Sep 25, 2018

Bayaran (paid off),” the word commonly used by supporters of President Duterte to describe his critics, was initially an adjective for die-hard fans of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The crowd that gathered in front of the Quirino Grandstand last Friday, Sep. 21 was a prime example. Neighbors from specific districts or barangay were loaded like cattle inside jeepneys or buses that transported them to the rally site. They wore similar red shirts and, again like cattle, were herded in front of the grandstand. Checklists were pulled out, attendance was taken and promptly, as the sun set by the nearby bay, they trooped in an orderly fashion back to the waiting vehicles that would take them home.

They needed not walk several kilometers to specific meeting points like the anti-government protesters. Heck, that would have given them the chance to run off with their free lunch.

They didn’t have to endure angry protest speeches that opposition figures delivered in the much more crowded rally along Roxas Boulevard.

They just had to watch, cheer, and clap as dancers performed on a makeshift stage set up on the muddy, rain-soaked lawn in front of the grandstand. They were also treated to revisionist speeches denouncing specifically the administrations of Marcos nemesis Corazon Aquino and her son Benigno III.

What you are about to read is highly personal

Before I proceed though, I have to warn readers this piece will have a lot of personal details. I grew up in a lower middle-class neighborhood beside the Chinese Cemetery in Manila. My window overlooked a squatters’ area. There was no need for an AM radio because we would always overhear the folks’ daily dramas next door.

The neighborhood was memorable because it was a hotbed of Marcos fans.

My paternal grandmother was barangay captain at the height of martial rule during the 1970s. Her dresser-work area had a large framed picture of her, dreamy-eyed, receiving a handshake from First Lady Imelda Marcos.

Imelda was famous for her generosity to favored people. And she knew the power of stage drama. Her clothes were costumes. Her coiffure was a crown. The umbrella above her head was an arc to frame the pretty picture.

For my lola and other relatives, Imelda’s beauty preceded everything. Imelda cannot do anything wrong. If she did, her beauty made up for it.

From our clotheslines hung T-shirts with messages like “FIRM: Friends of Imelda Romualdez Marcos,” “Marcos Loves You,” and “LAB” for Ladies Auxiliary Brigade, the commoner’s version of Imelda’s Blue Ladies.

We also received free sacks of rice regularly from government supplies and local politicians would show up to pay my lola courtesy calls. Life was great!

Growing up, I attended an exclusive girls’ school run by nuns who taught us social awareness. We were told the president was a paranoid dictator who imprisoned his political opponents.

In those days, there was an executive order called PDA that meant “Presidential Detention Action.” Getting your name in such a list didn’t mean MOMOL privileges. It was a warning to run and hide. People suspected of involvement in communist activities simply disappeared.

The nuns would visit detention camps where suspected insurgents were held.  There were subjects in school where horror stories of torture methods were discussed. The stories escalated around the time Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. I was 14 years old.

I knew better than to bring up those school lessons in front of lola and my uncles. Marcos was our messiah. Opposition leaders had undisguised ambition but what did they know?  Can they build another Cultural Center of the Philippines? Or a Folk Arts Theater? Or a North Diversion Road that makes travel to Baguio possible? Really? Can they maintain the peace as Marcos does? Look, all the tambays run like hell when they hear the midnight siren.

Folks, meet Carpio

One thing about growing up in our ‘hood was that nearly no one slept before midnight. Lack of formal employment meant they didn’t need to report for work at 8 a.m. Half the breadwinners were bookie agents. The rest will admit their sources of income only at gunpoint. There was a handsome guy though, who worked as a waiter in a five-star hotel. He was the barangay’s overachiever.

One night in the early ’70s, when I was about five or six years old. We joined the few folks shooting the late night breeze outside when a long and loud noise suddenly filled the air. Everyone froze for a second before locking their doors.

The author (left) with her younger sister around the time martial law was declared. While she lived in Quezon City then, she spent a lot of time with paternal relatives in Sta. Cruz, Manila where the story took place. When she was seven, at the height of martial law, her family left Quezon City for good and lived with their relatives in the Manila neighborhood that was a short distance from Malacañang. Her family moved out ten years later, when she was 17, shortly before Edsa 1986.

My yaya and aunt stared at each other before running while Five Star Waiter, still in his uniform, shouted, “Carpio! Carpio! Dali, uwian na!” My aunt turned back and grabbed me by the trunk. We reached the front door before the siren subsided.

The siren meant it was already midnight and no one should be seen roaming the streets.  It was part of “peace and order measures” and something greatly welcomed among us. See, Marcos always does the right thing, my uncles would say.  There’s no way for addicts to score at night with that wailing siren.

My mother scoffed when I told her my great siren adventure. “It’s curfew. Ker-fyu, not carpio,” she wailed with exasperation.

Mom was the sole voice of the political opposition in our pond. When she announced years later that she would vote for Ninoy Aquino as president, an uncle glowered at her.  “Walang binibigay na bigas sa atin ‘yang si Ninoy,” he hissed.

