In this excerpt from the book, “Not on Our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened. We Were There,” CNN correspondent and Beijing bureau chief Jaime “Jimi” FlorCruz recounts how he and a motley group of fellow student activists were stranded in China following a three-week tour in 1971. Fearing arrest and military reprisals, the group was forced to live in China after President Marcos first suspended the writ of habeas corpus and then declared martial law in 1972.
During his exile, Cruz studied Mandarin at the Peking Languages Institute and later earned a bachelor’s degree in Chinese history from Peking University, skills that would prove instrumental in launching him on a productive career in journalism.
“Not on Our Watch…” gathers similar stories on martial law by vocal student leaders and anti-Marcos activists Angie Castillo, Calixto V. Chikiamco, Jose Dalisay, Jr., Manuel M. Dayrit, Jaime FlorCruz, Jay Valencia Glorioso, Diwa C. Guinigundo, Sol F. Juvida, Victor H. Manarang, Al S. Mendoza, Jack Teotico, Roberto Versola and Vic C. Wenceslao. Edited by Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, the book has illustrations by Edd Aragon and an introduction by Inquirer columnist Conrad de Quiros. The book will be launched on May 10 at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
From “Forty Years in China: From Student Activist to International Journalist”
By Jaime FlorCruz
It all started on August 21, 1971, when I embarked on a three-week tour of China upon the invitation of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. China then was a virtual black hole and a diplomatic pariah…
Like most other countries, the Philippines did not have official relations with the Maoist nation.. (so) to avoid being stopped at the airport, our tour group had to fly out of Manila unnoticed. We left in batches…
At that time I was a senior at the Philippine College of Commerce, later renamed the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, majoring in advertising. I was the outgoing editor in-chief of Ang Malaya (The Free), our college paper, and president of the League of Editors for a Democratic Society (LEADS), a national organization of campus journalists. We were among the rabble-rousing shock troopers of the youth movement in the Philippines.
Years earlier, I had been the least likely person to fit that description. I grew up in the mellow town of Malolos, Bulacan, the fifth of six children born into a middle-class family of technocrat parents. I had a happy childhood. We lived in relative comfort and bliss…
Like many of my contemporaries, I simply wished to finish college, land a steady job, find a pretty and preferably rich wife, and drive a red Mustang.
I was good enough to get accepted into an all-boys university in Manila, one of the best in the country and also the most expensive. The college attracted many bright minds, including sons of rich and well-connected families. Some of them actually drove themselves to school in red Mustangs!…
To fit in and make friends, I joined the college paper, the college choir and the varsity track team-all at the same time. I also squeezed in time to join dance parties and go on dates. In the end I fared well at socials but struggled in academics. I flunked math and English and was kicked out of school after one school year…
For various reasons, my parents decided to enroll me at the Philippine College of Commerce (PCC), which was known as the poor man’s college. It was better known then for producing secretaries and accountants than lawyers and doctors.
It was at PCC where my young life took another sharp turn. The years I spent there, 1967-1971, were turbulent times… Our homegrown student movement percolated in the late 1960s and came to a boil in early 1971, in what came to be known as the First Quarter Storm…
PCC became an epicenter of student activism. Soon I found myself at the frontline… At one protest rally, I sustained cuts on the head and chin when a police officer hit me with a rifle butt while he pinned me down on the asphalt road. That night, the police locked me up in jail for allegedly resisting arrest and possessing deadly weapons-all trumped-up charges.
Such police brutality changed the trajectory of my life. I became a student activist and a youth leader. Supporters called us “catalysts of change” and “hope of the nation.” The Marcos regime labeled us “trouble-makers” and “communist agitators.”
On the morning of August 21, we took a train from Hong Kong to China…We arrived in Beijing at night, totally engrossed in the unique and heady experience.
Upon arrival at the airport, we were greeted by a phalanx of grey-haired Chinese officials and ruddy-cheeked Red Guards.
Waving copies of (Mao Tse-Tung’s) Little Red Book, they shouted slogans hailing “China-Philippines friendship” and professing “support for the oppressed peoples of the world.” We responded with an inspired rendition of the Internationale in Filipino…
In the first few days of our Beijing jaunt, we were oblivious of what was going on back home in the Philippines. Within a few hours on the night of August 21, it turned out, grenade blasts had ripped through an election campaign meeting of the Liberal Party at Plaza Miranda, killing a few in the crowd and seriously wounding scores of people, including several top leaders of the political party seeking to unseat the party of President Marcos.
That same night, President Marcos declared a nationwide state of emergency and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, thus allowing the police to arrest and detain anyone indefinitely. Among those arrested were student and youth leaders like ourselves.
…The political uncertainty at home was enough to put our return on hold, at least for some time, as our families and lawyers feared that we would be arrested upon our return.
… A year later, however, in September 1972, Marcos declared martial law-followed by another wave of arrests. Another year later, our passports expired. We found ourselves stranded in China. Our three-week tour had turned into an open-ended period of exile.
We were shocked and frustrated… We found ourselves in a totally unfamiliar place. We did not speak Chinese. We were homesick and lonely. We had little pocket money.
To earn our keep and make better use of our time, we volunteered to work on a state farm in Hunan province. There we joined a production team in planting rice, feeding pigs, and picking tea leaves. Initially, the idea of working in a Chinese commune-learning first-hand about how communism works-sounded romantic.
Soon enough, however, the romance wore off. Farm work was tedious and back-breaking. Even though we were never short of food and housing, we lived a Spartan life. …Once or twice a month, we were treated to hot showers in a city guesthouse an hour’s drive away.
Worse, life on the farm was monotonous and boring. Aside from reading and playing Ping-Pong, we had little recreation during our spare time. There was a small black-and-white TV set in the recreation room—the only set in the whole farm—but its fuse burned out soon after we arrived, and it was never repaired…
Our Chinese hosts tried their best to provide us with all our material and logistical needs. However, they could not cure the homesickness that we acutely suffered. At times, when things looked bleak and seemingly hopeless, my fellow exiles and I consoled each other: We shall overcome this. We are younger than Marcos. We can outlive him.
And we did. Except that we did not just outlive Marcos, we made ourselves better people.