This morning, I spoke at a symposium on martial law organized by the UP College of Law and the Alpha Sigma Fraternity together with General Victor Corpus (ret.) and Butch Dalisay, professor of English in UP.  All three of us were tortured and detained during the martial law period.  Admittedly, the most interesting story was that of then Lt. Corpus, who defected to the Communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) in December 1970 but got disillusioned and surrendered to the government, detained for 10 years, and released only after the ouster of Marcos in February 1986.  He will likewise be reinstated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines as commander of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), the same unit hunting him when he was with the communists.

The symposium organizers asked us to narrate our experiences under martial law and to explain how it shaped our lives.  Corpus decided instead to explain the hows and whys of his defection to the NPA.  Butch and I were obedient to the organizers’ preferences.

When my turn came, I emphasized that the imposition of martial on September 21, 1972 was an auto golpe, a power grab of the incumbent Marcos to perpetuate himself in power.  Under the prevailing 1935 Constitution, Marcos was limited to two terms as president and his second term was to end in 1973.

Since the Third Philippine Republic started in July 1946, an unwritten rule was followed by the two factions of the ruling elites organized as two contending political parties–the Liberal Party and the Nacionalista Party.  The rule stipulated that no standard bearer gets re-elected so that each faction takes turns in plundering the public treasury and milking the advantages of incumbency such as percentages on contracts, overpricing, etc.  Furthermore, the property rights of elites who lost the elections must be respected.  “What we stole remains ours” seemed to be the operational principle.

The re-election of Ferdinand Marcos in 1969 through the massive use of “guns, goons and gold” was seen by the Liberals was a rule violation.  Of course, that was par for the course among the elites but it caused great bitterness among the ranks of the defeated Liberal Party that they were ready to cooperate with Marcos’ other enemies.

The first effect of martial law: I did not become an electrical engineer.  In fact, I could not imagine why I ever thought I would become an electrical engineer.  Both of my parents were civil engineers and three of my uncles were engineers.  One of my older brothers was enrolled in engineering.  Upon graduation from high school, I won a 4-year college scholarship from the then National Science Development Board (NSDB), now the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).  I thought it was a good decision at the time.

My inadequacies were revealed in my Physics 44 class.  I had for my classmates the members of the first batch of graduates of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) like Rey Vea and Mario Taguiwalo (RIP).  I had to memorize formulas to solve problems in projectile motion and the like.  In contrast, the PSHS guys used calculus to derive the formulas and solve the problem.  Memorizing formulas is dicey. If you got the formula wrong, your solution will be wrong.

I will soon join Vea, Taguiwalo, Taguiwalo’s sister Judy, and many others in the UP Chapter of the youth activist group, Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (Organization of Democratic Youth).

In the middle of 1971, I decided to drop out from UP and be an activist in my hometown.  I worked primarily with students, especially my classmates from high school (who were then in college) and senior high school students.  That was where I was when martial law was imposed.

I forgot to tell my audience that martial law also prevented me from being a lawyer.  My father never thought I would actually become an engineer.  He would tell me later that he believed I was more suited for a legal career.  After I got of prison, I went back to school to finish a bachelor’s degree.  I had to go to summer camp to make up for my ROTC (military service) deficiencies.  When a friend asked to join him in taking the UP College of Law LAE (Law Aptitude Examination), I readily agreed if only to escape the misery of the summer camp on the UP DMST grounds.

I passed the written exam while my friend failed.  I was called for an interview.  I agreed once more for a respite from summer camp.  It was a panel interview to determine who among those who passed the written exam will get accepted as incoming Law students.

The questions were routine except the last one.

A panelist decided to be cute and play games.  He asked me: “Mr. Mendoza,  what makes you think you’ll be a hotshot lawyer some day?”

My response: “What makes you think you’re one right now?”

I know I have deviated from my actual presentation last Friday morning but I cannot resist including this vignette.  I was ready to spar the interviewers because I did not have any intention to be a lawyer under martial law.  What, be a lawyer to memorize and apply his presidential decrees and general orders?   No way!



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