“Lives were ruined because of martial law. No child deserves to live in that condition.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Pain still seems to be fresh for Issa Manalo Lopez, a theatre director and actor and daughter of political prisoners during the martial law era of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.
Lopez, 39, was born inside a prison in Iloilo. She was immediately separated from her mother a few months after her birth due to the health risk in detention.
In a media forum on Sept. 14 at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Lopez said that as a child, she had to endure the long days of being away from her parents, hiding for safety, living inside prison with her parents and how these experiences would later affect her psychologically.
“Lives were ruined because of martial law. No child deserves to live in that condition,” she said.
Hearing stories which are almost the same as hers now is unimaginable, she added. “I thought it was over,” she said in Filipino.
Too young and living dangerously
As a child, Lopez remembered how she had lived in constant fear. They would move from one place to another as her parents went underground. She could not say her parents’ name to stay safe. She also endured being away from her parents who often went into hiding for security reasons. It was painful and traumatic, she said, every time she had to be separated from them.
“I grew up with my mother’s loving family but my childhood away from my parents was not easy. I would always look for them growing up but I was made to understand that it would be dangerous for them and for me if we were together,” she said.
From 1982 to 1983, Lopez’s family lived inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig. There was a compound dedicated to political prisoners where families were allowed to live with the detainees. There was an effort to build a space where children could feel a sense of normalcy then. There were classes, she said, and she got to play with other children whose parents were also detained. But even in a space where she would feel safe, she was still harmed as she experienced sexual molestation.
She did not talk about this until recently during one of her performances about mental health.
Effects of her traumatic experiences manifested later in life to the point that she could not function properly, she said. She sought her mother’s help as she had often thought of taking her own life. Lopez was diagnosed with major depression.
This is why Lopez, as an artist, made socially-engaging performances that would increase awareness on what is going on in society.
‘Full cycle state violence’
Eleanor De Guzman, 40, daughter of activists Rafael and Lu Baylosis, also recounted the difficulty of being a child during those years.
She said that during martial law, they were literally NPAs or “no permanent address” as they had to transfer from one place to another.
Her parents were also in the underground movement because progressive groups then were banned.
“UG sila, UG din kami,” (They were underground, so were we.) she said.
Forty years later, she said, the situation is the same only that there is no formal declaration of martial law in the whole country.
Her father, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, was jailed under Duterte. He was eventually released after the trumped-up charges were dismissed by the court. Her husband, Maoj Maga is also currently detained.
“State violence in our family is in full cycle – from my parents to my husband who is also detained with trumped-up charges,” she said.
She also criticized how the state vilifies political activists by slapping them with criminal charges.
Maga, a labor leader, was convicted of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and sentenced of imprisonment for a period of eight to 14 years.
“Children are forced to live in a society like this. Leeboy [their son] has to face this reality no matter how traumatic this can be,” she said.
Protect the children
Both Lopez and De Guzman believe that their experiences are “mild” compared to other children whose parents were killed or worse, disappeared during martial law. However, they said that no child should endure effects of state violence.
Lopez said children should live in a society where they feel that they are safe and have freedom to do what they want and not live in fear. She said children should be protected.