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Volume 3,  Number 32              September 14 - 20, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Chronicle of Troubled Times
A Review of Martial Law Diary: Part One
By Ex-Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos
Published by Popular Bookstore

Danilo Vizmanos’s Martial Law Diary: Part One is very timely, not only because it falls on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the declaration of martial law, but also because today there is an increasing number of people who have not the slightest idea of what happened during the martial law years. This book should be made required reading for them. The book not only chronicles events that transpired from Jan. 1, 1973 to May 19, 1974; it helps the reader to make sense of these as well. 

By Alexander Martin Remollino

Three years after the publication of his book Through the Eye of the Storm, former Navy Capt. Danilo
Vizmanos (known throughout the cause-oriented movement as Ka Dan) is coming out with another book.  The book, Martial Law Diary: Part One, will be launched on Sept. 20 at Popular Bookstore in Quezon City.

While Through the Eye of the Storm narrates Ka Dan’s life from his birth to his ordeals as a political
prisoner, Martial Law Diary is a record from Jan. 1, 1973 to May 19, 1974 of his thoughts, as well as some of his activities — very few of which are otherwise told of,  and, if ever, without detail. This, along with other books on the martial law era, such as Dolores Stephens-Feria’s Project Sea Hawk: The Barbed Wire Journal, proves—as Pilosopong Tasyo of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere said—that “Not everyone was asleep in the night of our ancestors.”

Indeed, the martial law era was a long night, but many who refused to be put to sleep by the lies and terrorism of the dictatorship. Ka Dan was one of them; he was both actor on the stage of resistance and chronicler of its history.

Ka Dan’s second book is an easy read. A really fast reader can go through all 236 pages in just about four hours of straight reading, or even less. The author has the ability to write both elegantly and smoothly.

One who has never heard of Ka Dan prior to reading this book will be very surprised to find out that the
entries in this diary were written by a man in his forties. For among the distinguishing characteristics
of the book is that it was written with the burning indignation associated with the stereotypical young

He makes no bones about his admiration for the young rebels of Philippine history. “The revolution of 1896 was initiated,” he writes, “led and carried out by young men who were avoided like the plague by their elders.” And he adds: “With certain exceptions the history of mankind has shown that moral weakness is a social ailment more closely associated with senility than with youth and adolescence.”

Salient features

His first entry is a brief description of martial law and its effects on the Filipino people.

“What are the salient features of what FM proudly proclaims as the ‘New Society’?” he asks. “Never in the country’s history has there been so many decent Filipinos in confinement and behind bars. Politicians, newsmen, teachers, students, civic leaders, writers, priests, businessmen, and others whose crime was to reveal the truth and expose the rottenness and stink of this decaying society.

“Never in our history has there been so many fugitives being hunted down by the PC and AFP intelligence and special units all over the country. They have become fugitives because they dared express their convictions (a crime under the New Society!) at the risk of their lives.”

These comments of his on the martial law era are worth keeping in mind.

You can feel Ka Dan’s rage whenever he writes of atrocities against human rights. For example, in his May 25, 1973 entry, he describes the case of Liliosa Hilao, the first political prisoner to be killed in detention under martial law, a brilliant activist-student writer who would, he notes, have graduated cum laude from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila had she not been arrested by the martial law regime. (Other accounts, though, say she was a summa cum laude candidate).  He relates the ghastly details of her ordeal: “The brave girl patriot was tortured and raped by her PC captors and guards. Muriatic acid was forced down her throat. She died almost instantaneously.”

In the diary, he also reveals how PC authorities tried to sweep this violation under the rug: “To cover up their heinous and sadistic crime, PC authorities injected drugs into the victim’s body to simulate drug
addiction. When the body was returned to the Hilao family, a PC lieutenant even gave P460 to the parents for unknown reasons.”

Abominable crime

One wonders whether or not Ka Dan anticipated Imee Marcos’s recent justification of martial law, when she said:  “The best roads and bridges were built during martial law. Even the movies then were very good.”  Although written in 1973, his condemnation of the abuse and murder of Liliosa Hilao is a searing reply today to the Marcos daughter, now a congressman from Ilocos: “For this single crime that Marcos and his gangsters have committed on the brave but defenseless Liliosa, a million kilometers of paved
roads and all the gimmicks they have come up with cannot erase from the Filipino people such an
abominable crime that will forever serve as a dark legacy of the New Society.”

