Veteran fisherfolk activist Peter “Tata Pido” Gonzalez survived Martial Law without being touched by government soldiers. It is only under the current regime that he had his near-brush with death. He survived an attempt on his life but continues to fight, saying we are now under a regime worse than that of Marcos.
BY DENNIS ESPADA
Peter “Tata Pido” Gonzalez, now 62, remembers vividly how he and other youth activists prepared themselves on and after Sept. 21, 1972 – the day fear enveloped the country following then President Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law.
Prior to this, he had been a part-time municipal organizer of the militant youth organization Kabataang Makabayan (KM or Patriotic Youth) since 1970, speaking in behalf of fellow fisherfolks against unfair sharing practices of owners of large-scale commercial fishing enterprises.
On his trip to Manila that year, which was his first as a participant in the historic First Quarter Storm (FQS), Pido said he endured a teargas attack when their rally was brutally dispersed somewhere in Rizal Park (formerly Luneta).
“Noong naghahabulan na, isinakay ako ng drayer sa kanyang dyip. Di na ako siningil ng bayad, tinuruan pa ako kung saan pupunta… Lalong tumaas ang moral ko dahil malawak pala kami na pati sila ay mulat rin” (When police started pursuing us, a driver took me into his jeep. He didn’t ask me to pay the fare, and even gave me directions on where to go… That boosted my morale because I saw that there were many of us, that they were also aware), he reminisced enthusiastically.
The coastal town of Gumaca in Quezon province was celebrating the fiesta of Our Lady of Peñafrancia on the same day when martial law was imposed. And while its people were in a jolly mood, KM members stayed vigilant all through that Thursday night.
“Nagkataon na nasa peryahan kami, naglalakwatsa, gising pa kami noon nang marinig namin sa radyo na idineklara y’ong martial law” (It so happened that we were in a carnival, going around, still awake when we heard over the radio that martial law had been declared), Pido, who was then 28, recalled. “Nagtipun-tipon kami sa HQ. Kinalas namin y’ong mga libro at pamphlets namin na kanya-kanya naming itinago. Bago sumikat ang araw kinabukasan, kami’y nakapagtago na, tapos ni-raid ng sundalo y’ong HQ at ‘yung ilang natutulog na kasamahan ay binitbit nila.” (We gathered at our headquarters. We hid the books and pamphlets we had at the headquarters. Before sunrise the next day, we had gone into hiding, and then soldiers raided our headquarters and seized some of our group mates who were sleeping there.)
Having a lanky body frame even then, he hid in a banca floating in the middle of the sea. Day by day, food was brought to him by a network of supporters whom he helped organize. Colleagues who knew his location would also visit to update him.
After a month of absence, he resumed his organizing work among peasants back home in a clandestine way, and contributed in the broad resistance against the “fascist-dictator” regime.
Luckily, he eluded arrest despite repeated military summons instructing him to “clerar his name.” He believes that if he had turned himself to their custody, he would have been detained, or worse, killed. By the 1980s, he decided to “go away” but he struggled on, he said.
During that period, the most eminent lesson he learned was “tibay ng loob” (strong will) and “magtiwala sa masa” (rely on the masses). “‘Di ako pinabayaan ng masa kaya ‘di ako napitik man lang ng mga sundalo ni Marcos” (The masses took good care of me, that’s why Marcos’ soldiers were never able to lay even a finger on me.)
GMA “worse than Marcos”
Pido believes the specter of martial law has made a comeback under the Arroyo administration. The only difference is that it is undeclared, he said.
He cited the liquidation attempt against him during the May 2004 elections, when he ran for a seat in the Quezon provincial board under the wing of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Party-list. He was shot seven times by gunmen allegedly belonging to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command (Solcom). Military officials had earlier accused him of being a New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla.
He said he was angry at the time he was brought to the hospital with a bleeding head. “Sabi ko sa misis ko: ‘Medy, huwag kang iiyak. Di natin bibigyan ng kasiyahan ang ating mga kaaway… Hindi nila kayang ubusin ang Anakpawis!‘” (I told my wife: “Medy, do not cry. Let us not give satisfaction to our enemies… They cannot kill off the whole Anakpawis!”)
Even during the Marcos dictatorship, he never experienced a death threat as outrageous as the one he had to put up with under the current regime. “Bagaman tuluy-tuloy ang pagdukot at pagpatay, noong Martial Law makakapag-ingat ka. Pero ngayon, nakakapagkunwari ang gobyerno. Mas matindi at garapal ang pampulitikang panunupil ngayon sa ilalim ng rehimeng Arroyo.” (Though abductions and killings were continuous then during Martial Law you could get by if you were careful enough. But now the government pretends.But political repression is now more brazen under the Arroyo regime.)
Pido’s words of advice to the younger generation are: join the movement that struggles for change.
“Noon, madalas kong sabihin na ‘ang Pilipinas ay perlas ng silangan.’ Ngayon, silangan na lang, wala nang perlas dahil dinambong na… Kahit mga propesyunal ay wala ding magandang kinabukasan dahil puro kontraktwal sila. Kapag ika’y hindi mulat, patuloy kang mangangapa sa dilim. Gusto ba ninyong manahin ang isang lipunang ganito kabulok?” (I used to describe the Philippines as “the pearl of the orient.” But all that’s left now is the orient, the country’s a pearl no longer because it has been plundered… Even professionals have no bright future to look forward to because they’re all contractuals. If you’re unaware, you would always be groping in the dark. Do you want to inherit a society this rotten?) (Bulatlat.com)