Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Part 23: The Gulag Archipelago

"I dedicate this

to all those who did not live to tell it.
And may they please forgive me
for not having seen it all
nor remembered it all,
for not having divined all of it. "
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Released in the US in the winter of 1971, but still making the rounds in theaters across the Philippines, Fiddler on the Roof was striking a chord with Filipino audiences. The problems encountered by a Jewish peasant in 1905 Czarist Russia echoed the difficulties facing families in the conservative predominantly Catholic country. The encroachment of communism, the changing mores of a younger generation, resistance to prearranged or sanctioned marriages, longer hair and shorter hemlines, the Pill, alcohol and drugs; these were causing consternation and anger across the country. Demands that the country return to tradition echoed from the podium to the pulpit. One morning in late September the nation found there were other ugly parallels between the film and their lives.

On that morning we awoke a little earlier than usual. In my bed I heard the buzz of activity and assumed it was time to get up. I was surprised when I looked at my watch to find that it was only 5:00 a.m. yet everyone seemed to be up and dressed already. Sticking my head out the door I could see that a lot of the upperclassmen were in the sala staring at the TV although it didn't seem to have anything on. At breakfast you could tell the faculty and staff were nervous; they gathered in groups and whispered to each other. After breakfast some of us milled about the locker room, others at the flag raising area, some gathered at the student lounge. Most of us expected to be going to class although we could see that the gate to the school was shut and none of the day students had arrived yet.

Finally Mr. Craig with his penetrating drill sergeant's voice gave us the word.

"No classes will be held until further notice!"
Some kids gave a cheer.
"All off campus privileges were suspended until further notice!"
Some booing.
"All boarders report to their respective dorms and await further instructions from their dorm masters!"
Some cheering and some booing.

It wasn't till I got back to my dorm and changed that I began to understand what was going on.
In the sala next door we watched an announcement being broadcast about something called
Proclamation 1081. President Marcos had declared martial law, claiming that the country was faced with revolution from both the communists on the left and anarchists on the right. Newspapers, television and radio stations that were critical of Marcos had been shut down in the middle of the night. Politicians critical of Marcos as well as common criminals were being rounded up as well. The President told us a national curfew was in effect, but promised a quick restoration of law and order.

Fearing violent student demonstrations, colleges, universities, seminaries and schools across the country had been ordered to close. For the first few days it was fun to be out of school, but soon we realized our entertainment options were limited, most of our time was spent at the gym or the library. During the day we played basketball, volleyball, soccer and football and at night we played cards. We hung out at the canteen, Manong Freddie was busy dispensing chips, soft drinks and hamburgers to bored boarding students. Then Dr. McGee was able to arrange to have some sport films brought over from JHAB; one about Bob Cousy, Bill Russell and the Celtics, the other about Earl "the Pearl" & the Knickerbockers.

Outside our gates in Baguio things seemed quiet. Some school activities were tentatively tested: a carefully watched basketball game between Brent and another school was held towards the end of the first week. Then came the proclamation that all schools would reopen, the first day back to school would be a nationwide
work day dedicated to civic duties. Taking his cue from Chairman Mao, Marcos declared it was desirable that all should work the earth. One day a week was to be allotted for public works, gardening, general clean up, usually around the schools campus. It was Bagon Lipunan, a New Society, where everyone would prosper, or so he told us.

This sounded so good on the surface, but what we didn't know yet was that the President had been secretly preparing lists of his critics and the undesirables over the last five years. Just after midnight on the 21st, across the archipelago the Philippine Constabulary or "PC" used these lists to round up tens of thousands of those who opposed the President; a power unto themselves, the PC became as dreaded as the Gestapo. Herded into detention centers, these "dissidents" were ministers, priests, politicians, businessmen, teachers and students. Soon most families had someone being held in places like Camp Crame and Fort Bonifacio. Some were released after a few weeks, others were interned for years; some were never seen again. Lines were drawn along century old family rivalries; people were arrested not only on the basis of organizations they belonged to, more often it was simply the family they belonged to. Owning a weapon was now illegal, people were rushing to hide or destroy them before the PC showed up at their gates. Secretly organizing groups of politicians, generals and businessmen, Marcos used presidential decrees to strategically position them within the economy and began the process of funneling resources to himself and his associates. People were turned out of their homes, farms and businesses; all this served as a catalyst that turned a trickle into a flood, the "brain drain", the great diaspora of Filipinos to every country in the world.

But we didn't know these things yet; at chapel that first Sunday after the declaration we prayed for the country and the people we loved; we pray for them still:
May the Lord protect and defend you. May God Bless you. May the Lord fulfill our Sabbath prayer for you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Part 22: Of Human Bondage

"The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust" ~ W. Somerset Maugham

"Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman around the corner"
~ W. Somerset Maugham

Being in the Philippines I felt isolated from world events. In those days before cable or satellite TV, before the internet, news was slow to reach the more remote areas. On Leyte, there were no TV stations, the mountain range blocked any chance of receiving reception from Manila or Cebu. Dad had a subscription to Time magazine, but it would arrive two or three weeks late (if it arrived at all). We took the Manila papers, but like most kids I seldom ever looked at them. My parents, busy with their work, rarely commented on the world events that were taking place. Unlike our contemporaries back in the States, we never saw the combat in Vietnam playing out on the evening news.

