RECORD-KEEPING is curious. All the national dailies marked the 40th anniversary of Marcos’ signing of Presidential Decree 1081, which placed the country under martial law (ML) on Sept. 21, 1972.
Even the Manila Bulletin, venerable for its indifference to the rules of lay-outing and newsworthiness, devoted 1.5 pages to feature “Martial Law@40: Never Again” in its F Section for youths.
Unlike in other broadsheets, PD 1081 and its aftermath don’t appear on the front page of MB or its main opinion-editorial section. There are two columnists writing separately on two celebrations falling also on Sept. 21: the national day of Malta and the independence day of Armenia.
Is ML a subject for kids? I agree with the editors: “never again” should be chanted by those born years after the Marcos regime but never too young not to know this period of our history.
Curious to re-view ML through the lens of youths who cannot hum in a heartbeat the Bagong Lipunan hymn, I took the cue to reminisce online from Ambeth R. Ocampo’s Sept. 21, 2012 column, “Looking Back,” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
According to Ocampo, the diary of Marcos, “fascinating” for its insights into ML, is available for free, along with other diaries of Filipinos and foreigners writing about the country, in philippinediaryproject.wordpress.com.
While Ocampo is drawn to reviewing the past through the eyes of a man whose role was central to its unfolding, I am struck by the Tweet-like journalizing of the 10th president of the country while he plots and executes Oplan Sagittarius, the imposition of “Batas Militar”.
On Jan. 3, 1971, a Sunday, Marcos wrote: “… I had a light lunch of docon and paltat.” After leaving Gabu for Nichols Airbase, he is met by “Imelda and the children,” who have brought him “pospas” that he eats in the car.
The chicken-flavored porridge, a folk remedy, is probably taken to soothe a bum stomach. “It is most probably due to the tension arising out of the plan for the proclamation of martial law…”
The mention of ML jolts the domestic narration. The fellow comforted by porridge brought by his wife and children has the power to start a chain of events that will darken the land and bring suffering for two decades and counting.
Unlike Tweets and blogs, diaries of the past were written for the writer’s eyes only. That is why reading old diaries is beguiling: one presumes the outpouring is uncensored, written without the pressure of playing to an audience or justifying oneself for posterity.
On another Sunday, Sept. 17, 1972, Marcos writes at 10 p.m.: “We escaped the loneliness of the palace for this old Antillan house now known as Ang Maharlika, the State Guest House several blocks from the palace… The departure of our children has made the palace a ghostly unbearable place.”
Waking up from a long siesta in the room of son Bongbong (now senator)—“which has the worst bed and lumpiest mattress”—Marcos has sardines and “pancit (noodles)” for early dinner. He browses in the library: “… to my delight I discovered the books I have been wanting to read for some time including Fitzimmons, The Kennedy Doctrine, Sorensen’s The Kennedy Legacy, The Dirty Wars edited by Donald Johnson… Days of Fire by Samuel Katz (The Secret History of the Irguny Zrai Sanmi and The Making of Israel, Chou-en-lai by Kai-Yu, Room 39 by Donald Macfaddan (The room of the British Intelligence in WWII), the History of the World in the 20th Century by Watt, Spencer and Brown.”
On a Saturday, Sept. 23, 1972, Marcos wrote: “Things moved according to plan although out of the total 200 target personalities in the plan only 52 have been arrested, including the three senators, Aquino, Diokno and Mitra and Chino Roces and Teddy Locsin.
“At 7:15 pm I finally appeared on a nationwide TV and Radio broadcast to announce the proclamation of martial law, the general orders and instruction.”
The diary of Marcos is more than a keepsake. It is a hall of mirrors: does the human make the man less monstrous or more?
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 23, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column