08 September 2012

Mondo Marcos, and a martial law fiction reading list

Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, edited by Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (Anvil, 2010)

Walang subersibo dito. Bakit magiging subersibo ang katotohanan?
(There's nothing subversive here. Why will the truth be considered subversive?)
Dekada '70

Mondo Marcos is an anthology of short fiction, essays, and poems looking back on the years 1972-1986, when the Philippines was under the iron rule of the dictator president Ferdinand Marcos right up to his ouster by the People Power Revolution of 1986. It is a companion volume to the Filipino anthology of the same title and with the same editors. The writings in these two volumes are distinct from each other, not translations.

I maintain my impressions of the Filipino anthology, and I think that these apply as well to this volume. The two Mondo Marcos anthologies are a mixed set of writings, particularly the fiction section where brilliant works sat alongside the humdrum.

But the editors certainly knew how to put their best pieces up front. The English anthology started with an outstanding story ("When Dovie Moans") written by R. Zamora Linmark, just like what they did in the Filipino volume where they started with the eye-opening "Kulto ni Santiago" by Kristian S. Cordero. Linmark's story was about a crude aspect of the "Marcosian" – the president's maintenance of his macho public image through his publicized sexual relationship with his mistress. The story was taken from Linmark's novel Leche which came out last year. On the strength of this excerpt, Leche immediately landed on my wish list.

Another wonderful, and linguistically playful, story from the collection was the one from Cesar Ruiz Aquino, "The Diaries of Mojud Remontado: 55 Days in Dumaguete". The influence of Borges was evident in this story's imaginative, intertextual, and metaphysical handling of the epistolary form, creating effective layers of inquiry from the journal entries of a writer who was seemingly shielded from the reach of history. I would bet there are plenty more contemporary stories by Filipino writers that were as good, if not as better, as these by Aquino, Cordero, and Linmark. Their stories made me doubly aware of my neglect of excellent writings right here at home.

"Engine Trouble" by Robert J. A. Basilio Jr. had all the makings of an absorbing suspense story. It was about a man hired to assassinate the senator and once political prisoner Benigno Aquino Jr. Despite a promising material, the pedestrian language of the story failed to capture a sense of inevitability to the plot. His use of bland metaphors partly hampered its telling. But overall I still found it a good short story. It's my third favorite in the volume. The rest of the stories did not engage me as these ones I mentioned. There was, to me, a sense that the remaining pieces fell prey to either too little effort at imagination or too much nostalgia (i.e., the pining for popular childhood television fares of the period, like robot cartoons). In fact, popular culture seemed to be the entry point of some of the stories, essays, and poems in the two anthologies. Nothing wrong with that; a totally valid approach. But then again, capitalizing on these familiar markers without saying anything new creates a danger of trivializing the imaginative experiences in a critical historical period like the Martial Law years. If all that the filters of memory could provide were itemized lists of cultural references, they worked less as powerful synthesis of injustice than as misplaced nostalgia.

Regarding the essays and poems in the volume, I would say that, like the ones contained in the Filipino volume, those included here were particularly strong. The variety of subjects in the personal essays alone formed a very balanced view of an era fraught with personal and collective disappointments and hopes. The essays, and a good proportion of the poems, saved the two anthologies from being mere exercises in nostalgia. They were not only informative and personal. Their very tones were critical. And the critiques did not end with the past. They went beyond their years, beyond being "Marcos Babies" of their time, to speak their minds to contemporary readers.

* * *

Reading Mondo Marcos at least spurred me to searching out other works that imagined this "world", this era. It motivated me to explore works of fiction based on, inspired by, or set during the martial law years in the Philippines. So I came up with the list of "martial law in fiction" below.

The list was confined to fiction because for me there is something in the imaginative frame of fiction that sets it apart from other genres. There is that strong element, let us say the sympathetic element, that enables the novelist (or short story writer) to critically, conscientiously imagine characters, their class status, plot, setting, time frame, and their interplay beyond the field of the novelist's own experiences. There is in fiction a more pronounced application of empathy. In her selflessness, the (ideal) novelist seeks a fair amount of altruism as she builds her fictional system. These are what I want to look for in martial law fiction: sympathy, empathy, altruism.

Another thing, perhaps the main thing, why I'm particularly curious about going through this reading list is that I am a part of this period. I belong to this period and yet I do not know it. I am a "Marcos baby", in sickness and in health. Whether that collective name is appropriate or something necessary to adopt, I can't say for now. In any case, having been born in a province a safe distance from Manila, the seat of political power, I grew up in my own world ignorant of many things that happened during the martial law years. I grew up in the shadow of this time. I had never been an active participant. I knew learned the basic story, but I felt left out. I wanted to know the finer details, the living stories, the unexpurgated history.

I was particularly inspired in this direction by W. G. Sebald whose essay "Air War and Literature", in On the Natural History of Destruction, was a stinging critique of the inability of German writers to write about air bombings in postwar Germany. Like Sebald, Anna Funder, in her revealing work about the reign of the German Democratic Republic in Stasiland, defined the primary role of political literatures to preserve memory and reveal the atrocities and abuses of a repressive regime. Filipino writers during and after the Marcos administration had fortunately several works, more than 40 books, to show for it. Key works on the subject were published during the tumultuous period itself. More impressive was that the writers are still not bored with the topic. The dictatorship of Marcos is still being mined and related fictional works have appeared in the past few years. Our writers are still writing about the martial law. And we are prompted to ask: how good are they? How true are they? Which ones contribute to a critical understanding of the Marcos years? Which ones deserve to be read?