Mom’s open defiance of her in-laws’ political tastes became a source of scorn and humiliation. “Her husband is a member of the Manila Police. She should be ashamed,” they whispered.

That my mom was an English teacher in a school at the University Belt gave her proximity to Malacañang, the in-laws maintained. Perhaps that should make her consider her loyalties? Or maybe she’s in touch with the leftists who turn the students into activists, they theorized.

Opposition leaders had undisguised ambition but what did they know?  Can they build another Cultural Center of the Philippines? Or a Folk Arts Theater? Or a North Diversion Road that makes travel to Baguio possible? Really? Can they maintain the peace like Marcos does? Look, all the tambays run like hell when they hear the midnight siren.

Back then, the Marcoses would respond with rallies of their own especially after rumors about one organized by the opposition was a success.

Barangay captain Lola played a huge role in these set-ups. T-shirts would be distributed among neighbors who would disappear in rented jeepneys. They would be very excited when they leave and very exhausted when they return.

No one attended these rallies because they believed in programs like the “Green Revolution” or the “Alay Lakad” walkathons. The Marcos-sponsored gatherings enjoyed great numbers because of the financial incentives given to those who attend. (Some would even pledge their “talent fee” to obtain loans from the sari-sari store.)

I remember one rally in the mid-1970s when the dictator Marcos initiated a national referendum that would allow him to become President and Prime Minister at the same time. It was like the neighbors hit the jackpot. New T-shirts, free food, and talent fees! And there’s more! This time, they had sun visors and folding fans!

All television programs were canceled that day. All channels broadcast the giant rally where contingents from all points of the country paraded before cameras. My uncles were glued to the screen, hoping for a glimpse of the neighbors.

Believe it and the money will appear

I never did confirm whether our representatives made it to the screen. I do remember, however, that the days after were heady with cash handed out by organizers. Everybody enjoyed better meals. Debts were (partly) paid and there was a fleeting feeling of prosperity.

See, the uncles noted, Marcos is a great leader because he gives away money. Why work, the neighbors seconded. If you wait awhile, the organizers will return with new shirts and cash.

The next Christmas had everyone hanging calendars with a photo of the Marcos family, festooned with blinking lights.

These memories from my childhood swirled in my mind last Friday, as I watched the pro-administration rallyists donned in red shirts. I intentionally kept my distance. I had to be careful because I wore a black shirt like the anti-administration protesters.

martial law rally sept 21 2018
Pro-administration rallyists from a distance

At some point, while listening to a woman screaming onstage, I got confused because the issues were being mixed. There she was, raging against the alleged efforts of the “dilawan” to reverse (“baligtarin”) history.

She said former presidents Corazon and Benigno Aquino III want to grab credit for Marcos’ achievements. She then tied this up with the mission to support President Duterte.

“Marcos is our President’s idol,” she said. “There are people who say Marcos and Tatay Digong are wrong. They do not know what they talk about, they are the ones with secrets to hide!”

“Cory and Noynoy did not construct the buildings you see. Marcos did,” she insisted. “And why should martial law be wrong? Are they saying Tatay Digong is doing something illegal now? Those rallyists along Roxas Boulevard are all wrong!”

The thing was, it’s so easy for organizers to bundle up anybody’s neighbors, make them change into red T-shirts and bring them to Luneta Park.

martial law rally sept 21 2018
One of the jeepneys shuttling admin supporters to rallies

It is so easy to take advantage of people’s ignorance, poverty, and vulnerability, and convince them to support an administration clearly set on trampling civil liberties, make them worship and embrace the very people oppressing them.

My relatives and our neighbors in the 1970s accepted the cash because it allowed them to live another day. If it took a day of screaming a politician’s name to pay the electric bill and have enough change for a delicious meal, was taking bills from an unknown source really an issue?

Accepting money to believe (or make it appear at least) in something false was easy for my relatives and neighbors. Why should it be difficult now for those Luneta rallyists last Friday when current conditions are even worse? Professing undying love for a politician in exchange for money will always be better than renting out one’s pussy.

It is so easy to take advantage of people’s ignorance, poverty, and vulnerability, and convince them to support an administration clearly set on trampling civil liberties, make them worship and embrace the very people oppressing them.

It’s very easy to see why those standing before the grandstand were there. Because they have mouths to feed.  Because they have no permanent jobs. Because being there was better than wondering how to pay for whatever needs to be paid.

That they were uneducated was obvious and this made it easy for them to be targeted for sinister projects meant to dis-inform. They are not the type to have scruples over what “revisionist” means. Or even mind that the administration that promised to change their lives has failed in a big way.

Their needs are immediate. The organizers know that. Long story short, it’s always “pera-pera lang (It’s all about money).” Everyone knows if this neighborhood will not cooperate, there’s another on the next block. And why should the next block take their cash?


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TAGS: Duterte ferdinand marcos Marcos martial law Philippine history philippine politics politics in the philippines president duterte