Published September 27, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Gemma Cruz Araneta
Gemma Cruz Araneta

The walls of the Quiapo underpass were painted, smeared, splashed, etched, and splattered with furious and foreboding messages more compelling than the Biblical writing on the wall.  It was transformed into a mural of public outrage, a collage of warnings about the impending danger to our individual rights, to democracy and economic well being. The groups responsible for that blatant display of dissent identified themselves. A few were seen painting with defiance, in broad daylight. Political graffiti thickened on those walls as days passed, they were all anti-Marcos, but it seemed that the future dictator was turning a blind eye. No one suspected that he had already signed Proclamation 1081.

The night before martial law was made public, the phone rang — “Are you all right?” asked a feminine voice, my friend, a UP professor who sounded as if she  was trembling. Before I could answer, she said soldiers were kicking in the gate and she hung up. Stupid me, I dialed her number, someone lifted the receiver. It was my turn to ask. “What happened, why did you hang up? “The phone went dead. I suddenly felt cold, very cold.

I turned on the radio, no radio, only static; I turned on the television, no late, late shows.  I woke up my husband who was a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention. We were both speechless.

Then the phone rang again, it was my father-in-law. Almost whispering, he said a lieutenant colonel and his men were there looking for my husband, thinking that we were living  on McKinley Road. They went to the wrong address! He said: “I am sending for you and the children right now. You would be safer here.”  Tony, my husband, said he would take care of himself, not to worry. He kissed me on the forehead and was gone.

They eventually found him and locked him up with the leftists, suspected communists, and an assortment of political prisoners, among them Dr. Lava, in what was then the detention center of Fort Bonifacio. We were not allowed to visit him during the first month but eventually, they softened up. I could bring home-cooked food and Fatimah and Leon could come along. Once, Leon who must have been three years old brought his pet rabbit and spent a night in his father’s cell.

After two years of martial law, they “invited” me to Camp Aguinaldo. There was no RSVP, and I had to go.  I was still living at the Araneta residence on McKinley Road and that morning I had just taken Fatimah to school, the OB Montessori in Santa Ana. Seated in the vestibule, beneath a rare Anita Magsaysay Ho landscape was a colonel very properly dressed in a piña barong Tagalog. I felt I had to go back for my daughter. What if we were never to see each other again?

The colonel said he would accompany me to fetch her and was surprised that I was driving myself. So, I left Fatimah in the arms of her grandma. It gave me time to call my mother to tell her that I was being invited to Camp Aguinaldo. My stepfather, a veteran of WW II, grabbed the phone. He said: “Jiminy” (my original nickname), remember, this is the army, THIS IS NOT A MISS INTERNATIONAL INTERVIEW.”  Daddy Nakpil was a man of few words and that was the second (and last) piece of advice he ever gave me.

So, seated before the colonel’s desk, I answered all the questions without injecting the usual witticisms and outlandish remarks. They showed me a lot of photos and asked if I knew any of the subjects. None that I knew. Some looked vaguely familiar. When everyone wants to have his or her picture taken with you, it is difficult to keep track.

Then the colonel’s phone rang and I heard him say, “Yes, sir, she is here.” After a brief conversation, he hang up with an audible sigh. “That was Minister Enrile,” he said. “Your mother called him.” “He is a family friend,” I ventured. “We will take you home at night, but will pick you up again in the morning.”

On the way out, he took me to a row of wooden houses each about 20 square meters but equipped with a sofa, television, and basic amenities.  He said that was where I was supposed to be detained, had Minister Enrile not given orders to the contrary.

After a week of answering the same questions and sorting out the same photos, they probably realized I was telling nothing but the truth, so I was mercifully put under city arrest, but a pall of darkness had already engulfed my life.

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