Motherhood during martial law: How daughters of former political activists are raising their own children
Giving birth to a child is a sacred moment for every woman, who can only wish for a life full of hope, peace, and security for their children.
For two daughters of former political activists, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law is a stark reminder of what their parents went through. It is their wish that their own children do not experience the same thing in the future.
Described as a "dark" period by many, the martial era was marked by over 3,200 extrajudicial killings, 34,000 tortures, and 70,000 imprisonments, according to Amnesty International.
When Maya* (not her real name) was welcomed into the world, it was under difficult circumstances, as her mother was a political detainee while pregnant with her.
Maya said that her both her parents were student leaders and community organizers. Fueled by their desire to end oppression and human rights violations and oppression, they both went underground after martial law was declared.
"When my mother was pregnant with me, she was captured and incarcerated for several months but was released before giving birth." Like a bird flying away, her name represents freedom.
Liway* (not her real name), a consultant, likewise has a very special meaning to her name because of her parents' history during Martial Law.
Liway's parents were active in the underground before they were arrested and imprisoned in a military detention center. Her mother probably would have spent a longer time in detention, if not for her.
"Both of my parents at the time were still boyfriend and girlfriend when they were detained. They got married in prison and my mama got pregnant,” Liway said.
"As it turned out, na-release si Mama dahil sa kanyang pregnancy. They gave me my name because ako ang naging release papers niya.”
Motherhood in prison
Maya confessed that the topic of her mother's detention is not something they talked about much. However, from their sparse talks, she distinctly remembers her mother saying she was tortured in prison.
"This included 'pompyang' which caused her hearing disability. Up to this day, she tends to raise her voice when she speaks because of her hearing impairment," Maya said.
In a Senate resolution filed by the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on alleged torture methods used by the Philippine police and military, ‘pompyang’ or cymbals involves slapping both of the victim's ears simultaneously with great force.
This was just one of the forms of torture during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Others were electrocuted, sexually abused, and buried alive.
I feel gratitude and immense respect for my mother. It is not easy being a woman, let alone a mother during those dark times. It must have taken immense courage and conviction to continue fighting for what one believes in and protect the growing child inside you at the same time.
"I myself was born with a severe hearing disability. My left ear is totally deaf. I am not sure if my development as an infant was affected because of my mother's stay in prison," Maya adds.
Fortunately, her mother was released on humanitarian grounds before she gave birth. In Maya’s words, "A prison should never be a place for a mother and her unborn child."
"I feel gratitude and immense respect for my mother. It is not easy being a woman, let alone a mother during those dark times. It must have taken immense courage and conviction to continue fighting for what one believes in and protect the growing child inside you at the same time," Maya said.
Liway similarly felt great respect for her parents for staying strong despite what they went through. Her mother had been arrested twice during martial law. Instead of being demoralized, she went on with the fight until she was arrested for a second time, this time with her boyfriend.
Liway recounted that her parents were put in isolation, and kept in separate cells in one building. One of the dangers they faced in that situation was that they could be taken any time to another location for interrogation.
To solve this problem, they came up with a way to communicate through music.
"Ang ginawa nila ay may mini-concert sila tuwing alas-kwatro ng umaga. My papa would start by whistling a tune. Tapos sasagot si mama with a song like I Wanna Be Free. Dahil matahimik pa kapag madaling araw, nadidinig nila ang isa’t isa. That way, they were able to check up on each other,” Liway said.
"'Yung parents ko kasi, instead of sharing just the dark experiences of life under martial law, pinadaan nila by telling their love story. 'Yun 'yung paraan nila of sharing it with their grandchildren in a way na hindi sila magtrautrauma. Kasi ang gusto nila that we learn from their experience of what happened during martial law, not be afraid of it. Kasi if you're afraid of it, hindi ka na makikinig, hindi ka matututo" Liway said.
While her mother was released in 1979, her father stayed in prison for several more years.
Growing up during the height of martial law
Maya, now a visual artist in her 40s, has only vague memories about the period as a child, but she remembers how difficult life was back then.
