Opinion

Why Martial Law Matters to this Millennial

One day, he saw a Marcos at a mall. This is the imagined conversation they would've had.
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I once saw Imee Marcos shopping at Zara.

She looked ordinary, like every other exceptionally rich older woman shopping in Greenbelt 5. However, the people around her were not. Bodyguards flanked her as she slid from rack to rack. Other men in plain clothes stood at at the exits. Nearby customers pointedly examined other clothes. A brave salesgirl shuffled uncertainly from the safety of a parallel aisle with a look on her face that was both eager to help, and nervous. And Imee slid around, unnoticing.

She was wearing an unremarkable shawl and had hair that defied all sorts of laws. Her face was taut and bored. She was short, but had the sort of eyes that could look down on you in spite of it.

I was taller than her, and straightened to my full height. Then, I opened my mouth, hesitated, pursed my lips, and slowly walked away.

Anyway, Martial Law was over. People Power had done its job. Ferdinand Marcos was dead. The billions were in limbo, but we were alright. And for God’s sake I was a decent person who didn’t yell at people in Zara.

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Until now I wonder what it is that keeps us quiet. Are we polite, or scared, or practical?

Weeks later, her father, the dictator, was buried in the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani, and I saw her again. This time I was yelling.

The term is "l'esprit de l'escalier." It describes the feeling of finding the perfect reply too late. It happens to me often. “I should have said that,” I say to myself after an argument ends, after a frenemy leaves a fraught conversation, after I leave Zara with so many things to say to the daughter of a dictator.

It happens to us too, as a country. It’s so impolite to call out wrongdoing. Telling the truth might cause trouble. The perpetrators might feel offended. We would look so improper. Let the person cut in line. Let the bribe be paid. Let the money be stolen.

I’d like to think that we know our history. We know what happened, and we recognize the liberties that others fought for.

But I do I have things to say. Someone plundered my country. Someone imprisoned, tortured, and killed so many of my people. Someone corrupted entire industries and institutions. Someone escaped a broken country, and escaped justice. And his descendants are unrepentant, politically resurgent, and fucking shopping at Zara. If Imee Marcos touched the SALE rack that day I would have loved to tell her that her family’s thievery, which she is complicit in, having been of age and hopefully of sound mind regardless of her conscience when Martial Law took place, deserves better things to be spent on.

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(I might also have ended up dead like Archimedes Trajano, the student leader who questioned her at an open forum.)

Until now I wonder what it is that keeps us quiet. Are we polite, or scared, or practical?

I’d like to think that we know our history. We know what happened, and we recognize the liberties that others fought for. We know the atrocities that were committed, and the impunity that persists. We know their names and their faces. We know right from wrong. I guess we also only know what to say when it’s too late. At least it’s the perfect reply.

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About The Author
Joseph Pascual
Joseph Pascual realized that the things he loves best are the challenges of natural light and surprise subjects. Still in the prime of his youth, Joseph is one of the country’s most notable contemporary photographers, and he continues to contribute to numerous publications.
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