Last Friday, September 21, we marked the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. Today it seems to merely be a bad dream for many of those who lived through it and just a footnote to history for more than half of our people who were not born yet. For us in the Lopez family, it was a traumatic experience that saw my brother Geny incarcerated, my father dying heart-broken in exile in San Francisco without seeing his son freed from jail, and our businesses from Meralco to ABS-CBN and the Manila Chronicle taken over or shut down. For the next 14 years we lived like social outcasts. People you thought were friends crossed to the other side of the street, afraid to be seen even momentarily with a Lopez.
But more importantly, and beyond just the Lopez family and our businesses, the impact of martial law was felt significantly and pervasively throughout the entire country. Political and civil rights were systematically suppressed. Economic and business interests and opportunities were cornered and concentrated in favor of a select few. Dissent in any form was stifled with an impunity not previously seen in our nation’s history.
But bad dreams, nightmares if you will, must end. And as one wakes to the coming of a new and well deserved era of political and social change, where some hurts may be assuaged, or some wrongs somehow addressed, we must never turn our backs on the lessons that history has taught, especially those which were learned with great difficulty, or those that were paid for with great sacrifice. The lessons of martial law must be continuously taught, nurtured and never forgotten.
More importantly, we, as a nation should recognize that the injustices that martial law has wrought upon a nation so ravaged did not simply disappear simply because EDSA came and the dictator took flight. Forty years after its imposition, so much work still needs to be done. Victims of human rights violations continue to wage a war, not only for recompensation, but sadly, in some cases, even for recognition. Some legal cases that were filed to pursue supposedly ill-gotten wealth remain pending to this very day, and quite appallingly, some have been dismissed on mere legal technicalities. The whole world came upon a new idea introduced by the Filipino people: “People Power”. Soon countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world took the same path and freed themselves from the shackles of their dictators. Decades after, we have yet to prove that we truly deserved such accolades as a nation.
I know what most of you are wondering about as you listen to me now. What is the patriarch of the Lopez family doing here appearing chummy with the implementer of martial law? Why did ABS-CBN publish his autobiography when the network was the earliest casualty of the martial law regime?
I know it is not easy to understand. Even for me, I most likely wouldn’t have thought this day possible. Perhaps with the passage of time… all 40 years of it… I try to view things from as many perspectives as possible. And I have realized that it helps to see, as well, the humanity of those of us who lived through that horrible time including those from the opposite sides of the street.
I read through the final proofs of Johnny’s autobiography and I am convinced that it is indeed interesting and compelling, because it represents the account of one who was truly and deeply within the power corridors of martial law, and offers a perspective that is significantly and obviously different from mine.
Johnny wrote that even he was a victim of the Marcos dictatorship, having been used as the pretense for the issuance of Proclamation 1081, as his car was supposedly ambushed right in front of my house in Wack Wack Village. He also wrote about how his life was placed in danger as a military clique under General Ver who plotted to assassinate him weeks before People Power finally erupted in 1986.
Johnny wrote a fairly long book, 753 pages to be exact, but it is something I am certain you will try in vain to read from cover to cover at once. It is difficult to put down. There are revelations he made about himself and his perceptions about our society and about the personalities that made our country what it is today. There are those who may contest some of Johnny’s recollection of history, maybe including myself, but no reader can escape the humanity of the man… From the barefoot boy being bullied in the public schools of Cagayan to the powerful Cabinet member in the halls of Malacanang to his becoming the Senate President. Johnny’s story is a riveting account of a life that played a role in shaping our country’s history and destiny.
Still, I have not answered why this Lopez would even want to have anything to do with the martial law administrator of Mr. Marcos. Not too many of you know that Johnny and I knew each other way back when we were both students in Harvard in the mid-50s. Johnny was working on his Masters at the Harvard Law School and I was also studying for my Masters in Public Administration at Harvard’s Littauer School now known as the Kennedy School of Government. We knew and appreciated each other as ordinary human beings, way before we had taken our respective roles in our country’s political and economic life. I suppose that makes a difference because we can go beyond the caricatures the public may have of who we became later in our lives.
Johnny and I have had our public differences through the years as we played our respective roles in government and the private sector. Some harsh words have sometimes been said. But we have always respected each other and taken nothing personally from all those vigorous exchange of views. As to why ABS-CBN is publishing Johnny’s book, I know Gabby made that decision in the exercise of a media entity’s obligation to present as many sides as it possibly can, on matters, events or to anything that is of public interest. I think Johnny’s book is a must reading for every Filipino if only because there is value in knowing the perspective of one who was irrefutably considered as an insider during those momentous events in our past, a perspective which has been denied us until this time. Johnny’s account may lead us a few steps closer to understanding why things happened the way they did, and perhaps help us ensure that they do not happen again.
I urge you not to just buy a copy and have Johnny autograph it. Read it from cover to cover and get a perspective we badly need specially in today’s dynamic times. I thank you for listening to me.