Love and loss in the time of ML | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

The Martial Law (ML) years brought innumerable losses and grief untold, as well as sadness and anger that linger decades after. Many suffered the loss of loved ones, property or identity.


Early this year, knowing that the country would mark ML’s 40th anniversary, I decided to immerse my Ateneo grief students in the various types of losses that marked the ML era.


Thus, the whole September found us steeped in the history of the period—visiting the ML museum inside the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, reflecting upon the lives of those whose names are etched on the Wall of Remembrance, watching films that showcased how young activists fought for freedom, and  spending hours interviewing family members of ML heroes and martyrs.


The final product of their monthlong immersion was a five- to 10-minute video interview that would tell the story of how ML changed the lives of many families.


The challenge I posed to my students was to tell the ML stories in a manner that their generation could appreciate and understand. It saddens me to note that there is so much misconception among the young today about what ML truly was.


The fact that it is not taught in schools as part of the curriculum only adds to the growing ignorance. With Edsa ’86 now only a concept to most of today’s youth, how can we expect them to understand this darkest period in our history, if we cease to teach them about it in school, or at the very least, retell their stories?


Many of us have forgotten, but those who lived through it and lost loved ones have not, and they will never. Those who lived to survive and tell of the horrors will forever bear the marks of those terrible days.




The videos produced are my students’ way of retelling the stories and speaking to their own generation about the period. It is our hope that these video narratives would be used by educators to teach the youth about the period, to show succeeding generations about the bravery and courage of the families who survived the hell of ML, and finally, to be a testament to all the young men and women who gave up their lives so that one day we could all be free.


The video is a six-part series which begins with the story of Ateneo martyr and activist Ferdie Arceo, told through  his mother, Thelma, a woman of amazing grace, faith and courage, whose life was forever changed by her son’s heroic sacrifice.


My students who did the interview with Mrs. Arceo in her Quezon City home were amazed by her wisdom and grace as she narrated the events that led to Ferdie’s death in Iloilo one rainy Friday afternoon. “I remember it today in the same way I did almost 40 years ago,” Thelma, now in her late 80s, told my students. “A mother never forgets,” she stressed after recounting how Ferdie was shot by the military while walking on the beach one morning in July 1973.


His story impressed my students—how a young, determined, bright student at Ateneo, only a few months shy of graduation, would leave everything behind for a cause that he was willing to die for. Their 10-minute video on him is gripping, and they were all one in saying that it was one project that was stressful, but so worth doing.


The second video tells the story of Philippine Science High School educator Tina Pargas Bawagan. I had first heard about Tina’s story eight years ago, when the magazine I was working for ran an essay writing contest for high school students about inspiring teachers. Tina’s student had written a beautiful essay honoring her bravery, courage and nurturing ways.


No choice


“I wish you weren’t so brave so that you did not have to go through such torture and difficulties,” said a young man in the group that interviewed her. “We really had no choice, it was the only way,” Tina said. The students found her journey from being a sheltered Maryknoller to hard-core activist both refreshing and inspiring. Their hearts broke as she spoke about the difficulties of leaving home and family to join the movement and fight for freedom.


The final part of the video series is a three-part segment on Edgar Jopson’s widow Joy and his eldest daughter, Joyette.


Their stories inspired my students so much that they had difficulty sifting through the wealth of material.


Although much has been written about Edgar Jopson’s courage and heroism, very little has appeared in the media about those he left behind. His loss left a gaping wound in the heart and soul of his widow, while his daughter felt “robbed” of a father because he died so young.


In the video, Joy speaks about not having enough time to grieve because it was a very dangerous period. She recounts a heartbreaking encounter between herself and Edjop’s mother a few months after he died. Mrs. Jopson had hugged her very tightly, and in that embrace, Joy says, “I finally felt that someone understood my grief and felt the loss so deeply. Feeling and hearing her heartbeat against mine, in that moment, it was like I could feel his heartbeat, too.”


Joyette’s story of paternal loss leaves a deep impression, too, as she narrates, wide-eyed and candidly, how growing up was both a happy and lonely time. “I felt like I did not get hugged as much. No child must ever be made to go through such an experience.”


Through the years, she said, goodbyes were never her strongest suit. “But I’ve gotten better in the sense that even when you get left behind, you finally realize, you’re not going to die, there is life after a loss.”


All videos are up on Youtube. Please google IS1631stsem to find the student videos.


Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao or through her blog,



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