Would I Still Want to be a Writer?

I don’t know what I’m going to study in college. At night, though, when everything is quiet except for the buzzing of the mosquito killer and my own thoughts, I fantasize pursuing writing. Being one of the first Filipinos to break into the Western-dominated literary scene and a journalist assigned to cover missions on Earth’s far-flung territories; that’s my dream in a nutshell.

In a different time in the Philippines, I wouldn’t dare think that.

If I were on the streets of Katipunan in the mid-1970s, huddling home after a long day of school, I would think first about the soldiers on the streets and the whispers of my teary-eyed classmates — yet another disappearance — before even thinking of writing. Unjust academic deadlines and the long wait for a TV show’s next episode wouldn’t be my primary concern; staying alive and having my family complete would have been one.

Had I been born four decades earlier, how would I have held my tongue and my fist?

Martial Law was a beast that raged our homes, grasping and tearing at anything that made a sound. While it was chased away by our brave heroes, if you look close enough, you can still see the scratch marks it made on our wallpaper. On our dining table and on the shining porcelain plates.

A simple search online on Martial Law brings nothing pretty or proof that the economy ‘boomed’. Curiosity is swapped with trepidation at the recounts of its survivors. How the facade of calm and stability Marcos promised gave way to a plague of torture worse than death. Truth at our fingertips, just a reach away, if only we dare to learn.

Martial Law is the moment, and the aftermath of the moment.

Martial Law does not simply equal corruption and revolution. It cannot be summed up with a simple history lesson, a brief run-through in Philippine History class. Writing a slogan or composing a song to teach the evil of Martial Law to the youth isn’t enough. It will never be enough for it to never happen again.

It is trauma. It is the hollow smile of siblings who still haven’t located their siblings since their disappearance forty-three years ago. It is the way the elderly still shudder, thinking the people mingling in the streets are spies for Marcos. It is the way the pillows are stained with tears at night, memories of fallen friends and parents. It is a grazed bullet, a hurried pace, a ‘take care’ never replied to. It is the storm without the calm. It is a battlefield with its bloodstains still shining, wet.

It is my great-grandfather’s brother, Jose ‘Pepe’ Diokno, who spoke, was considered a threat to the dictatorship, and detained alongside Ninoy Aquino. It is my grandmother, who was called with her friends to guard the ballot checkers during the People Power Revolution, and got boxed out by a big, burly Marcos minion. It is me, writing this essay, making their stories remembered.

Martial Law is the moment, and the aftermath of the moment.

Every family has a story to share and scars to bear up to this day. We are their keepers, and we must refuse to keep quiet. Martial Law cannot be erased from our history as our country ages. We must paint it in red, sear it in our memories. While we don’t have tangible experiences, we know how our parents’ shoulders shake. We know how lips are pursed at the mention of it. We know the suffering like a cousin, stretched and distant but relative nonetheless.

We know the choices that were made, like the turn from a lifelong love and ideal: truth and writing and justice and art.

Martial Law is not to be a simple option or a distasteful comment. It is not to be embraced like a mother after a month-long immersion, or brushed off like a relentless insect. Doing so is an insult to the survivors who lived under Marcos’ reign, spitting on their grave early. It may very well sneak up on us for our apathy, because the future spread out for us is not littered with the high technology of flying cars and assistant robots. It is a trail of our past, history’s wheel spinning. A few turns of ignorance, and we could be living under Martial Law repeated.

Here’s to those who burned the dream of pursuing writing, public speaking, and art despite them being the only things that relieved them from their bottled thoughts of rebellion. Here’s to those who lived under the bleak sky that Marcos painted, their tongues cut and deprived of a voice.

Family, friends, and loved ones of the unsung heroes of Martial Law: tell us their stories.

Tell us your pain. I want to be one of the many to immortalize them.

Would we have been writers during Martial Law? Would we have faced oppression to have our words resonate? Would we have lit the pyre of others and pave a path for the revolution? We are lucky to not be challenged this question, put in that place and time. We would be divided, our numbers lowered. I have my answer, though; the dark recesses of my mind say yes. I respect the honesty of written word too much to think otherwise and I have always dreamed of partaking in a rebellion to see what I’m truly made of.

Here’s what I can say about us now. We are an army, small but growing. We have nothing to fear because you braved the tyrannical dictators for us. We are full of hope because of what you overcame. You may not hear about us yet, but we are here and ready to welcome the truth home.

Here’s to those who burned the dream of pursuing writing, public speaking, and art despite them being the only things that relieved them from their bottled thoughts of rebellion. Here’s to those who lived under the bleak sky that Marcos painted, their tongues cut and deprived of a voice. Here’s to those who had their fiery minds cleaved and strong bodies gutted, and those who had to pick up their pieces, still beating the ten o’clock curfew.

This generation of writers is doing this for you.

 


Andrea Salvador is a highschool student from St. Paul College – Pasig. She is a finalist in the Martial Law Museum Awards Essay Category.

The Martial Law Museum Awards is a nationwide competition for high school students that aims to promote the value of remembering our history as a nation during Martial Law and engage the youth in creative responses through literature and the arts.


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