Sunday, May 26, 2024

Days of Disquiet: Former Editor Remembers

By Dionisio T. Baseleres
Martial Law. Four decades ago, these two words evoked fear and anger. These are memories left unwritten in the Martial Law chapter of the history of my school, Silliman University in Dumaguete City. I just graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in March, 1972 and by June, I had started taking courses leading to a master’s degree in sociology.
I supported myself in college through the University’s student assistantship program and the scholarship I got playing for the chess varsity team. I planned to finish my master’s degree and the last thing I needed was martial law disrupting my plans.
The proclamation of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, announced two days later, had become a dreadful event to remember. On that fateful day, the staff of the University’s student paper, the Weekly Sillimanian, were working on the week’s issue at the University Press. They were mostly students of the School of Journalism and Communication. Our banner story that week had the headline: “Martial law looming?”
As editor-in-chief, I ordered the staff to destroy our issue that was already almost ready to go to bed. I also suggested to them to burn whatever subversive materials they have in their possession that might incriminate them. I was not a member of any of the several militant
groups on campus but being editor of a progressive campus paper in one of the oldest private universities in the country, I invariably got involved in discussions of current social issues among friends, a number of whom were staff members of the Weekly Sillimanian.
Many of my friends were identified with militant groups like the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) and other groups under the League of Filipino Students (LFS).
Suddenly, we had to change our banner headline to: “MARTIAL LAW DECLARED!” It was set in 72 pt. Bodoni Bold, all caps.  But, 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 pageone galley proof. We stared into space with the unuttered question: “What now?”
I went back to Dao Cottage, the dormitory of the Silliman men’s varsity athletes. That night, fearful that I might be apprehended, I decided not to sleep in my own room but in another room of the cottage.Before long, in the early hours of the morning, members of the Philippine Constabulary carrying long firearms barged into the dorm and forced open the door of my room. Although startled by the commotion, my dorm mates did not give any information on my whereabouts. Unable to find me inside the room, the soldiers ransacked my personal belongings ostensibly to look for subversive documents.
Penniless and tired of running around, I decided to go home to Bohol. Disguised as a laborer at the Dumaguete pier, I managed to go up the gangplank of the boat bound for Tagbilaran City undetected by PC soldiers who were on guard. While on board the boat, I hid among the passengers until I safely reached the port of my destination.
But after a few days of relative quiet at home, my father received a notice from the military stating that I was the “second most wanted man in Negros Oriental.” My father thought it was best for me to go back and surrender to clear my name of the accusations. I heeded my father’s advice and took the boat back to Dumaguete. I went to the Negros Oriental PC headquarters and surrendered. There I was held as a political detainee.
I spent the warm days and cold nights in a stinky room with other college students and some members of the Silliman faculty. There was not enough food to go around. For those of us who were far from our families and did not have relatives in the city, no one brought us supplies for personal hygiene. Tired, weary and frustrated as the days turned to weeks, the big question in our mind was: “How long are we going to be held captive?”
For several days,  the PC operatives interrogated the detainees. When it was my turn at the interrogation room, I was asked repeatedly, in several variations of the same question: What do I know of the plans of the militant groups to overthrow the New Society? The question was preposterous. I told the interrogator I was not a member of any of the militant groups he mentioned. If indeed I was not an activist, another interrogator pressed, how could I explain the presence of subversive materials inside the office of the Weekly Sillimanian? I felt a bulb lit up inside my head. “Precisely!” I almost yelled. “You see these materials lying around because these were the ones we did not  publish.”
That bluff saved the day for me. After more than a month in detention, I was released from the stockade upon the intervention of Silliman University officials.

The author, now living in retirement in Tagbilaran City, was the editor of the Weekly Sillimanian when martial law was proclaimed on Sept. 21, 1972. The tWS, the country’s oldest existing student newspaper, was first published in 1920.


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