Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 32              September 15 - 21,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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Young, Illustrious Filipinos Fell Then - And Still Fall Now

Marcos, the man who brought martial law upon this land, was ousted by the people in 1986. But the ghosts of martial law continue to haunt us. They continue to claim the lives of the best of the Filipino youth, who are still, as they were thirty years ago, enraged by the morass wrought upon this land by the local elite and their foreign masters.

By Alexander Martin Remollino

Jose Rizal, in one of his poems, described the youth as the "fair hope" of the nation. It was the young men and women to whom Emilio Jacinto addressed his manifesto calling for a fight for freedom.

Many of the young men and women of their time took them seriously. In great numbers they pulled themselves out of the frivolous concerns that normally preoccupy the young and poured their brains and brawn into a valiant struggle for freedom. It would be decades before the young would again take them seriously in large numbers.

The year was 1972. Things had come to a head in the Philippines. For the past few years the Philippines had been reeling from the effects of neocolonial domination, the subservience of foreign policy, feudal exploitation, and bureaucratic corruption. Because of this the seeds of revolution were spreading throughout the land. Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, then President, responded to the demands of the people - not by beginning to do away with the cancers of society - but by suppressing their right to demand the construction of a better society. He declared martial law on September 21 of that year. And martial law haunted the land for nearly twenty years.

It was among the worst chapters in our history. With swords hanging over their heads and guns pointed at their heads the people were being driven around in a way that not even the lowest beasts of burden have ever been driven around. And anyone who dared to resist risked losing her or his life, or being caged and tortured - or raped.

But if martial law was among the worst chapters in our history, it was also one of those that brought out the best in the Filipino youth. All of a sudden the Filipino youth were no longer as obsessed with movie stars and fashion and parties as they had often been. All of a sudden they found themselves jumping out of a life of frivolity and apathy to pursue something bigger than themselves.

The history of the martial law era is replete with the names of brilliant and talented young Filipinos who lost their lives in the thick of the struggle for freedom from tyranny and injustice.

Emman Lacaba was one of them. A poet, playwright, scriptwriter, short story writer, and essayist, he had more than promised to be the greatest writer of his generation. He was at the top of his class from first grade until he finished high school. At the Ateneo de Manila University, he was a full scholar until he completed his course. He was a trade unionist at the time martial law was declared - in fact, just two months before the declaration of martial law, he had faced threats and truncheons together with picketing workers at a small factory in Pasig. He went down to Mindanao in 1975 to cast his lot with the armed struggle. It was as a "people's warrior", as he called himself in one of his poems, that he lost his life in Mindanao in 1976.

A promising writer

Laurie Barros was another one. A poet and essayist, she was also a writer of great promise. She was a consistent honor student in grade school and high school, and from the University of the Philippines (UP) she graduated cum laude. From being a student activist in the mid-1960s, she later founded the feminist group Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (Patriotic Movement of the New Women).

When the Constabulary, upon orders from Malacaņang, tried to take over the UP campus shortly after the declaration of martial law, Laurie was one of numerous young men and women who stood their ground and fought it out with the Constabulary. She later went to Quezon to join the armed struggle. In an encounter with the military, she sustained several wounds and bled to death while in the custody of the military.

Still another was Liliosa Hilao. Aside from being editor-in-chief of the school paper of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila), she was one of the best students it ever had, having been a candidate for summa cum laude. A member of the Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth) and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), she had been participating in protest actions and writing editorials and articles against the Marcos regime. She was one of the first to be arrested upon the declaration of martial law. She died in prison after being abused by her military captors.

Edgar Jopson was yet another one. Born into an upper-class family, he was an unlikely activist and revolutionary. He was a consistent honor student from the time he began his education until his graduation from the Ateneo de Manila University. In the late 1960s, he headed the National Union of Students of the Philippines, then a moderate group. In 1970, he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines.

Jopson, during martial law, became a labor organizer and, still later, a high-ranking official of the underground revolutionary movement in Mindanao. Detention and torture did not stop him from pursuing the struggle. In 1982, he was wounded in a military raid. He bled to death.

Two historic actions

Thirty years have passed since the declaration of martial law. The Filipino people have staged two historic actions affirming their desire for democracy. But the stage is still the same stage that martial law entered. Neocolonialism still rules the economy and our foreign policy. Feudal exploitation and bureaucratic corruption still plague the people. These ills of society continue to breed unrest among the people. Because of this, the establishment continues to resort to fascist designs with the objective of preserving the status quo.

Of course, there has been no formal declaration of martial law under the Macapagal-Arroyo regime, but the right of the people to demand the construction of a truly free and just society is still being trampled upon. But there are still young people in the mold of Emman Lacaba, Laurie Barros, Liliosa Hilao and Edgar Jopson who dare to struggle against oppression. Two of them fell recently. One of them was Gypsy Zabala. She was a student leader at the Far Eastern University. Last March, she was in Antipolo City, doing mass work among the peasants there. It was there where she lost her life in an ambush by the military.

Less than a month later, the newspapers would yell with stories of the grisly murder of Beng Hernandez. Beng was a leader of the Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights) and vice-president of CEGP in Mindanao. A student writer at the Ateneo de Davao University, she had been asked by a group of writers to submit some of her poems to be used in a workshop. One of her professors had said she was one of Davao City's most promising writers.

Beng was heading a fact-finding mission that was researching on the condition of the peasants of Sitio Bukatol in the Arakan Valley in Cotabato, aside from following up on the research she had initiated a year back on the Tababa Massacre. She was preparing to have lunch in a hut with some peasant companions when a paramilitary unit started firing at the hut. She tried to escape but was caught. Her corpse was later found with bruises and bullet wounds on her body and her face crushed.

Marcos, the man who brought martial law upon this land, was ousted by the people in 1986. But the ghosts of martial law continue to haunt us. They continue to claim the lives of the best of the Filipino youth, who are still, as they were thirty years ago, enraged by the morass wrought upon this land by the local elite and their foreign masters. Bulatlat.com

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