Monday, September 21, 2020

My Martial Law Story: Escape From The JS Prom by Cynia Mirasol and Cymark Ferdinand Mirasol

It’s quite reassuring to see the many varieties of apples and oranges that you can readily buy from sidewalk fruit vendors as well as supermarkets and even convenience stores nowadays. Speaking of apples, even a premium Apple iPhone is pretty much a common luxury for the ordinary gainfully employed individual who is willing to finance a premium subscription from any internet and telecommunications service provider operating here in the Philippines.

Of course, there was a time when it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 70’s for example, an apple cost around 60 pesos and could only be purchased in special designated stores – that is, if you could afford to buy one in the first place. Adjusted for inflation in 2020, ( that’s  ₱4,815.34 for one apple – the fruit, not the gadget.

Fittingly enough, this story takes place somewhere around 1975, as far back as my hazy memories allow – basically, smack dab in the heat of Marcos’ Martial Law. Nowadays, hysterical revisionists (that wasn’t a typo) may try to paint Marcos as a hero, but as a person who has actually lived through those turbulent times, I do hope this personal anecdote of mine can at least shed some light on how life was lived… at the time when the Conjugal Dictators ruled the Philippines.

Very vividly, I remember that this story took place on the 22nd of a February. This much is accurate because it would be my boyfriend and future husband, Ferdie’s birthday the next day. At this time, we were attending a JS Prom for our Political Science class. It was a joint party with us, the third year students as well as the graduating 4th year students at a rented house together with Attorney Ladrido, our favorite teacher for the “Polysigh” Political Science Club. He was also accompanied by Attorney Segundina Navarro, who co-hosted the party.  We had all planned to spend the night in the house and come home by morning.

As you would probably expect, a curfew was in effect and once the sirens resounded at around 10:00 PM, everyone was expected to be in their homes with the lights out and with only dim lighting even within their own houses. Bright lights would attract the local police force monitoring the area and anyone caught holding gatherings or engaging in any activities that even attracted the least bit of suspicion would be immediately incarcerated overnight. Fortunately, as long as you weren’t connected with any rebel faction, you would be released immediately the day after. In Iloilo City in particular, the horror stories of the Martial Law era were not as pronounced – of course, you should also realize that smartphones and modern information dissemination simply did not exist. In fact, this is a good time to mention that not a lot of people had TVs and you had to take whatever you heard over the radio with a grain of salt because the government could be controlling even media coverage in the background – these were dark times.

“Dark” is actually a good way to describe the martial law era as even our JS Prom had to be held in the dark and in secret so as not to arouse the suspicion of any whistleblowers in the area. After all, we were actually conducting an illegal activity. Parties and other social gatherings were simply forbidden.

Still, even though we made sure to take all necessary precautions and even though Attorney Ladrido himself assured us that it would be fine, the worst-case scenario did indeed happen. Nobody knows who exactly tipped off the police at that time, but all that we know is that at around 11:40 PM sharp, we heard the roar of a police car speeding towards our location and the blare of sirens all around us.

Most of us had already resigned ourselves to spending the night in prison… that is, all of us except my Ferdie, who told me quite plainly:

“Day, indi ko ya magpaprisohan. Birthday ko ya sa bwas.” (My dear, I will not go to prison. It’s my birthday tomorrow)

Therefore, I hatched a plan. It would be a bit risky because we faced a greater penalty if we were caught, but I was certain that it would work. We silently separated ourselves from the rest of our companions. My husband, another classmate named Arnel, and myself. Arnel and I were quite familiar with the layout of the area – even in the dark, because we lived just a few blocks away. My plan was very simple: using the cover of darkness, we’d scale the walls and then tiptoe right on the concrete walls several houses away and then find some place to spend the night in with one of our neighbors in the area.

The first phase of the plan went very well. The police were still conversing with Attorney Ladrido outside the house just as we had scaled the walls. Several of our classmates wanted to come along with us, but in the end, only the three of us managed to make a successful escape. I had a hard time scaling the walls because I was on high heels, fortunately, I had a little boost from a classmate, Freddie. As we ran along the walls, I led the way being the most familiar with the area. Arnel was keeping up quite fine, but my husband – who was normally quite athletic himself, was not. He kept getting caught up in the barbed wires and shards of glass that lined the top of the walls because it was pitch-black and he was totally unfamiliar with the place.

I actually snickered a bit seeing him in his moment of weakness – which I immediately regretted when he looked at me with cold, accusing eyes and showed me his hands up close – which were bleeding with cuts and bruises.

At some point, the police actually shone their flashlights at the walls very near us, so we had to crouch down low with our hands and knees on the broken glass-laden top-plate of the walls. It was an intense 30 seconds or so before we could start moving again.

Eventually, we decided that we’d traveled far enough and finally dismounted from the walls. We were already about 6 six blocks away from the rented house at this point. Arnel’s house was nearby, so we went our separate ways there. We immediately ran towards the house of a close family friend, the Troncillo family – who graciously took us in. We spent the night in their living room and after that, we were home free.

It was definitely a harrowing experience, but we took a risk and it had paid off. We later learned that Attorney Ladrido, being a lawyer, had somehow managed to avoid being incarcerated, but he could not do the same for his students.

Some of our classmates harbored grudges over us for leaving them behind. I guess you could liken the sentiment to communism. If we suffer, we suffer together – so why did you go out of your way to free yourselves?  You can decide for yourself whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – but do know that none of the communist sentiments that the current generations seem to hold with such high regard are anything new nor novel – although it does amuse me how such elementary ideologies taken from a fanfiction written in 1848 seems to remain pervasive and relevant in the 21st century. I suppose this is why those who do not acknowledge history are already repeating it right now.

I have lived through one of the darkest times in Philippine History, but none as dark as the current period we are living in. The problem is that now we have TikTok, Mobile Legends, Dolphins and Dolomite white sands – which can feel overly bright amidst the darkness of the oppression that we are currently experiencing.

This was my martial law story – and simply one of many, but I feel that more stories like these need to be told, so that people never forget, despite the historical revisionism and confusing Dilawan vs DDs vs Marcos Apologist propaganda that has infiltrated and poisoned our perspectives, what it is that we have gained and what it is that we should never let go of. Never again, ever again.

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