Understanding the Way My Father Rejected the Marcos Dictatorship
by Manuel L. Quezon III
September 23 marks the real anniversary of the imposition of martial law in the Philippines. When the news reached my father, we were in Mexico, preparing to going to Brazil, where he was supposed to assume the post of Philippine ambassador to that country.
Upon seeing the news in the Mexican papers, my father promptly called the Department of Foreign Affairs and informed Manuel Collantes that he was declining his appointment as ambassador to Brazil; and then he sat around waiting — and hoping — for a coup to kick Marcos out.
The coup never took place; the New Society heaved into place with what seemed to be the tacit consent if not the outright enthusiasm of the public. There was nothing left but to go home.
And so we went home; my father had decided from day one not to accept the legitimacy of the martial law regime; his opposition manifested, among other things, by his telling my mother not to cut my hair, because he’d heard that the Metrocom was going around shaving the heads of hippies: Which resulted in my having that long-haired mop-head look in all my pictures that date to 1973.
Soon after their return, my father left my mother, and the consequences of that decision affected the way he chose to show his displeasure with the dictatorship. My father’s sister, who had no less than nine children, had also decided not to recognize the legitimacy of Marcos’ New Society and as the martial law era dragged on she became increasingly involved in public protests and in visiting political prisoners. My father reasoned that she could take the risk because she had a husband around who, if worst came to worst, could look after his sister’s children; but he could not afford to take a similar risk. And yet, the question of my safety needed to be balanced with what he thought was the need to show, somehow, a principled stand against an illegitimate and criminal government.
It took me many years to understand how my father manifested his opposition, and most of all, why he did it the way he chose to. He had found satisfaction and a sense of usefulness in writing opinion pieces of a reflective and philosophical bent for the Weekly Graphic Magazine; he had taught the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history at the UST Graduate School; now, back home, with the Graphic shut down and every existing venue for publication subject to official censorship, he could not write; and the schools were riddled with military spies, so he could not teach.
Formerly very active in social circles, he found himself faced with the dilemma of meeting many old friends who had formerly denounced Marcos but who were now singing the praises of the dictatorship; he was even more disgusted with seeing many people he had been close to because of their closeness to his family because of his father, who were active and prominent supporters of the New Society; and there were others whom it seemed were fence-sitting or pretending to be in opposition when they were actually secret admirers of Marcos.
His decision was a personally painful one, but one which only someone with his pride could reach and adhere to: He cut off friendships left and right, based on whether they supported the dictatorship or held office due to its good graces. At the same time, he refrained from socializing with people whom he felt were being watched by the dictatorship or who were too indiscreet in their opposition. The end result was that he ended up living the life of a recluse. And, having retreated into this sort of life, he was known as an eccentric recluse until the end of his life.
Growing up, I could neither see nor appreciate the moral distinctions that dictated my father’s behavior. All I knew was that my father was bitterly against the government, but would do nothing about it, except to warn me never to repeat what I heard to anyone who was not close to the family, and even then, never, ever, on the phone. I would come home from school and hand him PTA announcements, which he would rip into shreds because “everything is now headed by those Puñetero colonels!” A lot of expletives were aimed at Marcos and his lackeys, but in public, he would say nothing.
In the meantime, my father’s sister was marching around on the streets, was arrested at one point, and being very, very brave in my eyes. And here was my father saying a lot but doing nothing. We went to bookstores a lot; my father made futile attempts to get me interested in sports; but aside from these bonding moments, he did nothing political. He did not vote in any referendums or so-called presidential elections under Marcos; and yet during the famous noise barrage of 1978, he didn’t even ring a little bell in the manner of Luis Araneta; instead, he worried that some ruffian might scratch his car.
Finally came the government decree that people could travel without having to secure permission, and we traveled as much as possible; at one point, there was a chaotic and ill-fated attempt to emigrate to Australia; then the decision to send me to school in America so that, as he put it, “you will know what it is like to live in a free country”.
A vivid memory from this time was the assassination of Ninoy Aquino (frantic calls to Manila, interspersed with puzzled queries directed at my father: who on earth is Ninoy Aquino?); a later memory was being required to watch the Democratic Convention on TV —”so you can see democracy at work”; and during our visits home, a puzzling and increasingly frustrating resolve on his part not to say anything to anyone about what he felt about the dictatorship.
In 1985, as the campaign was heating up for the snap elections, I had to endure what I felt was the greatest humiliation of my life: At one of the few parties my father attended, the guests enthusiastically sang “Bayan Ko” and my father refused to stand with the rest and sing; he forced me to do the same. What kind of hypocrisy is this, I asked myself, and, being all of 15, this only served to reinforce my teenage rebelliousness.
Only much later did I learn the reason for his refusing to stand when people sang the anthem of the opposition: First, that it went against his rule not to make any public manifestations of opposition, and second, because he was not about to join in community singing with what he considered a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys as far as opposition to the dictatorship was concerned. He blamed many of these people for the very existence of the dictatorship because they had been all for it so long as it had not affected their pocketbooks.
In the end, and it was a confusing but, as they say, cathartic experience for me, I came to understand why, of the two children of Manuel L. Quezon, himself accused of being a dictator in his time, one chose to manifest her irreconcilable opposition to the dictatorship in public, while one chose to show his resistance in seemingly useless if not an extremely intellectually convoluted manner. It was, perhaps, most of all, a reflection of their personalities and character. My father was proud, he could be extremely arrogant, and his reaction was to look down his nose at everyone who had anything to do with Marcos; but he also knew himself to be weak, physically, and was plagued by that all-too-prevalent ailment of good Catholics, scruples. How to hate the sin and love the sinner if you are proud and even a snob? Better to hide among your books and have nothing to do with either the sinner or the sinful government. My father’s sister, on the other hand, a far more optimistic and positively determined person, vowed to both outlast the dictatorship and do her part to expose its abuses.
I like to think my father actually suffered more; not only because of the self-inflicted agony that comes from hating a despot and yet refusing to make a public stand against him, but also because of the alienation, the isolation, the bitterness, that filled his mind and heart. It was a resistance that in retrospect, I believe, took moral courage; but it was a form of resistance that few understood, and which I only understood fully when my father was already dead.
I never had the chance to tell him that I was proud of him, and ashamed of not having understood what he gave up for me, and for his country. But every year, on Sept. 18, his death anniversary, I remind myself to be thankful.