I have always felt proud to be a probinsyano--to say that I grew up and got my life's bearings in a small town. The only time I hated being in the province was during the EDSA revolt, when I so wanted to be in Manila and join the throng in front of Camps Crame and Aguinaldo. I was 15 years old, and thanks to my parents who taught me early on to read through the daily bullshit shoveled by Bulletin Today and Times Journal, I had learned to hate Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos with a passion.
This wasn't always so. I had never known any other president while growing up, so I regarded Mr. Marcos--bemedalled war hero, commanding orator, President--with great admiration. Public elementary school improved on that fact by turning our Social Studies classes into a teach-in on the greatness of Mr. Marcos' New Society.
"In other countries, change in government is done through revolution and people killing each other," one teacher said, elaborating on the difference between republican, federal, authoritarian, parliamentary and other forms of government. "Si Marcos, he changed our form of government from a republic to parliamentary without firing a shot. Genius siya!"
The so-called parliamentary switch happened in 1978, when Mr. Marcos sought to convene an Interim Batasang Pambansa to replace the Old Congress he had padlocked six years earlier. His vaunted political party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, fielded candidates and drowned the country, including our town, in red and blue campaign posters. I helped paste those posters in walls and street lamps. Our favorite radio jingle was not that of our district candidate, Augusto Ortiz, but of another Bicolano who had become somebody important in the Marcos administration and was now running for Assemblyman under the KBL banner: Francisco "Kit" Tatad.
"Kit Tatad Kita!" (a play on "Ki Tatad Kita," Bicolano for "We're with Tatad") was what we kids sang among ourselves during those days.
When the President and Mrs. Marcos visited Sorsogon on a campaign swing, the province and its fawning leaders pulled out all the stops, North Korea-style. Afternoon classes were suspended, and we were given little flags and made to line the road where the glittering entourage passed. I caught a glimpse of the President waving to the crowd from his open car window, his slickly shellacked hair a stunning black, and I had a big story to tell everyone for days after.
My parents were ordinary government employees, which meant they, too, were required to attend the Marcos rally and sing hosannahs to the realm. In public they kept mum about their views, but at home they were dismissive and scathing. They were part of the First Quarter Storm generation, they were correspondents of the old Manila Chronicle which Mr. Marcos' Martial Law had shuttered, and they had college friends who had gone up the hills. Quietly, they held their noses at the cant dispensed by the administration.
I remember this one morning in 1981, after the improvised presidential election that saw an obscure candidate named Alejo Santos run against Mr. Marcos. Scanning the Bulletin Today headline proclaiming that Mr. Marcos had won by a landslide over his opponent, I expressed joy that he could continue to be President. My father snorted and told me, "Lain ka magparatuod dida (Don't believe what it says)."
Ninoy Aquino was a name I had heard only in snatches of conversation among adults. The newspapers, of course, never bannered his running for an Assembly seat in the 1978 polls from behind bars, much less the historic noise barrage that shook Manila at his instigation. The first time I encountered his name in print was in an issue of Junior Citizen that reported, in short, terse paragraphs, that Mr. Marcos was releasing him from jail and allowing him to seek heart treatment in the US. Then we heard of him no more.
It was in freshman Filipino class that we learned of Mr. Aquino's death, a day or two after August 21. Mrs. Decano, our teacher, was explaining the difference between "ng" and "nang," and she used this example: "Pinatay si Ninoy Aquino (ng, nang) kanyang mga lihim na kaaway." We looked at each other and asked, who? Bless Mrs. Decano, who last I heard has suffered a nervous breakdown, for alerting us that something much bigger was happening outside our rustic seminary walls.
Within a few days, our bishop, Jesus Varela, had called for a Mass in Ninoy Aquino's honor. The entire clergy and much of the town showed up, except of course for the pro-Marcos governor and people under his sway. Bishop Varela delivered what I still believe to be his finest homily (and he wrote many good ones), praising Mr. Aquino's sacrifice and heroism, damning the regime that had abetted his assassination, and ending with a ringing call for courage and justice. The applause was thunderous. We sang "Bayan Ko" in the end, every word of it now quickening the heart like never before.
For young people like me growing up in those tumultuous years, the prospect of change, the whiff of upheaval in the air--the sense that something was about to give, and we'd be there to see it--was exhilarating. We were far too young to fear Mr. Marcos' dreaded Presidential Commitment Order/Preventive Detention Action, which gave him the power to incarcerate dissidents without trial. We were kids, but at a historic time. We, too, had to get involved.
On our first year in the seminary the Our Lady of Penafrancia Schola Cantorum was revived. We held a concert all around the province, and the biggest hit in the repertoire was, hands down and without fail, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon (Round the Ole Oak Tree)." It wasn't a Broadway song, but it got included in the Broadway portion. People didn't mind; they always erupted in cheers upon hearing the first few bars of the song. We were--audience and choir--winking at each other, acknowledging shared sentiments over the country, its fallen hero and those stubborn tenants in Malacanang.
At other times, we attended rallies in our immaculate white polo shirts and black pants--the scrubbed, well-mannered seminarista loved from afar by teenage girls and hated with equal passion by other boys--and we never shook off the sense that we were just attending one big fiesta. It was the same, too, in Manila--or at least that was the sense I got from devouring every issue of Mr. & Ms. special edition, which first chronicled the Agrava Commission hearings on Mr. Aquino's death, and then began covering the festive, exuberant rain of yellow confetti along Ayala Avenue as well.
Mr. Marcos, my erstwhile exemplar, had come to be replaced by a whole new pantheon--Ninoy, Cory Aquino, Pepe Diokno, Lorenzo Tanada, Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes (when they got picked up at a rally the tabloid headline was "Mga Bulaklak ng City Jail"), Jovito Salonga, Chino Roces--especially with that iconic photo of the frail Mr. Roces drenched but holding fast against a water cannon in Mendiola.
I was, to my elation, living in a time of heroes--real, flesh-and-blood heroes, and not those I had only read about in history books by Gregorio Zaide.
(to be continued)