Martial law literature and memory politics

A collection of writings by former campus editors and journalists

Retrospective memoirs on Philippine martial law in the ‘70s are hitting the bookshelves.

Subversive Lives” is a family’s memoir about the Marcos years written by siblings Nathan Gilbert and Susan Quimpo. In a YouTube interview, Nathan Gilbert provided a snapshot through a revolutionary thread running through the Quimpo siblings’ lives.

The Quimpo family's memoir

Of the 10 Quimpo brothers and sisters, he said seven were involved in the underground movement. Of the seven, five were arrested and detained during martial law, including some of their spouses. Of those arrested, three were tortured, and one was sexually molested. One brother who joined the New People’s Army was killed, another brother has disappeared with “no trace” of him. One brother was a political exile in France.

“It is important to come out with this story,” said Nathan Gilbert.

Another book — “Not on our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened; We Were There” — is an anthology of the personal experiences of 14 “courageous” campus editors and journalists during the Marcos dictatorship. The book was conceptualized during a CEGP reunion in 2010, and includes contributions from CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz, BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo; former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit; and Palanca Literary Awardees Jose Dalisay, Jr., Al Mendoza and Soledad Juvida. Jo-Ann Maglipon is the editor; Conrad de Quiros writes the introduction.

According to the book’s publishers, Vicente Wenceslao and Elso Cabangon, “Some stories are horrific, some are funny, some are cliff-hangers, and some are informative and educational, but all of them illustrate how, when sacrifices were required of us, we did not let our country down.”

The publication of the two books — and others to come — is a form of memory politics. In her 2003 book, “Trauma and the Memory of Politics, Jenny Edkins explains how literature helps people remember traumatic events, such as wars, famines, the Holocaust, etc. It allows them to “bear witness” to those painful events in their lives.

Former Bayan chair Baltazar ‘Bal’ Pinguel said people are writing their memoirs “for fear that they will soon forget the details of their lives.” It’s been 40 years since Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and brutalized the country, and it’s time for collective reminiscences from that generation.

The publishers of “Not on our Watch” said the book is a form of reintroducing themselves to their children who may not know fully what they had done in their prime.

“Our children know us, of course, but not many of them know how, during our tender years (ages 17 to 20), we put our lives on the line and fought a deadly struggle with the Marcos dictatorship.”

Bal said he too is writing his memoirs, “for fear of ‘losing it’ as I sense the good night coming.” He does not expect it to be published any time soon, but he knows his youngest son is going to be his editor. – Cristina DC Pastor

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