Barbara Howell interviewed me. She is a Christian journalist based in Singapore who is staying at the Ellinwood Guest House.
She introduced herself as the wife of Leon Howell, who was here last year. I had met him at a meeting of the Land Reform Committee of the Convention. They are journalists sponsored by the five national church bodies in the United States to undertake some kind of journalistic work over a period of three years.
These were some of the things I mentioned to Barbara: It was possible that martial law itself would last for a period of two years. However, the rising wave of fear would probably subside after a few weeks. Restrictions would probably be liberalized but curfew would still be there. And the people who would have been caught and placed behind bars at the army stockades would continue being there.
Because of the decline of lawlessness, of robberies and violence, it can even be that after some time, martial law might be accepted by the masses of people as a timely action by the government. Of course, insofar as foreigners are concerned, they would not experience the kind of apprehension that many Filipinos have. They would only know that it is now possible to walk around without having to be afraid for one’s life or pocketbook.
In fact, Barbara agreed, she got the feeling that she had a greater fear for her safety last year than when she came in a couple of days ago.
It would seem, at least for now, that many of the reforms that President Marcos is launching are laudable: land reform and the collection of firearms have, in particular, found popular support. A growing number of people are of the view that without martial law, land reform could not have been launched.
The issues of civil liberties—the loss of our individual freedoms, the gross violations of our human rights, the demolition of our democratic institutions—these seem to be clearly understood and felt only by those who are politically aware. For the majority of our people, who have historically been the object of exploitation, the denial of our individual freedoms does not figure in their lives.
Barbara’s impressions reminded me of the First Philippine Economic and Trade Mission to the Soviet Union, Hungary and Poland, organized by the Philippine Chamber of Industries in 1967, which I headed. Precisely because we were foreigners in these Communist countries, we did not concern ourselves with the fears of the local people. What seemed apparent to us, and which impressed us then, was that there was more prosperity and greater discipline among the people in Russia than during the ancien regime. We were hardly sensitive to the repressions of the regime; after all, we were treated with great hospitality. Of course, not really having known freedom in their long history of oppression and domination under the Romanovs, in time the Russians have accepted their loss of individual freedom. And we, foreigners as we were, did spend a good deal of time looking over the physical manifestations of technological progress in Russian society and called them good.
But now we know what it is not to be able to speak out in our country, and not to be able to leave our country. The apparatus of repression is efficient. We are being controlled effectively. Worse, for many, the “salvaging” and disappearances of family members, or their arbitrary arrests and tortures are the price of Marcos’ sinister move to “save the Republic.”
Surprising though it may be, quite a number of businessmen now approve of martial law. Why not? An element of stability has been achieved. Peace and order is necessary for businessmen to ply their trade. For many of them, that is enough. But what peace? The “peace of the graveyard,” to quote the German poet Friedrich Schiller. It does not really matter.
The other information that I conveyed to Barbara was the possibility that there will be a transition government, that is to say, there will be no elections in 1973 but simply extension of offices of the president, vice president and the members of Congress until 1975. Apparently, from all indications, this would jibe with the growing expectations that there would be no election in 1975.
George Borromeo of Camiguin was in a joyous mood when I arrived at the session hall. The assumption, he said, is that if the transition provision is approved immediately after approval of the new Constitution in a plebiscite, we shall be sitting in as assemblymen.
This, apparently, is the word from Malacañang. So, when George sponsored an amendment saying that the members of the National Assembly shall receive ₱5,000 a month each, with allowance including equipment, transportation, travel and technical staff also amounting to ₱5,000, he was in effect giving Noli Aguilar (who was sitting beside him) and the other delegates a lot of salary starting upon the approval of the Constitution. And it will be approved, he prophesied.
I was speechless at this outburst of jubilation. “What are we in power for?” I still recall how much, in our youth, we had condemned Senator Avelino who had uttered those immoral words.
I was almost rudely interrupted in my musing by Delegate Simplicio Apalisok who sidled up to me for advice. He said that perhaps it would be good to get the imprimatur of the Palace before publishing some photos and documents of the External Affairs Committee.
I told him there was no harm in doing this. However, it should be done in a very quiet manner.
Poor Apalisok. His concern was for his monthly publication in the Con-Con really.
“You know, it was Ding Quintos who was responsible for getting the President’s signature on the ₱4.2 million budget for the Constitutional Convention,” he said in innocence. I was not sure whether he meant the regular budget or its supplement. Quintos, he continued, apparently, is in close relations with the President.
“But Bebet Duavit is the chairman of Marcos’ politburo in the Convention, with Arturo Pacificador, Toto de la Cruz, Tony Tupaz, Antonio (Tony) de Guzman, Vicente (Vic) Guzman, Peps Bengzon, Venancio (Ven) Yaneza, being among the outstanding members,” one delegate said, joining our conversation.