quimpo family that narrates events during the Martial Law period and the involvement of each member of the family in the struggle. To quote the foreword written by Vicente Rafael: “To read these accounts, each so rich and distinctive in its tone, is to hear the rhythm of the revolution.”

A most recent release, albeit a private one, is an e-book written by husband and wife Mon and Iting Isberto, Our 3rd Life (2013). Principally addressed to their children and their children’s children, Mon and Iting’s book narrates their life in the underground movement — how they met, how they nurtured their love, how they fought the dictatorship, how they survived, and how they, in their senior age, continue to adhere to the values that they embraced when they were activists.

Why a third life? Mon and Iting are inspired by Jane Fonda, an icon of the activists and hippies of the 1960s and 1970s. Jane Fonda explains that the baby boomers have a third life, thanks to the wonders of science and medicine. The generation of baby boomers has an additional 30 years to live meaningfully, which their great grandparents did not enjoy. That third life for Mon and Iting is “serving the people” but in a totally different context — how they and their generation can be of service to our children and our children’s children.

Indeed, we welcome the personal stories of the young activists who fought the dictatorship. Their stories are honest and vivid. They are neither preachy nor polemic. Those who were born after the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1986, and they are the majority, have much to learn and reflect from these stories.

But how come we mostly read or hear the heroic and sometimes tragic stories about the youth activists of the 1970s and 1980s? What about the stories of the parents of the activists? After all, the generation of our parents was likewise represented in the resistance to the dictatorship.

Lorenzo Tañada, Pepe Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Ninoy and Cory Aquino, Gerry Roxas, and Ambrosio Padilla, among others, are nationally prominent. Their names are now immortalized in the pantheon of heroes. And their leadership in the anti-Marcos resistance is well documented.

Yet, shouldn’t we also hear the stories of the less prominent, less known people of the generation of our parents? Their generation is stereotyped as being freedom-loving but politically and socially conservative, including being pro-American and anti-communist.

My dad and mom can fit that stereotype. They disliked my activism, and my dad even gave me an ultimatum — either I choose the family or the movement. The visionary but irrational fool that I was, I chose the latter when in truth, movement and family are not mutually exclusive.

My dad and mom were against the dictatorship, but expressed their resistance in less radical ways. They voted against the Marcos Constitution, even as their children boycotted the plebiscite. My mom gave material support to activists close to her like my cousin Bobbie, who was deep in the underground. My mom even gave Bobbie a pair of stylish Ferragamo shoes!

My dad’s classmate in high school was Soliman Santos, whom he called “Mighty Mite.” He was mighty because despite his being diminutive, he was very intelligent, at the same time he was outgoing and adventurous. Like my dad, Soli, as he is called, had to deal with rebel children.

Soli’s sons, also named Sol or Soli and Ricky, became activists. His daughter, Rayla, would later become a passionate advocate of the human rights of women and children. Serving the people was in the genes of the siblings.

Soli and wife Mercy were concerned about the safety of their activist sons, who were wanted by the military. But parental love extended to their sons’ comrades. In many ways, the parents helped the struggle, not only in terms of allowing their children to participate in the revolutionary movement. With their consent, the Santos home on Dama de Noche in New Manila became a refuge for underground activists. The home likewise became the site of the underground press, which mimeographed or silkscreened revolutionary literature.

And, yes, the older Soli and Mercy were anti-dictatorship, and they sympathized with their sons’ sentiments, despite the fact that Mercy’s brother was Marcos’ Executive Secretary.

Another classmate of my dad, this time in law school, was exceptional for his batch and generation. My dad greatly admired Jose E. Suarez — friends and comrades called him Tata Sensing — for was far more courageous and radical, compared to his cohorts. A delegate of 1972 Constitutional Convention, he was one of the few who voted against the Marcos Constitution. He held progressive views and was a militant parliamentarian of the street.

Carol Araullo calls Tata Sensing the “Lorenzo Tañada of Central Luzon.” Tata Sensing dedicated much of his life to advance the political and economic struggle of his kabalens (province-mates). To be sure, he was in the league of Diokno or Tañada and thus deserves national recognition.

A personal letter from Diosdado Macapagal attests to the courage and heroism of Tata Sensing. In that letter, Macapagal said he tried to convince Suarez to cast an affirmative vote on the Transitory Provisions “because of concern for his liberty since at that time Delegates were being picked up for detention at Camp Crame.”

But Tata Sensing did not follow Macapagal; he voted No to the Marcos Constitution. Macapagal asked why and Tata Sensing’s answer was he did not want to lose the respect of his children.

The struggle against the Marcos dictatorship was the struggle of different generations. We and our parents fought the dictatorship for our children’s future.

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