Martial Law memories

Published March 1, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Raymundo W. Lo, MD, FPSP


Dr. Raymund W. Lo

Fifty years ago, Sept. 21, 1972, to be exact, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. proclaimed martial law in the Philippines, beginning his reign of 14 years as an unelected president. I was then 21 years old and in second year medical school in UP. I distinctly remember it was a weekend which I usually spend in my hometown of Lucena, Quezon.

On waking up that morning, I turned on the radio as I usually did and heard nothing. Puzzled, I tuned in to other stations and was met with silence again. Tried the TV set and saw and heard nothing but static. We usually have newspapers delivered at home and none turned up that day either. Called up a fellow medical student a year junior to me who also happened to be home for the weekend. He, too, was wondering what happened. He came to our house that day and on discussing the events, or rather the lack of it, it dawned on us that Marcos indeed had shut down all media. There was no internet then, nor cell phones. Our isolation was complete.

There was no other conclusion that martial law had been declared. My friend and I were in despair, wondering if we’ll ever get back to becoming doctors. That night, I pulled out all the available alcohol at home-whisky, rum, gin and we drank ourselves into a stupor just to numb our feelings of anger and frustration. We had a colossal hangover the next day and yeah, we were throwing up all over the place too.

The next weeks and months were like a nightmare. Curfew was in effect, and anyone caught after 10 p.m. was arrested, detained and the following morning, all curfew violators were forced to clean up garbage, sweep the streets and dig up weeds.

The males with long hair were forcibly given crew cuts. All these were in the name of Marcos’ slogan for those years, “Para sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan,” which was accompanied by repetitive playing of the “Ang Bagong Lipunan” (New Society) hymn that was commissioned for the purpose of indoctrinating the people.
Life in medical school slowly went back to “normal,” for there was an air of uncertainty in anything we did. Some were brave enough to be active in the militant movement within the campus, though we were isolated from the main Diliman community by distance. We were careful of what to say since there was an air of paranoia that there were informants around campus spying on us. That stifled free expression of ideas.

I married Christine after I finished residency in Pathology and she passed her board exams. We left for the USA in 1981 to pursue further specialization and with the repressive conditions locally, decided to stay there for good.

Then, Benigno Aquino was assassinated in 1983 and EDSA happened in 1986. We were transfixed to the TV set as CNN, then in its early beginnings, showed footage after footage of the events unfurling in Manila. Finally, Marcos was gone like an exorcised ghost haunting my nightmares. I was so inspired we decided to return home to a new beginning, both as a country and for us, as doctors who want to contribute to the task of rebuilding our collective lives. So, we came home in 1987.

But now, it’s all coming back to the prospects of another Marcos reclaiming the seat of power that his father illegally occupied for 14 years. My nightmares were back with the ghost made flesh and blood. I thought to myself I can’t let this happen but was in despair on what to do since at that time, there were no other prospects who can deliver us out of this situation.

Until Leni Robredo announced her bid for the presidency. I was roused out of my stupor. Despair has turned to hope, and I chose to hope. So did millions of other Filipinos who spontaneously stood up. For once in my life, I am campaigning for a candidate who I believe in, not as a messiah, but as an honest to goodness person who inspires and serves rather one who wants to lord it over all of us. Like the many thousands who are devoting their time, energy and money to voluntarily promote good governance, I am deep into organizing groups in the community and joining like-minded doctors, doing motorcades, palugaw and community outreach, all-out efforts in a once-in-a-lifetime history making people’s movement. We will not and cannot fail, for our country, our fellow Filipinos, especially the poor and downtrodden and ultimately for ourselves and our families.

With the Leni rallies in areas all over the country attended by hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters pouring out their energy for Leni, I am frequently moved to tears of hope and inspiration, energizing me even more when I falter. Let’s make this happen. We will win this!