Martial law veterans — although far from retiring — are assured of a future where the once-called “smartphone zombie” millennials are out on the streets, fighting the good fight they never stopped waging.
By GINO ESTELLA
Up on the stage on a humid and rainy day at Quirino Grandstand, Manila were greying veterans from Martial Law, letting out tirade after tirade, and chant after chant condemning the past week’s ‘sneak’ burial of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery).
On the other side were all fresh faces, who were obviously too young to have ever been born during the Martial Law era. They echoed the chants those on the stage initiate, holding placards they probably made at home; some even written with large letters on their phones or tablets.
More than 15,000 people—mostly millenials—came in throngs on the afternoon of a “National Day of Unity and Rage,” organized by the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacanang (CARMMA), calling for justice in the aforementioned hero’s burial and accountability from the current President Rodrigo Duterte.
The crowd was filled with teenagers and young professionals. Among them was “Bella” (name changed upon her request), a public health student and youth activist from the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila.
She made it to the Quirino Grandstand without telling her parents. The petite, bespectacled girl, already on her third year, said her only class for the day was cancelled by the professor for the protest.
Bella said her parents are split on the Marcoses. While her father is vocally against the dictator and his family, her mother maintains a “you-would-not-be-harmed-if-you-did-not-go-against-the-government” line.
Bella is an officer of UP Manila’s youth chapter of the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham). Many scientists and engineers were tortured and killed during the martial law era, she said.
“While science and technology improved during the era, it was not nationalist; it was not for the benefit of this country,” she told Bulatlat in Filipino. “It was made for other countries, science and technology flourished, but only foreign corporations benefitted from it.”
Agham Youth UP Manila proudly cited scientists-slash-iskolar-ng-bayan Dr. Bobby dela Paz, Engr. Beato Lacaba and chemist Aloysius Baes as they invited their fellow students to join the protest action.
In a statement, Agham Youth said Marcos rose to power in a 1960s-Philippines, which was second to Japan in industrial capability. Two decades later at the time of the People Power uprising, the industrial growth rate only reached 0.9 percent– a “zero growth rate.”
“Philippine manufacturing became dependent on foreign investors for capital and on exporting products abroad for revenue,” read the statement by Agham Youth UP Manila. “The country lost control on how to develop and innovate its own industries and was left at the bottom rung of the technology ladder.”
For Bella, she saw the effects of the Martial Law era manifest in today’s education system. She said skill sets of Filipinos are being used for the benefit of other countries, while the current education system promotes foreign employment by reinforcing the belief that one cannot have a better life in the Philippines.
“If they [my parents] saw me on TV, I would tell them I wasn’t forced to go here on an incentive, and I went here to fight for my causes,” Bella said in Filipino. “I’ve kept an eye on my safety, and just because I went to a rally does not mean I have given up on my studies.”
The opening theme song of Voltes V, a Japanese anime series in the 70s, blared on the speakers as the program transitioned from one speaker to another. Marcos banned the popular English-dubbed cartoon in the middle of its series, supposedly for being too violent. However, some say it was banned because of its theme of fighting a tyrannical empire. For the children-fans of the series, Marcos was perceived as the evil Boazanian emperor.
The organizers from CARMMA said it was a clever irony — the Voltes V generation fights back.
On the other side of the crowd was Revy Hrizon Marata, a film student from UP Diliman, who went to Luneta with her friends. Marata was born into a family of activists, with her father being an active member of the national democratic movement. In fact, her name is a transmogrification of the words “revolutionary horizon.”
Her father was born in 1974, but he told her stories of what it was like during the EDSA uprising . Stores back then sold bags of chips that had free yellow stubs on them, she was told the Aquinos were very popular back then; even in Mindanao.
“It makes me angry that a dictator—a murderer and thief—was given a hero’s burial,” Marata said in Filipino. “It was like a big slap to our history; many were killed and tortured, their bodies could not be found and now they glorify him as someone heroic.”
