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.

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