Love in the Time of Martial Law

Love in the Time of Martial Law. Written by Hon Sophia Balod for SubSelfie.com.

Editor’s Note: Just in case you think it’s unimportant — Moving On from Martial Law?

Fe and Roger had been co-teachers in a university for quite some time, occasionally exchanging nods and “hellos” inside the campus. But it was only when Roger won his first Palanca award on his poem “Mga Duguang Plakard” (Bloodied Placards) that Fe took notice of him.

It wasn’t love at first sight, she said. But Roger had a way with words and prose, and Fe was smitten nonetheless.

But Fe chose an inconvenient time to have a crush. It was 1972 and former President Ferdinand Marcos had just declared martial law. The declaration of martial law did not stop Fe and Roger from going out in the streets and staging protest actions with their students. With placards in one hand, and leaflets in another, they marched in the streets calling for justice and restoration of the democracy. As professors, they had duty to their students. As activists, they had duty to their country.

Fe Mangahas: “Ang gulo noon. Mismong sa loob ng classroom inaabot kami ng tear gas. Ang ginagawa namin sinasabi namin sa mga estudyante na magbaon ng panyo, kalamansi at saka tubig. Kasi ‘pag oras na na-tear gas yung paligid, babasain namin ‘yun, lalagyan namin ng kalamansi tapos magtatakip kami ng mukha.”

(It was chaotic then. Even inside the classroom, tear gas would reach us. What we would do is would tell others students to bring handkerchiefs, calamansi and water. Because once tear gas would fill the surroundings, we would moisten the handkerchiefs, put calamansi on it and cover our faces with it.)

Former President Ferdinand Marcos with First Lady Imelda
Former President Ferdinand Marcos with First Lady Imelda

The call of the streets drew Fe and Roger closer. It was not a typical courtship, they said. Instead of flowers and chocolates, Roger handed out protest flyers. Instead of a mixtape filled with love songs, Fe staged discussion groups among the youth; and instead of exchanging cheesy words, they thrived in intellectual debates and discussion of political views.

Fe and Roger’s relationship might be far from the usual boyfriend-girlfriend setup but it has all the elements they need to make it work: love and the elusive spark.

Roger Mangahas: “Minsan ano, naglalakad tayo sa Quezon Ave, naakbayan ko siya na hindi ko yata sinasadya. Parang nakuryente eh. Mula sa bumbunan hanggang talampakan. Kinabahan ako, sabi ko, ba, mapapangasawa ko yata ang babaeng ito.”

(There was a time we walked along Quezon Avenue. I accidentally placed my arm on her shoulders. I had an electric feeling from head to toe. I got nervous and I told myself that I probably will marry this woman.)

Ang Bagong Lipunan
Ang Bagong Lipunan

But if there’s one thing to learn during a time of dictatorship, most of the authorities did not tolerate the fervent love of activists for democracy. The situation caught up with the lovebirds and a month after, the university sacked Fe and Roger because of their “dangerous” and subversive political beliefs.

That was the first of a series of unfortunate events that happened to their relationship. On January 19, 1973, they were arrested and detained in Camp Aguinaldo. Later, Roger was transferred to Fort Bonifacio. In the same month, Fe had a miscarriage after an intense interrogation. She was later released by the military for hospitalization.

Roger Mangahas: “Dahil nga nadetain ako, nagkahiwalay kami. Hindi ko alam kung anong ginagawa sa kanya ng militar, ano ang nangyayari sa kanya. Masakit na isipin eh.”

(Because I was detained, we got separated. I didn’t know what the military was doing to her. It was painful to bear.)

Fe Mangahas: Eh kasi pwedeng torture ako o pwedeng i-rape. Siya din nag-woworry ako sa kanya. Ano kaya tinotorture kaya siya? Binubugbog? Lahat na ng worst na pwede mong ma-imagine the first night. Maraming uncertainties. Minsan sinasabi niya dadalhin sila sa Sablayan, sa isang isla na wala halos pagkain, mga ganun. Sina-psychological warfare kami. Kasi hindi kami nagkikita kaya nung nakunan ako hindi nya alam yun. Nalaman niya after more than a year na nakunan ako sa interrogation.”

(It was possibly torture or rape back then. I was also worried about him. Was he tortured too? I imagined the worst things during the first night of detention. Sometimes they would say they’ll bring Roger in Sablayan, an island where there is almost no food. They were trying psychological warfare on us. We never saw each other and Roger never learned that I had a miscarriage during interrogation. He learned that more than a year after.)

During his capture, Roger wrote numerous letters and notes to Fe, the woman who kept him sane and well during his most testing times. Fe replied to each one of them with words of kindness and love, sometimes with small notes rolled inside a piece of brownie.

Roger Mangahas: “Hindi kami nanatili lang sa isang tabi. Palagay ko, lesson yun. Ibig sabihin kahit kami nakulong, hindi kami uusigin ng konsensya namin na wala kaming ginawa.”

(We didn’t stay mum in one corner. I think it’s a lesson. It means even if we got jailed, our conscience will not haunt us because we did something. We were not apathetic.)

To conceal their identities from spying soldiers, Fe and Roger often exchanged coded letters, using aliases such as Dayang-dayang and Elias.

Roger Mangahas: “Parang putol-putol na pelikulang nagdaraan sa aking isipan. Ang walang isang taong pagsasama natin na kung bagamat maikli ay waring napakahabang tuhog ng alaala. Matatamis at mapapait. Ngunit sa kabuua’y makabuluhan sapagkat tayo’y nagmamahalan.”

(It feels like a serialized movie in my mind. Our young relationship, even though short-lived, seems like a lengthy memory. Bittersweet. But in the grander scheme of things, it was worthwhile because we love each other)

Dayang-dayang and Elias
Dayang-dayang and Elias

In August 13, 1974, Roger was freed — weak and underfed, but still alive.

The circumstances were still difficult for Roger and Fe to start a family together. They were extremely broke and could not find any secure job after being blacklisted from the university.

Fe and Roger fell in love during an inconvenient time. There were abusive authority figures who arrested, abused and tortured them for their beliefs. They lost their jobs after being tagged as activists. Heck, they even lost their first child. Any couple would have faltered easily under these challenges but Fe and Roger stuck with each other through the end. Four decades later, here they are, still together, still in love. Fe even became a Commissioner of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

It wasn’t even romantic love that bound them together, they said. It was their undying love and passion for the country that did the trick.

Activists turned lovers. Love against all odds.
Activists turned lovers. Love against all odds.

[Entry 48, The SubSelfie Blog]

Editor’s Note: The author first featured this story for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho.

About the Author:

Hon Sophia Balod

Hon Sophia Balod is a storyteller. She is currently a News Producer of special reports and features for Balitanghali, Saksi, and State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She is also a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for Basic and Advanced Investigative Reporting. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.

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