Loving in the Martial Law Years, with Lualhati Bautista

Book Reviews, Fiction, Fil/Lit

“Martial law” was just a buzzword when I was growing up, hemmed in within the walls of an all-girl Benedictine school compound, something we talked about in passing during our history class. While the lesson itself was short, I remember feeling a sense of indignation towards the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family who imposed martial law on the nation from 1972 to 1981.

This was how the conversation with one of my classmates went: “Imagine — at this age, we already have debt because of the Marcoses. Grabe! All the money they stole from the kaban ng bayan, all of Imelda’s shoes, all of their extravagances — even our great, great, great grandkids are already indebted!”

At that age, my comprehension was limited to what my mind could fathom: the ridiculousness of it all, the audacity of the Marcos family, and how I would be paying for a debt when I haven’t even started earning yet. That was about 20 years ago.

In May of this year, President Duterte declared martial law in the southern part of the Philippines after alleged ISIS-backed groups clashed with the country’s armed forces. To date, more than 84,000 have been displaced after being forced and ordered to evacuate from their homes. Last year, I published a post about martial law revisionism after seeing the resurgence of the Marcos family in the Philippine political area, backed by Duterte nonetheless.

Call it historical amnesia if you will, call it historical apathy. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States, until I moved away did I start to see my home country in a different light. Loving her from a distance. And it wasn’t until I became part of a national democratic movement did I learn about the atrocities of martial law, beyond what I learned in the classroom.

There were the economic ramifications, but also the grave human rights abuses. The suspension of writ habeas corpus. The torture. The enforced disappearances. Fear. The erosion of trust within communities, within movements.

t0709martial-law_feat9_3

“Malumbay si Ina” by Pablo Baens Santos

I saw all of these when I read Lualhati Bautista’s book Desaparesidos (Amazon), a novel about a family’s struggle during Marcos’s martial law. Anna is a mother, a widow, a survivor of torture and a former member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that the administration was trying to crush. The book revolves around her struggle and her story, from the time that she was part of the NPA, to her abduction where she was tortured and raped, to the time when she was imprisoned, and up until she went back to her civilian life as an NGO worker.

The story starts with a convening of NGOs, faith-based leaders, international human rights organizations, lawyers and martial law victims and survivors as a case against the Marcoses is being prepared. Anna is present, but her mind wanders back to the time when she saw the body of her lifeless husband in the town plaza, afraid to claim it for fear that their newborn child in her bosom would suffer if she did. She would be immediately identified as a rebel, her cover blown.

Hinigpitan niya ang yakap sa anak. Anak, tatay mo. Ayun siya, iyong nasa pangalawa. Namatay siya para sa bayan.

Gustong-gusto na niyang yakapin ang bangkay ni Nonong. Gustong-gusto na niyang bugawin man lang ang mga langaw na nagpipista sa natuyo nang dugo sa mukha nito, halikan ang mga daliri na binunutan ng kuko.

Pero wala siyang magagawa. Kailangan niyang magpakabato, timpiin ang sarili, mag-isip ng masaya.

(What follows is my meager translation:)

She held on tight to her child. My child, here’s your father. There he is, on the second. He died for the nation. 

She wanted so badly to embrace Nonong’s corpse. She wanted so badly to swat away the flies hovering over the dried blood on his face, kiss the fingers where his nails were torn out.

But she couldn’t do anything. She had to be steely, compose herself, think about happy thoughts.

t0709martial-law_feat9_2

“August 21” by Phyllis Zaballero

While Anna was helping build a case against the Marcoses, the story pivots between several events and characters to reveal the kind of repression Filipinos were dealing with at that time. There were mass arrests, harassment from soldiers, even the burning of homes in villages.

Bautista painted fear in every character: from the former rebel who pointed out his comrades’ hideouts, the pregnant lady who was entrusted to take care of Anna’s newborn, Anna’s second child Lorena (named after the revolutionary martyr Lorena Barros) who resented her parents for being away, and the family of Mang Manuel and many others. 

#GetLit: “The United States Welcomes You”

#GetLit

“Why and by whose power were you sent?
What do you see that you may wish to steal?
Why all this dancing? Why do your dark bodies
Drink up the light? What are you demanding
That we feel? Have you stolen something? Then
What is that leaping in your chest? What is
The nature of your mission? Do you seek
To offer a confession? Have you anything to do
With others brought by us to harm? Then
Why are you afraid? And why do you invade
Our night, hands raised, eyes wide, and mute
As ghosts? Is there something you wish to confess?
Is this some enigmatic type of test? What if we
Fail? How and to whom do we address our appeal?”

— Tracy K. Smith, “The United States Welcomes You”

* * *

There’s a long weekend coming up — which means more time under the sun (or fog if you’re in San Francisco!) with your current boo(k). Here are 101 books to dive into this summer from TED which features some reads from dope-ass women like Octavia Butler, Yaa Gyasi and Adrienne Maree Brown. Get out and read!

img_7619

Summer of 2016, Grand Canyon.

* * *

If you’re planning on traveling this summer, worry not. TSA just ended its pilot program of asking passengers to remove books from their carry-on during the screening process. What is this, 1984? Is the Trump administration looking for more ways to implicate those who are against his policies (and him, really, even as a person)? Happy reading, good riddance.

* * *


My heart is very much rooted in the Philippines, even though my feet are currently planted on U.S. soil.

Fourth of July marks the country’s independence day from Great Britain, and it also marks a holiday in the country — the signing of the Treaty of Manila, which granted the Philippines independence from the U.S. in 1946.

I finished Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos (book review out on Tuesday) a few days ago and there is a chapter in the book detailing how the U.S. explicitly directed, manipulated and controlled the administrations of the former dictator Marcos as well as (Cory) Aquino’s.

You won’t find me waving the red, white and blue this weekend. Nor in the coming days, months, years, decades. That’ll only happen when this country, known for its democracy and independence, will learn to respect other countries’ struggle for the very same things.

June’s Reading List 

Fiction, Sunday Spotlight

Ah, June — the beginning of summer, of sun-kissed bare shoulders dotting sandy white shores, the season of the infamous beach reads. But before I get into the nitty gritty of that, here are this month’s reading list:

Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos, timely because of the Philippines’s current situation (martial law declared in the southern region); The Nine Guardians by Rosario Castellanos, Mexico’s most important women novelist of the century as I just concluded an insightful trip to Mexico City; Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, a 2015 novel of an author I’ve been curious about for awhile now; and Oscar Lopez Rivera’s Between Torture and Resistance, a book I recently picked up at an event celebrating Oscar’s freedom after being jailed as a political prisoner.

I looked up at the sky this morning, felt my feet planted on the earth, my heart in place with gratitude for the day. It’s another week of days at the workplace, of meetings building up a brighter future, of 30-minute breaks spent in hospital corners with one of the titles above.

Some days I feel like I’m just drifting along a sea of timelines / guidelines / deadlines, floating mindlessly in a world I’m trying so hard to recreate, a place that extends beyond what I know as home.

And so I come back to reading. Page after page, title after title. On days when I don’t exactly know what to do, I know there will always be books.