Earning a living during martial law | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

NOPICNIC Nuns and other activists keep vigil while others try to catch sleep on the hard ground surrounding Camps Aguinaldo and Crame on Edsa. PHOTOS FROM THE BOOK “PEOPLE POWER”

On the morning of Sept. 23, 1972, a driver from Graphic magazine, headed by Don Antonio Araneta, called to inform me that our boss, Luis (Morik) Mauricio, had been arrested and that the building had been padlocked. Martial law had been declared, and staffers more radical than I were being hunted down. The military had swung into action.


“Estan aqui los militares (the military are here),” reported my mother, a teacher of Spanish, from the Far Eastern University.


I hastened to the San Juan residence of my aunt Chitang (Carmen Guerrero Nakpil), who had been my lifeline since the 1960s, when she recommended jobless me to the Associated Press.


My cousin Lizza Nakpil met me at the door and sprayed me with imaginary bullets. “I come to seek asylum,” I muttered tongue-in-cheekly. She only scoffed at me: “Well, you’ve come to the wrong place.”


My aunt Chitang was bitter at Marcos and his corrupt ways. She didn’t mind a little theft here and there, she indicated to me, but this one was a costa de la nacion (at the cost of the nation). She advised me to go into hiding for a time because “there might be a second wave of arrests.”


So I stayed in the home of my brother-in-law and sister, who were then living in Caloocan City, but left after a month; I was apparently not in the order of battle.




I was jobless again, and opportunities seemed to be bleak. Then succor came in the form of an aunt-in-law, Morita Roces Guerrero, separated from her husband, my uncle Dr. Mario X. Guerrero, but on good terms with him and the rest of the immediate family. She commissioned me to translate into Tagalog some soap opera comics from Madrid.


I accepted the offer and thanked her, calling her Tita Morita until she imperiously told me: “Por favor je, no me llames tia…” Offended, I complained to Tita Chitang, who only laughed: “She just wants to feel young. Llama le (call her) Morita.” I did not want to address her thus, so for me it was Doña Morita this and Doña Morita that.


So I settled down to work, translating Spanish bakya into tearjerker Tagalog. I thought I was doing fine until this time, it was Morita who complained to Tita Chitang: “Oye, este tu sobrino (your nephew), este Sluggo… he cannot concentrate on his work.” And my aunt defended me: “Deja le (let him be). He’s upset because of martial law. He’ll be all right.”


This went on for a month or so until an offer came from the Publications Divisions of Planters Products Inc. (PPI), where I was expected to—of all things—push fertilizers and pesticides. No choice, I accepted anyway. Work is work.


It turned out that PPI was a kind of temporary refuge for writers and journalists displaced by martial law. At one time or another, those who worked there included Norma Miraflor, Freddie Salanga, Mar Arcega, Vic Tirol (who lasted only 11 days) and Nonoy Colayco. The marketing communications man was short story writer Ben Bautista, a buddy of Greg Brillantes.


Those in the underground, like Jo-an Maglipon and Jun Guillermo, would visit their friends and contacts.


PPI was a macho firm. All the executives were men, mostly from the Ateneo, and the woman employees wore uniforms. The president was Leony Gonzalez, two years ahead of me and a campus figure because he was into football. One of the top officials was a high school classmate, Manny Dizon.


Good company


By 1975 I had decided that the corporate life was not really for me, and I joined the Research & Analysis Center of the Department of Public Information under Kit Tatad. Yen Makabenta took me in (salary P900). “Save Amadís from that government job,” Lorna Kalaw-Tirol pleaded to her husband Vic. But, well, it was my call.


Besides, I was in good company: Bien Lumbera, Rolando Tinio, Rio Almario, Vet Vitug, Bimboy Peñaranda, Jun Cruz Reyes, Conrad de Quiros, et al. The main output of the agency was a literary magazine in Tagalog, “Sagisag.” And it contained—surprise —a short story by historian Teodoro Agoncillo.


Nic Tiongson was very critical of Tinio’s choice of plays in Teatro Pilipino, and he would attack the playwright-director right in the pages of “Sagisag.” When he could no longer stand it, Tinio came out with all guns blazing. So there was a war of words between these two worthies.


It was stimulating to be in the company of poets and writers more gifted than I (they submitted entries to the Palanca Awards that year and won; I didn’t), but I stayed at RAC-DPI only for several months. Not for anything, but there was an attractive offer from Vic Tirol, and so I joined the First Lady’s Population Center Foundation, an NGO. And who should I see there but Roz Galang, a political detainee just released from prison, like Lumbera.


I stayed at PopCenter until 1983, the year Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. You know the rest of the story. As they say, it’s history.


P.S. Years later, during one of our reunions, a high school classmate who became a general recalled to me, “We had a dossier on you, but we didn’t arrest you because you were not important enough.” I did not know whether to feel relieved or insulted.



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