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The Declaration of Martial Law


I stood a mere 5’ 1” when freshman year ended. Everyone in the family had more or less accepted that I would not grow as tall as my older brother Ronaldo, who was already 5’ 7” or so. Why they had all arrived at that conclusion, I did not have the foggiest. After all, I was still a month short of being thirteen years old when summer vacation started in March.

I turned thirteen in April, and in the two months of summer vacation grew all of five inches. That was why, when I returned to school to start my sophomore year in June, some of my classmates, even those from my own closest circle of friends, failed to recognize me initially. From 5’ 1”, I had in two months grown to 5’ 6” and would continue to grow in the next few years until I reached my present height of 5’ 9½”.

The most noteworthy event of my sophomore year had nothing to do with the school at all. It was the declaration of Martial Law by then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos in September of 1972.

Ah, yes. Martial Law. A few years ago, my classmates and I had a bit of a discussion about this on social media. A few of them said that we were supposed to have been on a bivouac or a field trip – or something – on the day Martial Law was declared. I was certain that I was not part of that trip, I told them. First of all, I have absolutely no recollection of it. And second, I am certain that I was at home at the time having watched Marcos declare Martial Law live on television, all the while feeling annoyed that no other television station was on except that of the government.

At the time, my father was a recently retired officer of the Philippine Air Force. Thus, he still had his contacts from within the military and was to a certain extent still very much “in the loop.” In other words, he must have been hearing something like this could happen anytime soon.

21 September 1972, the day when Martial Law was declared, was a Thursday. How I came to be at home, I do not recall. Perhaps it was that field trip that my classmates were insisting we were in; and my guess is that my father, sniffing something momentous was about to happen, must have refused to allow me to join. Either this or my mother, typically, balked at the expenses.

I remember the siren at Fernando Air Base going on forever. Being an Air Force brat, I knew that the siren blared to start and end the working day inside the base and to call soldiers to their stations if the base was going on alert status. The continuous blaring of the siren that day when Martial Law was declared was longer than any I had heard it before, even those when Red Alert was raised. We had already moved out of the base and lived a kilometer outside it, but the siren was still clearly audible.

I remember my father putting on his clothes and making the short trip to the base to see what the fuss was all about. Before doing so, he left instructions for everyone to stay put inside the house. Before long, he returned with confirmation that Martial Law, indeed, had been declared. Besides, Marcos was also soon on television delivering that lengthy speech.

Because we were an Air Force family, I don’t recall that we were overly concerned about Martial Law being declared. I do recall the ennui in the next few days because my Dad had insisted that nobody left the house to avoid being mistaken for the alleged lawless elements that the military and civil force were in search of.

I was just a thirteen year old kid with a very flimsy grasp of what Martial Law was all about. Thus, my immediate concerns were that there was nothing to watch on television and when conditions would normalize enough to enable us to go back to school. Vacations were always welcome, but not when we were cooped up inside the house with nothing to do or watch.

My brother Ronaldo, who was a senior at the time, and his classmates would be a wee bit more affected by the declaration of Martial Law than I was. I don’t recall if school publications were totally banned after the declaration, but they must have because the high school class of 1973, of which my brother was part, would graduate without a yearbook and be the only graduating class in the school’s entire history without one.


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