Martial law was personalBy Ninotchka Rosca
An early morning phone call, a voice saying, “A Manny Lacaba was killed in Davao. Please contact his family.” Emmanuel Lacaba, young and handsome and a zinger of a poet, had gone underground upon the declaration of martial law, as had his brother, Jose F. Lacaba. Since our first acquaintance, they’d been Pete and Emman, or Eman.
I called Nick Joaquin, who was our literary godfather. Nick was adamant my information was wrong. I said mildly, “Hey, this is me. My sources are usually impeccable.”
Nick: If you must know, he’s not there. He’s in Cagayan de Oro.
Me: Just get in touch with someone in his family.
So it went; Emman had been murdered. I can’t recall if Pete had already been captured but by the time of the second phone call, he was already in a military detention camp, reportedly pissing blood from torture. This time the caller was Adrian Cristobal, one of Marcos’s speechwriters, head of the Social Security Administration, and reputed to be one of Imelda’s favorites. He was also partial to poets and writers.
Adrian: The First Lady wants to name Nick National Artist.
Me: Oh.Adrian: But she wants to be sure first that he will accept.
Me: (mindgearsworking) Let me ask him.
So I called Nick again at his home (clan privilege, as his brother had been married to my mother’s cousin, Sarah).
Nick went into a rage.
Nick: How can I do that? Emman’s killed and Pete’s in prison. WTF, that blankety blank woman and that hijo de… man, etcetera, etcetera…
I rode it out and when he paused for breath, said: That’s what I’m thinking of, Nick. You can tell them you’ll accept if they release Pete.
Nick: (after long silence) You think they’ll go for it?
Me: 90 percent sure. She wants you. Her underlings will make it happen.
Long, long pause.
Nick: Andiyan ka na naman, lintak ka. (There you go again, you… reference to time I demanded he join the union at the Free Press and all hell broke loose) Oh, all right. Give Adrian my number and tell him to call me.
And that was how it was arranged. Looking back now, I’m almost sure that Adrian knew that was the way I’d work it out with Nick. Otherwise, he would’ve just ordered the telephone company for Nick’s unlisted number.
This was the way it was: everyone with even a little bit of conscience tried to help friends who were in trouble.
This essay — posted on Facebook and being reprinted with permission — is fourth in a series of Ninotchka Rosca’s wall by wall recollection of martial law 40 years ago. This is the author’s memory of how Nick Joaquin became the first National Artist of the Philippines.