"I remember being poor during the martial law regime. I felt the day-to-day struggle of my parents just to make ends meet. My father came from a wealthy family, but he chose to live the life of a writer and activist," she said.
Years after the 1986 EDSA Revolution that led to the exile of the Marcos family in the United States, Maya recounts attending a reunion of activists together with her parents.
Kasi ang gusto nila that we learn from their experience of what happened during martial law, not be afraid of it. Kasi if you're afraid of it, hindi ka na makikinig, hindi ka matututo.
It was there that her mother saw a comrade who was with her in prison. She told Maya that she was glad that her friend had gotten married and was happy with her foreign husband. When Maya asked why, her mother explained that the woman was gang-raped in prison.
"The details are horrifying," Maya said. "Up to this very day I cannot imagine how Filipinos, no matter their political affiliation, could do that to their compatriots, or even how a human being could treat another human being that way.”
She continued, "Cliche as it may be, with great power comes great responsibility. And in this case, great accountability. No one should get away with the atrocities committed during martial law."
Growing up as a child of political activists during martial law also posed challenges for Liway. She was only five years old when she learned about her parents' grim experiences.
"Familiar ako doon sa nakulong sila. I guess hindi ako nashock, pero ang masasabi ko rin na hindi siya madali na maging anak ng isang aktibista, kasi iba talaga sila mag-isip. Iba ang mga points of view nila," Liway said.
Because of this, her eyes were opened to the reality of politics in the Philippines.
"You learn not to take things at face value. Kailangang alamin mo talaga kung ano ang totoo," Liway said.
Lessons from the past
Despite being born during the Martial Law era, Maya and Liway have chosen to free themselves from the pain of their past, but never forget it.
Being a mother of two girls herself now, Liway wants to make sure that her children grow up informed and mindful of their family's history.
She shared that her children were shocked when they learned about the torture experienced by their family's close friends and relatives during martial law. This is why they were very much disturbed by the results of the recent national elections that has returned the Marcos family to power.
"First time voter kasi 'yung eldest daughter ko, tapos umiyak siya sa mama ko at nag-sorry. Umiyak rin ako nung time na 'yun. Sabi niya sa lola niya, 'I'm really sorry that we were not able to prevent them coming back'. Naiiyak ako tuwing naiisip ko 'yun kasi at her age, swerte na alam niya kung ano 'yung ginawa," Liway said.
She also admitted that she could not bear the thought of her children becoming activists and going through the ordeal her parents had gone through, but that she would still support them if ever the time came.
"As a mother, I don't think I’d be able to bear it, because unfortunately, I know what happened. But if it turns out that way, as a mother, I have no choice but to support my children. Even if I don’t like it, I have to be supportive because they will not be doing anything wrong. They will just be fighting for what every Filipino deserves,” Liway said.
"Hindi ko siya iwiwish to any parent na maging aktibista ang anak, pero kung maging aktibista ang anak ko, I will be there for them," she added.
Liway hopes that her children will always side with the Filipino people, value their nationality, and always be critical thinkers who give importance to research in a time of disinformation.
We discuss and debate. My kids are often more opinionated than me. Especially during the campaign period, they would post and share their thoughts on social media. I find this brave of them as the oppression and harassment of the State is now also found in the digital arena.
Like Liway, Maya is also a mother of two children. She admits that the life her parents gave her during her youth was not something she would choose for her own children. Even so, she learned from them that "everyone can be heroes in their own way."
Maya's past is never just the past since it is part of who she is as a person. So she ensures that her children are well aware of their family's personal as well as the country's history, by discussing with them politics, social issues, and current events.
"We discuss and debate. My kids are often more opinionated than me. Especially during the campaign period, they would post and share their thoughts on social media," Maya shared.
"I find this brave of them as the oppression and harassment of the State is now also found in the digital arena. I would like to think that I have helped raise good and courageous persons," she added.
She wishes that her children will never lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel during dark times.
Maya urges them, "Seek and speak the truth. Know our history. Know who you are. And. Never. Ever. Forget."
Since the start of September, Filipinos have been commemorating the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law with protests and other educational activities to raise awareness and inform people on Philippine history and to fight disinformation.