Tsinoy Beats and Bytes

Personal journey under martial law

Ziya, my six-year-old granddaughter, came home from school Monday and reported that it is Batas Militar (Martial Law) week at her school in Quezon City. She and her classmates were commanded by the seventh graders, who acted as soldiers imposing discipline. They were not to talk or sing outside the classroom, among other things. Ziya’s elder sister, Mayim, 8, on the other hand, complained that her class was given only 15 minutes for recess and 20 minutes for lunch break. Since she is a slow-eater, she didn’t even finish half her lunch.

My daughter Meah and I asked how they felt about the orders. Both declared them unreasonable. Ziya quipped that many were arrested and jailed for disobeying. As of this writing, I am not sure how their weeklong batas militar experience will end and how the school will process it with the kids. For instance, how will they discuss questions such as, When does freedom end and discipline begin? What constitutes unreasonable? Is it all right to fight back against authority?

But I am impressed by how the school introduced people power to the kids! How I wish other schools would do the same: Let the children experience what it is to be under batas militar, what it means to be deprived of freedom, to be subjected to unreasonable disciplinary actions, why people protested against martial rule, how it had made life difficult, why the EDSA People Power Revolution happened.

Horror stories

There have been many activities commemorating the 30th anniversary of EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Nuns, media people, activists have been featured in seminars and talk shows reflecting on their experiences 30 years ago. The ones that struck the heart were the stories of the horrors visited upon political activists and their families.

At the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani (Heroes Memorial) at Quezon Avenue and EDSA on Feb. 22, Mila de Guzman launched her book Women Against Marcos – Stories of Women Who Fought a Dictator (Carayan Press: 2016). The oral histories of seven women are powerful testimonies of the individual and collective struggles against the dictatorship. Four of the seven were inmates at Camp Crame; they suffered torture and abuse from their military captors. The emcee, Princess Nemenzo, was among those imprisoned during martial law.

The oral accounts of their journeys from privileged lives to being activists united by a common cause to fight against Marcos’ dictatorship and military abuses are stories that must be told and retold. They should be shared with students, young generations who know nothing of the three days that shook the world, deposed a dictator and exiled his family to Hawaii.

After the book launching, the conference convenors launched the Never Forget, Never Again Movement to remind people of the atrocities of dictatorship. I suggested that the movement should push for the inclusion of the EDSA revolution in our schools’ curriculum. It is the pride of the Filipinos, a singular honor in world history paid for by blood and tears.

My personal journey

The dates Feb. 23 to 25, 1986, as EDSA People Power was unfolding, have deep personal meaning for me. Many people receive shattering news of a diagnosis of a loved one’s illness. I suspect, though, that only a few remember the exact date when it happened.

In my case, I remember it distinctly: Feb. 23, 1986. That was when I got the liver ultrasound report of my late husband, Chinben See, and saw the dreaded words “suspected multiple cancer lesions.”
He was not home. He had gone to a Chinese newspaper to issue a statement that Tsinoys need to be counted among supporters gathering at EDSA. He gave our phone number and address for people who wanted to donate to the multitude gathered there.

The next day, I stayed home to take phone calls of people who asked for updates and news of what was happening. Some young people called to say they wanted to go but that they were under “house arrest”: Their parents refusing to let them leave the house. I was breastfeeding my son Sean, then five months old. In the midst of all this, I spoke to Chinben’s doctor who confirmed what I had suspected, that it looked very bad and he had to go in for further CT scan.

Chinben left home to meet with classmates who wanted to donate money to buy water and bread for the EDSA crowd. Then, he went to his classmate’s Cathay Restaurant on West Avenue, Quezon City, to pick up 500 packs of Yangchow fried rice. He decided to bring the packs to Channel 4 instead of EDSA because there were fewer people at Channel 4 and the 500 packs seemed enough to feed them. He also went on air to appeal to Tsinoys to join their Filipino brothers at EDSA. He came home very tired and feverish, so we went to bed early. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the bad news.

The next morning, the first thing he asked me was about his ultrasound. I fibbed at first but he knew at once I was hiding something. I had to tell him the bad news and that he was scheduled to have a CT scan done the following week. Instead of rejoicing and joining the euphoria of the success of People Power and the departure of the Marcoses that day, we two were crying as we discussed what was in store for us.

The following weeks were spent undergoing many tests and meetings with doctors. Our worst nightmare was confirmed, Chinben didn’t have much time left. Despite his illness, we went the rounds of meetings with several groups of Tsinoys to learn how we could organize ourselves to help in rebuilding our ravaged nation. We knew the economy was in very bad shape and we did not want history repeated: for Tsinoys to become the scapegoats for economic woes.

I had to bring my infant son, still nursing, to many of these meetings. Often, I had to use the baby as an excuse for Chinben and I to leave the meetings early because I could see his energy flagging. I had alerted the organizers about Chinben’s health. They all felt bad for him but respected his desire to keep doing meaningful work.

People Power Revolution and President Cory Aquino’s subsequent assumption to office were memorable because of the sacrifices Chinben and I made. We did what we did because we wanted to get Tsinoys organized, not just to help the Cory administration but also to plan their participation in addressing many social problems. The many meetings we had in 1986 laid the groundwork for the reorganization of the old Pagkakaisa Sa Pag-unlad of the early 1970s into the organization Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, which was formally launched in August 1987.

Sadly, Chinben did not live to see the rebirth of the organization he helped found. Neither did he see the fulfillment of his dreams, which included the establishment of the Kaisa Heritage Center, and the many socio-development activities Kaisa has undertaken. Yet, his memory lives on as we continue to do our share in nation building. Today, my children and I have picked up the gauntlet. Someday, I hope my grandchildren will as well. In my heart, that is Chinben’s legacy to this country we call home. —First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 19 (March 1-14, 2016): 5-6.