The Philippines was touted “as among the richest and most advanced countries in Asia in the early 1950s” only to be surpassed by its neighbors in the decades that followed.
By the time I was growing up in the mid-1970s, at the height of martial law that then President Ferdinand E. Marcos imposed in 1972, the Philippines was described as the “Sick Man of Asia.”
Back then, I had no idea what that meant.
What I remember was the daily morning commute in my father’s Volkswagen Brasilia from our rented apartment on Maria Gochan St. to Inmaculada and me wishing for summer to come. And because I was a kid, I wasn’t aware of the economic and political turmoil that was simmering under the façade of normalcy during that period.
After Grade 5, my whole family left for abroad. We would come home every two years or so to visit. In other words, I wasn’t here when things “took a turn for the worse.” I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic because, let’s face it, this is the Philippines. And what they say about life being more fun here continues to have a certain ring of truth. In other words, even though some political pundits had painted a very bleak picture of the country during this time, I frankly didn’t notice because I was here on vacation.
My outlook didn’t change even when I was forced to return to the country when I was in Grade 11. “Forced” because I didn’t want to leave Ecolint in Geneva, Switzerland for Brent, an international boarding school in Baguio City. But packed my bags I did in the autumn of 1985. And boy was I in for a great culture shock.
Mind you, I come from a very middle-class background. Although my grandmother ran a thriving carenderia business on Urgello St. and my father was an “expat,” I never considered our family to be rich. Yes, we traveled to Europe and the United States, but that was one of the perks of my father’s job. I had never known anyone who lived in Forbes or Dasma or who had hung out at the Polo Club until I went to Brent.
My life had become so far removed from what I was used to, it felt like a dream. Of course, I had to wake up eventually. I couldn’t ignore what was going on outside the school. There was growing unrest that culminated in the Edsa Revolution in February of 1986.
Anyway, my point is not everyone suffered while Marcos was in power. But that doesn’t mean people didn’t disappear or weren’t tortured or killed for going against the regime because thousands did. Even in the midst of my then sheltered life, I knew something momentous had happened when the dictatorship fell.
I should know. I was there. Partying.