Promenade along the Luneta (or How I Ended Up a Poster Child for Martial Law)

Evening expressMy sister sent me this newspaper clipping of the front page of the Evening Express‘ January 30, 1973 edition.  Shot without our knowledge or permission only four months after Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in the Philippines, the photo shows me, my brother, and my sister in a large pram (rented for 2 pesos an hour) pushed by my cousin alongside my mother, aunt, and yaya at the Luneta Park. I’m three years old and wearing a hat.

This image of young, healthy women and children and middle-class domesticity would have been a perfect prop for the Bagong Lipunan (New Society) into which Marcos sought to mold the Philippines.

In fact, a large part of the nostalgia for the Marcos era that we have seen in the months leading up to the presidential election is compounded of memories of middle-class childhood, “peace and order”, and the growing economy of these early years of Martial Law.

But the mellow, late-afternoon colors of this promenade are deceptive: there are no curfews and checkpoints, no interrogation rooms and detention centers, no Tacub (and later Malisbong and Patikul) massacre and the wars in Mindanao and other provinces, no hunger and malnutrition and prostitution, no depressed wages, no Swiss bank accounts, and no cronies on view here. But they are as real as this photo, and they give the lie to Marcos loyalist claims of a Golden Age under the dictator.

I don’t feel good about becoming an unwitting poster child for a Martial Law that demanded discipline in the name of national progress, at great social and political cost. What I do hope is that we Filipinos will not succumb to collective amnesia that whitewashes what happened over the past five decades and views the Martial Law regime through rose-tinted glasses.


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