She looked into the general direction of the Kilometer Zero marker, where less than 20 Pro-Marcos and Pro-Duterte activists were settled. “We support President Duterte and the Supreme Court,” read their large banner as their numbers dwindled to around ten before disbanding minutes before 8:00 p.m.
To the young, budding activist, they were not nuisances, but rather people to be engaged. We must not seclude ourselves from them, she said, as she locked her gaze on their direction. “We must convince them to join us.”
“We sometimes see them as enemies in our way of thinking, that they disregard the atrocities of the Marcoses,” she said. “But we must consider the education many receive; the Marcoses still hold economic power, and because of that they can still influence how people think.”
Later, as the program progressed, the activists from the Martial Law era once again graced the stage, this time along with youth activists, in a symbolic passing of the torch. The First Quarter Storm Generation exchanged chants with the smartphone-armed millenials, and they sang songs about the masses being the true writers of history.
Martial Law survivor and CARMMA lead convenor Bonifacio Ilagan stepped down the stage, grinning from ear to ear as he conversed with his fellow comrade and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo.
“We feel like this is our fight,” Ilagan said. “For our generation, Marcos was the embodiment of a system we wanted to topple so this is also a battle of ours.”
As veteran after veteran went down, chants of “Marcos, Hitler, diktador, tuta” repeated for a minute. The two generations rattled the grandstand with a decades-old chant that, for Ilagan, had a new meaning during the present day.
“When I hear it being shouted by the youth, I want to tell them, ‘You are not original, that’s ours,’” Ilagan said. “But I also want to say you can have it as your own, carry on.”
The youth of today have made a big leap, Ilagan said. They are now joining mass actions, outside of their comfort zones within social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
He said this was similar to how he got involved with the student movement. His guarded and apprehensive disposition was soon replaced by validity, that he was convinced he was part of the masses. To him, that is what must continue to this day and for this generation.
Ilagan heard adjusted versions of the old chant, many with swear words. Soon, he said, this will pave the way for the youth to be more critical, and to have a deeper grasp in what they say.
“That is the challenge for this generation,” Ilagan said. “We have to engage the youth in a process of active participation in our campaigns.”
Luckily for Ilagan, there were more than 15,000—among them Bella and Revy— at Luneta who were ready to take this challenge. Many more were online, with thousands tweeting and writing status updates about the event, using hashtags such as #MarcosNoHero, #BlackFriday, #HeroMoMukhaMo and #NeverAgain.
Bella does not believe all this will be over once Marcos is ousted from the Heroes’ cemetery; not until the family has apologized and been jailed for their human rights violations, and the billions of pesos stolen have been returned, will there be any “national healing,” as said by the Marcoses and their supporters.
Marata also said the campaign against the burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani is only one of the many campaigns to be won. It can be considered a victory if he was removed from the Heroes’ Cemetery, but this campaign is also connected with different human rights campaigns as well.
“We must not end once we succeed in this campaign,” Marata said. “There are tons left to be won such as our campaigns on education, human rights and agrarian reform; these issues are all interconnected and likewise we must collectively work towards achieving these goals.”
On the stage, BAYAN’s Renato Reyes told the crew and media to dim the lights, as thousands of smartphones lit the darkened grandstand with only their flashlights. Like stars they twinkled as smartphones replaced what candles and lighters used to do in protest actions.
“We are the light in the darkness, the spark in the void, the undiminished flame,” Nato shouted poetically as each cellphone illuminated the night sky. “The fire that will not die, we are the hope that will not fail!”
Hours later, the program came to a close and the crowd dispersed to only a few, and like a dim candle, some performers have stayed to keep the remaining people entertained. It was a long day; dozens of schools in geographic areas united in the one call that blared throughout the whole day, that Ferdinand Marcos was no hero, but a dictator.
While many martial law veterans are far from retiring, they are assured of a future where the once-called “smartphone zombie” millenials are out on the streets, fighting the good fight they never stopped fighting.