Words and photography by: Andie Perez
My Lolo was an illustrator for the largest media company in the Philippines. He would sketch caricatures of people at ease and master different writing styles with a delicate hand. Lolo never believed his art was perfect, only good enough. But he had been satisfied with his position. A mixture of fun and work.
But in 1972, when Lolo was 27 years old, everything changed.
The dip pen he holds disappears, followed by the bristol papers scattered across the desk. Soundlessness replaces a sharp thud when a metal ruler falls. The studio lights flicker off and will not turn on for another 14 years. Outside, people are abducted, tortured and exiled if they disobey the newly introduced Martial Law by Ferdinand Marcos. Martial Law will change his career trajectory and role as breadwinner. The objects vanish, and so does he, slowly. It happens after the alcohol, arguments with my grandmother, and the several naps throughout the day.
Lolo never truly recovered under the Martial Law. He was always there for his family, but he grew increasingly distant, withdrawn, and unable to support them as well as he once did. Lolo’s story is not unique in some ways. Poverty and hardship were rampant during Martial Law — silent obedience was the way to survive. On the contrary, supporters of Marcos like to cite the infrastructural achievements built during the period. Yet, because of how Lolo suffered, it’s difficult for me to see the name Marcos in a positive light. All I think about is pain.
Last May, Ferdinand Marcos’ son, Bongbong Marcos Jr., won the Filipino election in a landslide victory. He promised to bring back the Golden Era that his father began and remains close friends with the authoritarian-leaning former president, Rodrigo Duterte. My parents sit at the dining table, unfazed. They claim this is expected; wealth and political families go a long way in the Philippines.
The atrocities that occurred during Lolo’s time seem to be erased by the Marcoses’ powerful social media presence. According to BBC, Marcos Jr. had enquired with Cambridge Analytica about a rebrand of their family name online, of course, to show them in a better light. As many Filipinos receive their news on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, manipulating the algorithms can change opinions and attitudes as quick as a flash. People start to recall the better parts of the Martial Law. But the trauma stays repressed, deeply embedded in their bodies.
And it has worked. I cringe at remixed TikTok edits about Marcos Jr. with his teenage sons and fans that espouse their love for them with heart-shaped emojis. On Instagram, well-known internet celebrities endorse him as if he were another one of their sponsors. Lolo would have sworn at the TV if he saw this. Like many others, I have worries over the Marcos Jr. administration, and whether he will repeat his father’s mistakes, or if he will carry out leadership with the same intensity of Duterte’s ruthless war-on-drugs campaign.
Lolo passed away before I could meet him. I try to make sense of that time in his life by assembling the scattered pieces of stories and photographs into a coherent timeline. Nonetheless, I feel that there is still an element of mystery about him because I know so little. But learning more about the political history of the Philippines during his lifetime has made me garner immense empathy for him. Even if Marcos Jr. has successfully won the presidential campaign, many Filpinos will still have poignant memories of the past — just like Lolo.
The memories of my Lolo evoke a sense of sacredness within me, and I would never want to erase his pain and hardship.