Friday, June 14, 2024

A Campus by the Sea: The Martial Law Years

I came back to a University that would never be the same. The campus was fenced in, curfew was imposed, and rallies, demonstrations and even meetings of more than a handful of individuals were not allowed. All clubs were abolished. The varsity chess team ceased to exist. The Student Government was dissolved. The Weekly Sillimanian was padlocked.                                                               – Jimmy Sarmiento

Freedom: we take it so lightly yet value it highly. We preach on it. We take too many steps to “preserve” it. We offer our minds just to define it. But what is it, really? How would it feel when we, a generation almost born to it, is suddenly stripped off what is so familiar to us?

September 21, 1972 was a tense date for all those who remember it. Despite being unannounced, many individuals, including Dionisio Baseleres, the tWS editor-in-chief at that time, heard rumors about the declaration of Martial Law days before. In his words:

And so we were caught unprepared when, two days later, on Sept. 23, Martial Law descended upon us like a pall of gloom. 

Suddenly, we had to change our banner headline to: “MARTIAL LAW DECLARED!” It was set in 72 points, Bodoni Bold, all capitals. 

Unfortunately, we could not print that issue anymore. Speechless, with our heartbeats racing, my associate editor and I took a long, hard look at the page-one galley proof. We stared into space with the unuttered question: “What now?”

On that same day, members of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), known as the Philippine National Police today, entered the campus and ransacked—a term used by many student journalists at that time including Sarmiento and Baseleres—their dorm rooms and their offices in search of subversive materials. In that instant, free speech for students became non-existent—in paper, at least.

According to Tiempo, Maslog and Sitoy in their work entitled Silliman University, 1901-1976, Silliman became one of the first two universities in the country that were closed. Many faculty members and students were rounded up by the PC and were detained. Detention lasted for as long as six months and, bound with it untold, was interrogation. In the words of Jimmy Sarmiento:

Easily the most frightening moment of my detention was the interrogation. I was picked up by two men in civilian clothing who introduced themselves as MIG (Military Intelligence Group) agents. They took me by civilian jeep to a “safe house”, which was actually an apartment unit a few kilometers from the PC Headquarters. The windows were boarded up with plywood. It was dark inside, and you couldn’t hear street noises because of the very loud air conditioning unit. I couldn’t help but think that conversely, people outside couldn’t hear anything from the inside. Even loud screaming.

According to Dr. Crispin C. Maslog, director of the Silliman School of Journalism and Communication when Martial Law was proclaimed in 1972, abuses didn’t end on detention. Aside from the “subversives” and Marcos’ critics, many others were incarcerated for several reasons. Fifty-thousand people from various walks of life were arrested in the first three years of Martial Law. More than 75,000 citizens reported violations of their human rights, and among that number, a grisly 3,257 were murdered. Marcos’ crony capitalism pushed the Philippine economy to a head-first dive—and it is evident that, until today, we are still paying for the debts squandered through the regime.

A scene which lasted 14 years and witnessed the suffering of a country divided by status, is now history. It was 44 years ago; some remember it still, while many are born fortunate enough to live past it. Several are in peace and unaware, but its lasting effects remain lingering in the very soil of our country. “Change has come,” they say, but we must all take action to prevent this monstrosity from ever happening again.


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