Thirty four years have passed but I still vividly remember the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos on 21 September 1972. I was five and a half years old. It was mid-afternoon and my “yaya” [ a maid charged with a child in these parts; in fancier worlds and words, a “governess” ] and the driver had brought me from my grandmother’s house to our own house some blocks away.
Happily eating some candy when I entered our house, I saw my father and mother in the living room [ a comfortable area furnished by Mommy’s paternal first cousin, pioneer interior designer Ched Berenguer-Topacio ] listening to the radio [ this was Manila in 1972: no color TV, no cable, no Internet, no ym, no wi-fi ] with serious, alarmed faces. Daddy was standing, wearing a gray shirt and brown pants. Mommy was sitting, wearing a navy blue sleeveless dress.
“What happened?” I asked them. “Martial Law…” my Daddy replied. I did not know what it was. My Mommy shook her head.
The declaration of martial law was accompanied by the implementation of the agrarian reform law. That law mandated the distribution of the landowners’ agricultural lands — rice lands in Central Luzon were the first target — to their tenant farmers. My uncle, Brother Andrew Gonzalez F.S.C., recalled that all the landowners were summoned to a meeting at the Central Bank. He clearly remembered that the heiress lawyer, Atty. Pacita Ongsiako de los Reyes-Phillips, vehemently protested the implementation of the law, but to no avail. My second cousin Elsie Gonzalez Franco-Diaz recalled that the landowners were not given a choice at all, and that the retention provision of 5 hectares per family member, supposedly mandated by law, was not even disclosed.
Our family had lost several thousand hectares of rice lands in just one signature of Ferdinand Marcos.
One week after the implementation of agrarian reform, my dear, 69 year-old grandmother “Lola Charing” [ Rosario Arnedo-Gonzalez ] suffered her first heart attack. She was terribly heartbroken because she and my late grandfather, Augusto D. Sioco Gonzalez Sr., had lived austerely their whole married life just to be able to purchase those rice lands! They were NOT inherited from their parents as was usually the case. She sank into depression and never really recovered until her death in May 1977…
That fateful morning, I was hurriedly brought up the stairs to Lola Charing’s elegant bedroom [ furnished with an award-winning 1929 Art Deco-style “narra” bedroom suite by Gonzalo Puyat ]. There was a flurry of people around her bed. I was told that she was very ill and could die. I knelt in front of an image of Our Lady of the Rosary [ a beautiful ivory image that was a present from her friend Rosario Adap-Escudero in 1964 ] and prayed that my Lola Charing be made well. She miraculously survived that attack and lived quietly for almost five more years.
Many years later, I learned from friends with similar backgrounds that their own grandparents also had heart attacks [ with some passing away ] weeks after the implementation of agrarian reform in late 1972. A dear friend, Eric Pineda, related that his grandfather had, in his youth prewar, personally cleared a thousand hectares at the border of Tarlac, from Paniqui to Moncada, and that its 1972 seizure caused the old man’s instant demise. In the 1990s, a Gonzalez-Escaler cousin, who had remained immensely rich even after agrarian reform because of prior strategic and astute investments in Manila, Hong Kong, and New York real estate, declared that Ferdinand Marcos was not really the “father of agrarian reform.” He virulently spat: “It was that goddamn peasant Diosdado Macapagal! He should be blamed! Don Honorio Ventura should have never paid for the education of that ingrate! We Pampangos should have never supported him!” It was an aristocratic rant from a still very rich man, and I, whose family had lost all their rice lands, could not relate to it.
Oddly enough, our family life continued very much the way it always had… My parents had simple tastes and so there was never anything luxurious at our own house. Life at my Lola Charing’s house was always correct, patrician, even elegant, but never swank. Her main concern was the Catholic church, and there were always several priests and nuns coming and going everyday. There were none of the excesses that characterized the “aristocracy” of those days.
Once in a while, you do think: What would you feel if you spent your lifetime building a business only for it to be taken forcibly by the government later? Would that be fair?
So funny… as of now, we are still forced to sell some [ ancestral ] Bulacan land to tenant farmers for Php 11,000.00/xx per hectare. The tenant farmers are so assiduous and helpful in the transfer process because they are eager to sell that same land for much more. One farmer immediately sold his hectare for Php 1,000,000.00/xx. That’s a Php 989,000.00/xx profit for him. Not bad!!! But where’s the much-trumpeted “social justice” there???
But as for me, I’ll simply go “techie” and “wi-fi”!!! On with the show!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