‘Bagong Lipunan’, the Metrocom, and my other memories of Martial Law
To my five-year-old mind, something was up.
I was too young to make sense of it all, but I do remember walking over with my mom and my sisters to the house of our neighbor, Tita Vita, one night. All the lights inside their house were on, and soon we were there in the sala where fellow neighbors were already praying before a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Tita Vita seemed distraught. She was distraught and tearful. I remember this because Tita Vita was normally boisterous and happy. Things weren’t the same that night.
It was many years after when I remembered to ask my mom what happened that night at Tita Vita’s when I was just in kindergarten. My mom said Tito Efren, the husband of Tita Vita, was picked up by the Metrocom police, among the many people arrested when Martial Law was declared by then President Ferdinand Marcos.
But it was just a short detention for Tito Efren. Soon he was back, and he was in the photos taken during parties in our neighborhood that time.
Not so for political detainees like former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. I first heard his name when I was 11 years old. Over the car radio, the announcer was reading the tally of votes at a precinct during elections for Assemblymen for the Interim Batasang Pambansa, and Aquino got the lowest number of votes, 78, if I remember correctly. Still, people around me rejoiced. Ninoy Aquino didn’t get zero.
I asked my dad who Ninoy was, and he said, “Kaaway ni Marcos. Magaling 'yon. Puwede sana siya maging Presidente.”
To me back then, it was unthinkable for someone else other than Marcos to be President. He was in office before I was born, and seemed to go on forever.
And he seemed, to my young mind, not doing anything bad. He was just making people more productive (we had to plant vegetables in school for Green Revolution), more disciplined (curfew every night), and more patriotic (the Bagong Lipunan song was ingrained in us that to this day I can still remember the lyrics that go:
May bagong silang, may bago ng buhay
Bagong bansa, bagong galaw
Sa Bagong Lipunan.
Magbabago ang lahat tungo sa pag-unlad
At ating itanghal, Bagong Lipunan)
Forty years after, I still remember those lyrics.
And I remember other things as well, like how blue the Metrocom police cars were—somewhere between aqua and turquoise, was it?—and how scared people were when they passed by with sirens blaring. The peanut and komiks vendors right outside my mom’s old wine store would scamper about and hide until the Metrocom were gone, then they would go back to their posts on the sidewalk and offer their wares to busy passers-by.
I also remember things like the day we had to line up in our school uniforms beside the gates of Malacañang and wave little Philippine flags, waiting for some VIP to pass by. Alas, it was already almost 5 p.m. and the VIP car was nowhere in sight, and so our school bus conductor plucked me out of the line of my grade school class.
It wasn’t until I got older and entered high school, then college when I realized there were other things to Martial Law—abuses, curtailment of press freedom, and more.
Then came Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in my freshman year in college, and suddenly, rallies had new meaning for me.
To my 16-year-old mind, something was up. The Bagong Lipunan song seemed useless to a society crying out for justice and reform. It was time to learn a new song, and trade images of Metrocom blue to sunny yellow.