The Marcos martial law did not come on 21 September 1972, an ordinary Thursday. It came on the night of 22 September 1972.
To insist on marking 21 September as the start of martial rule is to allow the late dictator, in his afterlife, to still dictate what shouldn’t be in our heads. And all because he wanted posterity for his folkloric superstition in lucky number “7” and its multiples.
Marking exactly the day and date of martial rule — like what I am doing here — is also a protest against the arrant dismissal that the fragile memories of the anonymous many — destined to remain nameless yet who had found themselves at the edges of history fortuitously caught in the maelstrom of interesting times — do not count.
The same fragile memories, too, also upset the arbitrariness of remembering by a fanatical few out to change the events of history. Thus…
“…On the Friday morning of 22 September 1972, the rains did not come again. It had been three weeks or so that the rains did not come and it was good.
“Everyone had enough of the miseries and dreariness of the rains, which came in the previous months for 40 straight days, causing massive floods in the Central Luzon plains and the North, isolating helpless millions from the capital.
“In the early morning, life began stirring inside the thick concrete walls of the Molave Residence Hall, an all-male dormitory of the University of the Philippines.
“A two-floor, heavy-set edifice with two wings built in the early 1960s with trees all around, Molave had seen better times. But it was home for freshmen students from the provinces.
“In that little corner of the world of early 1970s Philippines scrawny 16-year-old bodies jostled each morning for toilets, bath cubicles and over drums of precious water. Scarce water turned toilets unspeakable.
“The morning buzz was atypical as freshmen believed classroom learning was too important an obligation to miss in their young lives. But then just about most students looked forward going to and roam around the Arts and Sciences (AS) building.
“Raucous and noisy even in the early morning, AS had a bounty of teach-ins, loud political debates on stairwells and corridors and, ever so often, freshly-mimeographed polemical manifestoes and tracts were thrown down from floors above, floating down like origami butterflies. No one stepped on those manifestoes. Everyone took time to read and collect them.
“By Friday noon, AS suddenly went eerily quiet. Professors and students abruptly called it a day.
“Everyone was now sure Marcos would declare martial law later in the day.
“The whole week everyone, including the lowly freshman, were warned Marcos would act decisively.
“If anyone was hardly surprised still no one knew what would happen thereafter.
“In the mid-afternoon, on the wild lawns of Molave a number of anxious probinysianos lit little bonfires, fueled by piles upon piles of manifestoes and political tracts.
“Someone feared the pieces of paper were incriminating enough to lead to sure arrests. Such provincial naiveté clouded the fact one too could simply be shot on sight.
“There was a lot of multi-colored papers to burn and the short gray afternoon wasn’t enough to burn all the prized and collectible but suspiciously subversive literature into ashes.
“Thereafter, in the early evening and all throughout the night, in all the four corridors of Molave, energetic but anxious young faces went back and forth from their rooms bearing armfuls of paper, stuffing the papers either into garbage cans or piling these willy-nilly on the red-dyed concrete floors. No one minded the asphyxiating smoke and soot when the bonfires began again indoors.
“The mini bonfires finally ceased at midnight. Exhaustion stopped the reckless obsession with indoors fire.
“But after midnight everyone couldn’t afford to stay exhausted. Within earshot of everyone in the dorm sounded the unmistakable cracks of long-arms and machine-gun fire.
“Off at the back of Molave and merely a kilometer away on Commowealth Avenue was the central Iglesia ni Cristo basilica, with its twin gothic spires. The gunshots came from there. The church was under violent siege.
“Sporadic gunfire echoed and rang on throughout the cold darkness of the autumnal equinox, tapering off only at dawn.
“Everyone now had nothing but fierce fear in their insides and the burnings became more furious, done in fevered silence.
“And all throughout the ordeal, always there was the floating presence of a steely bespectacled woman, who went for rounds after rounds asking how things were. She was Molave’s mother figure, the dorm manager who had not gone home to her family to be with her 300 or so innocents.
“On the wee morning hours of 23 September, moody stillness reigned in Molave, the silence punctured only by the quiet breaths of exhausted young lungs, sleepless children still too tired to even form words about their confused emotions. No radio blared nor did the soothing crackle of the black and white TV in the dorm lounge.
“No one thought of bravely venturing out into Diliman’s too-silent streets and vast expanses. But one unnerved dormer took it upon himself to slip out, having decided his personal safety was better off with relatives than with fellow dorm mates.
“He shortly came back. He, in company with other Diliman residents, could not get past police barricades on University Avenue. He also had to go back because police were reportedly bent on giving free haircuts right there on the pavements: police had decided anyone sporting long hair was a subversive.
“And so, on Saturday morning and all throughout the day of the 23rd we at Molave hardly knew anything. But on the first early evening of the long nights ahead, the black and white TV spurted back into life and there was Marcos, pointing his finger at us.
“Dictatorial martial rule had come…”