August 19, 20, and 21, 1983 were three days in August that changed my life, not to mention the one day that would determine the nation’s fate for the next two decades. I was a third year journalism student.
It was the University’s Diamond Jubilee. PEJA (President Edgardo J. Angara) was UP head. The days revolved around Journalism 101 classes with the late great Louie Beltran (with his much-anticipated and much-feared order, “To the board!” at the start of every class); sessions learning about Philippine history and society and hanging out at the UP Government Scholars’ Association (UPGSA) tambayan at the Palma Hall Annex (PHAn); hanging out at the UP Journalism Club tambayan at the then Institute (now College) of Mass Communication, Plaridel Hall; and, daily dorm life at the Narra Hall (with its own particular flora and fauna in the grand scheme of UP DIliman’s bio- and cultural diversity).
August 19 was a Friday, pretty much like another day, except that it was the birthday of one of my Journ Club orgmates. She would become my wife, partner, and mother of three beautiful children. We were gung-ho student activists at the time, members of the fledgling IMC chapter of the League of Filipino Students (LFS). As a gesture of friendship, and my intention to court her, I gave her a single red rose, which she promptly put in the back pocket of her jeans after thanking me.
That night, we had a fine time celebrating her 19th birthday, jamming with me on acoustic guitar an eclectic mix of Seals and Crofts, James Taylor, America, and the activist songs we were learning at the time (May Panahon / Awit ng Peti-Burges, Jess Santiago’s Halina, Asin’s Balita).
That happy mood would dissipate like the morning mist the day after, August 20, a Saturday, when I would receive news that my father had died of a heart attack.
That Saturday dawned like any other day. I left the dorm early for a meeting with my LFS comrades. Returning to the dorm around 4 p.m., I was getting ready for Collegian presswork that night. I was a Features section writer. Popo Lotilla (former Energy Secretary) was our editor.
What started as a laid-back time would now become a series of hazy, fast-forward-trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all moments: the return to the dorm, the emergency note that I had to call a certain number, my mother’s tearful voice, feeling numb while trying to do presswork at the Paragon Press, and finally going to the Funeraria Tres Amigos to view my father’s body.
After a few hours, the initial shock would dissipate. But the haziness and numbness would remain until I could properly grieve him ten years later.
‘Personal is political’
Personal joy and personal tragedy would merge with the national outrage and collective hope the day after, August 21, 1983. One image I recall during those times was joining the long queue at the Aquino residence in Times Street, before going that night to my own father’s wake.
The next few weeks would be a blur of activity — attending meetings, planning mass protest actions with my comrades, among them my future partner; joining rallies and student/faculty assemblies; and, going to my father’s wake at night.
Those three days in August would inevitably leave their mark on me, firming my life principles, my personal advocacies, and setting the direction my life and career would take.
With my partner and now good friend and co-parent, we would live an eco-friendly and simple life, giving birth to all our kids naturally by Lamaze method, two of them at home; eating lower on the food chain (alternating between macrobiotics and vegetarianism); and maintaining a backyard organic garden. Though not as purist and strict today, the philosophy and practice of leaving a small ecological footprint on the earth still permeates our lifestyles.
We also raised and nurtured our children on shared basic principles, many derived from our lives as activists then and now: simple living and hard work and smart work; love of music and culture; love of learning, reading, and ideas; healthy eating; awareness of their rights as children and as persons; and, facing each day as a challenge and opportunity to improve themselves and their world. Thus, when our relationship evolved (matured?) from husband and wife to good friends and co-parents, the life and parenting principles would remain our common bond and thread.
My eldest daughter — my warrior princess, the Valkyrie — is the embodiment of this activist and non-conventional style of parenting. She is currently a 2nd year student in Diliman taking up Broadcast Communication. Sunod sa yapak ng mga magulang, kumbaga.
Those three days in August also determined my life path. Though trained as a journalist, I never went into mainstream media. Instead, I would practice my craft in the NGO/social development world, focusing on research, publication and documentation work, as well as training and program management. My career path took me to the social action institutions of the Catholic Church (NASSA and LUSSA). I also became a trained acupuncturist, community health worker, clinician, and trainer as part of a health NGO. Later on, I worked with the United Nations in the reproductive health field.
Three days in August, three moments in time, three moments that marked me for a lifetime.This is my Martial Law story.