Even life in Baguio seemed far removed from the hustle and bustle of Manila, let alone the world.
For a boarding student at Brent the outside world barely existed, we lived in a bubble. Of course we were just kids, more concerned with our social life than anything else. We read of the Watergate break in, Fischer beating Spassky, Spitz winning his seventh gold medal and then the massacre of the athletes in Munich, but these things seemed so far away.

The start of the Brent 1972-73 school year had been delayed almost two weeks due to monsoons, typhoons, landslides and flooding. Students and teachers alike had much difficulty in reaching the mountain city. Baguio's average annual rainfall was 185 inches, but that year 150 inches fell in 25 days between mid-July and mid-August. In the lowlands, tens of thousands had been displaced by the subsequent flooding and the Philippine Army had been mobilized to help with the clean up and "maintain order" as flood waters began to recede. It was a common sight now to see military vehicles coming and going, to see groups of Philippine Constabulary on street corners.

Once school finally got started we had our first school assembly where we met the new headmaster, Dr. Henry McGee. Mr. Craig went over the dress code rules and then the Senior class president announced that in a few weeks new students and Freshmen would be auctioned off at a special assembly for the annual school event, Slave Day. There was much cheering and groaning. I was not concerned about this, I was not going to be affected, but my new roommate was.

I wasn't sure how I felt about him yet, he was a nice enough guy, generally cheerful, fastidiously tidy and relatively quiet. But he was a little high strung and nervous, two qualities that lent itself to getting picked on. And therein lied the problem.

My new found status as "beer mule" granted by Pat Dillon and his cohorts gave me exemption from hazing and afforded some protection from other bullies who still felt compelled to harass me. After a long year of toilet swirleys, pink belly's and cold showers I was enjoying not having to be on guard all the time. My roommate on the other hand not only resisted his tormentors, he tried to retaliate as well. His histrionics made him a target and because we were roommates, I was included as well. I tried to advise him as best I could, warning him to watch out for groups of upper classmen hanging out on our floor, a sure sign of trouble. He did follow some of my instructions and tied a rope to our bedroom window frame to use to sneak in and out of our room without being detected. But more often than not he would forget to be vigilant.

Some days I would enter the dorm and be assaulted by the pungent odor of
Tiger Balm and the pitter patter of spoons on skin and there he would be in the narrow hallway, being held down by a group of upperclassmen, his belly turning an angry red. I would delicately step around them and enter my room, the whole time he is screaming "Waldo save me!". I'd pretend I hadn't heard.

Right. Those guys are twice as big as me and there are six of them.

Some nights I would be studying and he would come skidding into the room and lock the door.
"You've got to hide me!"
Right on his heels came the pounding on our door. They wanted blood.

Now here was my dilemma, on the one hand he is my roommate, but I was trying to maintain a low profile. There were several problems: first of all bedroom doors are not supposed to be locked and sooner or later a dorm parent would be by to make us unlock it and hand out some form of punishment, secondly not opening the door to the Goon Squad only invites worse misery upon the occupants. I felt bad about it but I didn't see any real options. So I tell him:
Quick! Lock yourself in the bathroom! He runs in and shuts the door. I get up and unlock our bedroom door and sit back down at my desk while the Stormtroopers rush in. In short order they have the lock picked, door forced open and I hear the the sound of the shower running and his screams.
"You F*@#ing Bastard!" That was directed at me. I turned back to my homework.
Hmm. I wonder what Mr. Jenista is going to quiz us on tomorrow?

With Slave Day fast approaching my roommate was really panicking. Who was going to buy him and what were they going to do to him? His imagination was in overdrive as he envisioned all the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition being inflicted upon him.

"You've got to buy me!"

This was going to be a problem as I had already been told that the Gestapo
intended to buy him. I was sure they would not respond well to someone interfering with their plans.

On the day of Slave Day he gave me some cash and told me it should easily be sufficient to cover his purchase. Choices, choices. I guess I was going to have to buy him and incur
Their wrath. That's when the Bullyboys came over to me and a solution presented itself.

"I hear he plans to have someone buy him"
...Yeah. I think I heard that too.
"Do you know how high he will go?"
...uhmm, well... actually I do ...
I doubled the amount my roommate gave me thinking it might scare them off.
"Thanks! It will be worth it!"
uh oh.

So the bidding started, my roommate desperately yelling at me to bid again every time I was outbid. Then when the bid went over the amount he had given me his face went white. I bid a few more times just to make it look good, then with a regretful smile, I shrugged my shoulders.

The look on his face told me that it had just occurred to him that by driving up the bid he had guaranteed that his servitude would be a painful one.

Spending his day in a bikini, my roommate had choice words for me whenever he caught me grinning at him. In fact it turned out that other than for some minor humiliations I had saved him over a hundred pesos. But I don't think he ever forgave me, not for that and other things that would transpire later in the year.

A few weeks later found us over the excitement of Slave Day and the first dance of the school year; the rhythm of daily school life settled in, then one morning we awoke to find that the Philippines was in the headlines. A new term was being spoken, I had never heard of it before. I had heard of the Marshall Plan but what was this Martial Law?