Harsh was, when Lim Seng, a big time drug pusher was executed by firing squad. Subtle was, when a myth spread nationwide that Ariel Ureta, a T.V. host pedaled his bike around Camp Crame for 12 hours for curfew violation.
The Martial Law’s media machine drummed up the slogan “Sa ikauunlad ng Bayan, Disiplina ang Kailangan” (For the country’s progress, discipline is needed) to hammer down to people’s consciousness the consequence of non-adherence to discipline.
For the three of us, Tabog, Pepit and myself, of course, that slogan never nailed in our brain. When we were caught violating the curfew, we thought we would just get what Ariel Ureta had. But it was worse!
Tabog, Pepit and myself were party junkies during Martial Law. Tabog nosed for us this Tenejero place for our next dance gig. The place was too far, hostile, spooky, and fraught with danger. But, as we had been jittery without a fix for 48 hours, we thought the gig would calm us a bit.
Tenejero is one barrio of Candaba, Pampangga, west of Baliwag, Bulacan, where we lived. The road to it then was a long stretch of desolate, un-asphalted gravel track. It was a six hour walk from Baliwag, and the road was a frequent scene of clash encounters between the Philippine Constabulary and the insurgents. Kumander Freddie, a leader of HUKBALAHAP, an insurgent organization, was ambushed and gunned down on that road by the military.
Of course, we cared less of the distance and danger of the dance venue.
We arrived at Tenejero ten in the evening. The party was progressing. We saw that the coconut palm-gated converted basketball court of the dance venue was guarded by uninterested looking guys who seemed to be unmindful of people’s comings and goings, Nonchalantly, we sneaked in – a habit of ours in pursuit of cheap adventure.
We didn’t waste time. The chicks were sitting around the periphery of the basketball court, and one by one, we started dancing with them, nonstop.
As usual, part of Tabog’s antics on every dance party we attended to – he sweet-talked the girls he dances with his tall tales of his being a Kabataan Makabayan (KM) member, to impress the girl that he’s an intellectual. Tabog claimed he is a UP Students. He made himself sounded like everything that come out of his tongue is consumables. And I could see girls fell for this.
Pepit, on the other hand, impressed his partner hyping he’s a sports buff and that at one time he defeated Amang Parica, the famous billiard player in Manila. That he’s a member, too, of the patriotic organization called Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK).
As for myself, I was the boring guy who just dances. But I had this ability to recognize a disaster before it comes. Like when I saw a bunch of people coming in the middle of the dance floor carrying ribbon plates. Those ribbons were for us, because we were dancing the beautiful ladies who were a contestant in a beauty pageant. Those ribbons when pinned, meant we had to fork money to put on the plate for the dancing privileges. Even before those “plate” people come close, I said to my partner, that I had to walk her to her seat, as I needed to pee. Tabog and Pepit were so mad and blamed me why I didn’t give them a warning. They had the misgiving they forked money for the plates. They lost interest to finish the party, and we decided to start walking back home, as it would be a long walk.
At San Roque Labaq, the border barrio between Candaba and Baliwag, we were stopped at the military checkpoint.
“Where are you going guys?” asked by the tall man guarding the check point holding a Garand Rifle.
A soft streak of light from the moon perched on the barrel of the gun. The gun traveled toward my chest. The metal felt colder than the night. My hair stood on end. Why the military man chose my chest to poke his gun with, was beyond me.
“We’ve been to a party, boss, and we’re heading home”, Tabog volunteered. The tall man switched the rifle’s nose to Tabog’s chest. I felt relieved.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“I think its 1:33 in the morning Sir, and we still have a lot of walking to do before we reach home, Sir.” Pepit said. Now, the rifle’s nose has gone to Pepit chest.
“Are you students”? The rifle’s nose runs up and down on Pepit chest.
“Yes Sir. I am from U.P. Sir. I am a KM member Sir.” Tabog said.
“And I am a SDK member, Sir.” Pepit followed.
“What are these two thinking …” I said to myself… “Where do they think they are … still at the party, talking to chicks?
“Student Activists…Huh! So you’re NPA’s?” The military man said.
I realized that the checkpoint was there to catch or discourage movement of the NPA (New People’s Army) the biggest insurgent movement at the time. And many student activists from the different universities in Manila went underground, and became NPAs during Martial Law.
I remembered Marcos picked up thousands student activists immediately after he imposed Martial Law, and gave them a haircut. I hoped that this tall man would just give us a haircut.
“It’s curfew time boys,” The man whose rifle was on Pepit’s chest, said, “You know what this means”
With that, Pepit run. His feet, as if were bicycling the air, just like Ariel Ureta. We heard gunfire. It tore off the silence of the night “Come back here, you stupid” The man in uniform, yelled. Pepit came back. Now, he was sobbing.
“Alright! Now, the three of you, get yourself naked,” commanded the man. This scene was familiar. I knew the three of us had been in this situation before.
We were beside the road, and the ground we’re standing on, was a mimosa field. We started removing our clothes leaving just our briefs.
“That, too”, the tall man said. And we were in our birthday suits. We saw our maleness shrank, because of the cold, or because of fear… I didn’t know.
For curfew violation, here’s what you will get,” said, the man, “you’re going to kneel and spread your arms sideways, then sing “Bayang Magiliw”. (Lupang Hinirang is the actual title of Philippine National Anthem, for some reasons, people refer to it as Bayang Magiliw) Thorns of the mimosa plant were pricking our knees, we’re freezing to death, and we get our arms hanging numb on our shoulders.
Oh that was easy, I consoled myself. We know the national anthem since Grade 1. In unison, we belted the national anthem. We knew our voice can teared off our ears, but should we care? I heard the crisp thud of the Garand Rifle landing on Tabog’s face, then on Pepit’s, then on mine. The sting the barrel left on our faces made us cried in pain. I thought, had it not been for Tabog’s and Pepit’s antics about the stupid KM and SDK, then, perhaps we would get lesser penalties.
“That was not the way I like it”. The uniformed man yelled, “I wanted you to sing it in the reverse order. Start it at the end ‘ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo’ (This is the last phrase of the anthem) then up, with the original tune for each line. And you can’t go, till you get the right tune”
“Just kill us,” Tabog said, “That’s impossible to do”. It was too late for Tabog to be a hero…
“That’s your problem, because you’re going to stay here till dawn and people would see you naked with your pecker hiding behind your crotch”.
Oh… that would be so embarrassing. We have to find ways by which we can sing the reversed national anthem. I devised a way… I recited the lyrics in the natural order, I asked Pepit to isolate the last line going up to the top line, and Tabog will sing the isolated part, with the right tune.
We did that until the sunrise. We’re so occupied with the process that we didn’t realize that our tormentor was already long gone. But that’s the face of the man I would never forget in my whole life. And we’re going to get back at him.