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In Philippine parlance, a "martial law baby" is someone born between 1972 and 1986, during the martial law era under the Marcos administration. Martial law babies form a generation who have grown up in an environment where graft and corruption is rampant, where the police, military, and government are universally distrusted and where free speech and free press are nonexistent.

The declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 also brought with it the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. The writ of habeas corpus states that any arresting body had to produce the body (corpus) of any jailed offender, whether dead or alive. Basically, suspending this writ meant that people started disappearing, without any explanation or reason, merely because they were overheard speaking against the government, whether in writing or in public. Nobody knew where they went, or even if they were dead or still alive. At best, you could get some minor government functionary to tell you "they're at Camp Crame", which meant they were undergoing interrogation and/or (most likely and) torture.

The military posted "secret marshals" - plainclothes policemen working undercover - almost everywhere, to root out "communist rebels planning to take over the government". Everybody could be a suspect.

I remember when I was six or seven, playing by myself in the yard. I'd excavated a largish hole behind some rocks, and I'd unearthed a box, containing a wallet. In it was a badge, and a name. One of the waiters working in our canteen was a secret marshal. Being all of six or seven, I didn't know what that meant at the time, but the feared words "secret marshal" overrode any curiosity I had - I buried the cache again.

I had no idea at the time that my family was under police surveillance. I didn't tell anyone (although now I realize my father had a pretty good idea where things stood; he was always careful). It wasn't until a few years after Marcos was overthrown that I came upon old, yellowed copies of Silangan in our basement before I realized that my parents had ties to the underground, that my father was an activist in college, and was thus marked by the government with "suspicion of collaboration with the communists".

I had no idea what it meant when we had to memorize, in addition to the national anthem, several other songs, extolling the virtues of the Bagong Lipunan (New Society). I didn't understand, back in grade school, why we were repeatedly taught that communism was evil, that our government was good, and if the government wasn't there, then Aquino and his commie friends would fly in and drop bombs on everyone.

I had no idea why the words "Senator Aquino assassinated at Manila International Airport" were scrolling across the bottom of my Scooby Doo cartoon.

But I learned, slowly. By the time I was in high school, I had a pretty good idea how things worked. I knew what it meant when they abolished Scouting and replaced it with basic military training; the increasingly desperate (and paranoid) government was planning on using us as frontline troops in event of a Communist attack on the city. Twelve-year-old children, practicing rifle drills and how to move in bounding overwatch.

I understood why there was only one newspaper, and why all the TV news programs all showed the same stories. I understood why my classmate, whose father had been imprisoned in Camp Crame for years, burst into tears whenever his name was mentioned.

And when the revolution came, I understood enough to know which side of the barricades to stand on, and why facing down the tanks and the helicopters and the soldiers was needed, and why sometimes, defying the government wasn't evil.

Now? I still can't meet a cop on the street without getting the urge to cross and walk on the other side. I still can't pay my taxes without unconsciously subtracting how much would go into some politician's pocket, instead of the roads and services I should be paying for. I can't look at a jail and not believe that most of the inmates are in there without a proper trial.

But there's always hope. My classmate in high school? This May, her father's running for Congress.

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