In his diary, he also writes frequently of the sufferings and psychological torture of oppositionist detainees Jose W. Diokno and Ninoy Aquino.  He lauds Diokno’s solid resolve amid mental pressure and denial of much-needed medical aid.

In the diary, too, can be found Ka Dan’s lavish praise for leading radical opponents of the dictatorship, including Jose Ma. Sison, Tony Zumel, Satur Ocampo, and Pete Daroy.

His diatribes against the then First Family, not only for their complicity in building a climate of fear but also for their extreme profligacy, are winners. He compares Ferdinand Marcos to Caligula, the insane Roman dictator of 37-41 AD, who believed himself a god, wanted to make his horse a consul, and demanded that a statue of himself be built in the Jewish temple of Jerusalem. First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, for her part, is likened to Marie Antoinette, the intolerably ostentatious French queen of the late 18th century who, when told by ministers that the French people had nothing to eat, replied: “Let them eat cake!”

Powerful punches

He reserves particularly powerful punches for those “writers” and “journalists,” such as Primitivo Mijares and Doroy Valencia, who used their pens to deceive the people into believing that martial law was the best thing that ever happened to the country. “It would be an insult to mention the names of Mijares and Valencia in the same breath as Tony Zumel or Ernie Granada or Satur Ocampo or Roz Galang,” he writes.

(Mijares himself would later be sickened with his work for the martial law regime and make an expose of its crimes in his book The Conjugal Dictatorship. After the book’s publication, he mysteriously disappeared, while his ten-year-old son was found dead with bruises all over. Primitivo Mijares has not surfaced to this day.)

Through his diary, Ka Dan also castigates the Marcoses for using entertainment as an opium to divert the attention of the people from the nauseating ugliness of the times.

As early as 1973, Ka Dan in his diary predicts the ultimate fall of the Marcoses. Nay, he does not only predict it; he is also sure of it. In 1986, the Filipino people would prove him right by ousting the Marcoses through a people-power uprising at Edsa.

Another characteristic of this book that distinguishes it from other chronicles of the martial law era is that it describes martial law in the context of U.S. imperialism. The diary is full of virulent attacks on U.S. imperialism. He assails the U.S. for preaching “democracy,” “freedom,” and “free enterprise” while inflicting the most unspeakable violence on peoples who desire true freedom and democracy, such as the Vietnamese, and backing up the most anti-democratic regimes such as the Marcos government. He compares the freedom-loving peoples of the third world, the victims of U.S. hegemonic greed, to Christ and the early Christians, who during the Roman Empire “were hunted down and killed like dogs in the Catacombs.”

Roman emperor

Then U.S. President Richard Nixon is likened by Ka Dan to the Roman emperor Caesar, while his puppets Van Thieu, Lon Nol, Suharto and Marcos are each depicted as a contemporary Herod who “betrays his own people.”

At the same time that he condemns U.S. imperialism, Ka Dan in his diary lauds internationally known symbols and pillars of the anti-imperialist struggle: Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara. He repeatedly asserts that military force alone cannot guarantee victory, that the strongest military force can be defeated by a united and awakened people, and that Vietnam would (as it did in 1975) eventually triumph over the U.S. In his diary, Ka Dan looked up to China as a model society. His accurate forecast about Vietnam would come true while Ka Dan was already in detention, himself a leading victim of martial law.

He makes it clear, though, that while against U.S. imperialism he is not against the American people.  He writes that he can differentiate between the U.S. government and corporate establishment, on one hand, and the American people, on the other. In his May 25, 1973 entry he tells of having read Mary McCarthy’s Vietnam, and says: “I have not lost faith in American people so long as there are Mary McCarthys and Daniel Ellsbergs and Benjamin Spocks and Father Berrigans among them.”

The publication of the first part of Ka Dan’s Martial Law Diary is very timely, not only because it falls on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the declaration of martial law, but also because today there is an
increasing number of people who have not the slightest idea of what happened during the martial law years. This book should be made required reading for them. The book not only chronicles events that transpired from Jan. 1, 1973 to May 19, 1974; it helps the reader to make sense of these as well.

The book is being co-published by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. Bulatlat.com

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