This brings me to another motivation for this long term reading project. I am also interested in the ways a certain work dramatized its "aesthetics of resistance", estetika ng paglaban (after Peter Weiss's novel). What is the framework behind a writer's story, behind her prose style and compositional choices? Why did she write it in the first place? What did she want to accomplish with it? More important: what should the reader look for, or look out for, in judging the truth values of writings of this kind?

I seldom read fiction under the lens of literary theories and political ideologies, especially in those works falling under the rubric of "national literatures". But now it appears they can't be escaped when one was primarily faced with political novels. The discontent of the working class beginning in the 1960s, their labor movements, was said to be one of the reasons for the declaration of Martial Law in '72. Novels during and prior to the martial law, in the '60s up to the early '70s, supposedly had strong emphases on political and power structures. They were said to be characteristic of the period of unrest which culminated in the First Quarter Storm of 1970. So the struggle of the proletariat, along with modern forms of colonialism, is one robust framework to gauge the quality and success of these works.

Other reasons for this reading list and reading project:
– the nonfiction list is very long; most of the nonfiction books were voluminous and boring; a handful of them were propaganda materials
– a good excuse to read more from the Filipiniana shelf
– Writers who wrote and assimilated their critical writings during martial law must be given their due. They were a brave bunch. They wrote at a time when activists (including writers, journalists, and students) who opposed and resisted the military dictatorship were harassed, jailed, and tortured. Some were 'salvaged'. Others went into exile. Some were forcibly 'disappeared'. Their writings were either censored or banned. But then again, the novelist F. Sionil José said in one of his essays something about the complicity of several writers with the Marcos regime. Then again some writers opted to keep silent, or to write 'harmless' novels that did not offend the government. But only those writers who resisted the injustices of the dictatorship through their actions and writings, those who essayed the plight of the victims and the underdogs, have claims to being called real Filipino artists. With this reading project I hope to be acquainted with them through their books.

The list below is a work in progress. My online search for titles was rather cursory. I got great suggestions from online friends and reading sites. Thanks to Karlo, among others. The titles are limited only to fiction in English and Filipino languages. My cut-off date is 1971, a year before Proclamation 1081 declaring martial law 40 years ago, in September 21, 1972.

I have only read four titles from the list: Cave and Shadows, Lualhati Bautista's defining novel Dekada '70, and the Mondo Marcos anthologies. Four more titles are currently on my shelf; a few more are accessible to me. Many titles are still found in bookstores but some texts may already be out of print.

The years given refer to the date of the first edition. I wanted to include only works that explicitly deal with the Marcos dictatorship, but that would be a very limited list. Thus, I included some titles that can also be considered “martial law fiction” in terms of metaphor and in their verisimilitude and background. Further suggestions are welcome.

MARTIAL LAW IN FICTION (updated April 2014)

Lagablab ng Kabataan (Fire of Youth) by Fausto J. Galauran (1971)

Madilim ang Langit sa Bayan Ko (Dark Are the Skies Over My Country) by Mercedes Jose (Liwayway Magazine, 1971)

Ano Ngayon, Ricky? (What Now, Ricky?, 1971), in Kung Wala na ang Tag-araw / Ano Ngayon, Ricky? by Rosario de Guzman-Lingat (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996)

Mga Buwaya sa Lipunan (Crocodiles in Society) by Celso Al. Carunungan (1971)

Satanas sa Lupa: Nobelang Pangkasalukuyan (Satan on Earth: A Novel of the Present) by Celso Al. Carunungan (1971)

Nangalunod sa Katihan (Drowned in the Shallows) by Fausto Galauran and Gervasio Santiago (1971)

Mga Kaluluwa Sa Kumunoy (Souls in the Cesspit) by Efren R. Abueg (1972; reprinted by University of the Philippines (UP) Press, 2004)

Panakip-Butas (A Poor Substitute) by Benjamin Pascual (1972)

Sigwa: Isang Antolohiya ng Maiikling Kuwento (Storm: Anthology of Short Stories), eds. Mila Carreon Laurel et al. (1972; reprinted by UP Press, 2007)

Canal de la Reina (1972) by Liwayway A. Arceo (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1985)

Ito ang Rebolusyon (This Is Revolution) by Clodualdo del Mundo and Gervasio Santiago (1972)

My Brother, My Executioner by F. Sionil José (1973)

Ginto ang Kayumangging Lupa (This Brown Soil Is Golden) by Dominador Mirasol (1975; reprinted by UP Press, 1998)

Dread Empire by Linda Ty-Casper (Heinemann, 1980)

Hulagpos (Breaking Free) by Mano de Verdades Posadas (Palimbagang Kubli, 1980)

The Apollo Centennial by Gregorio C. Brillantes (1980)

Utos ng Hari at Iba Pang Kuwento (King's Behest and Other Stories) by Jun Cruz Reyes (New Day, 1981)

Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh by Antonio R. Enriquez (University of Queensland Press, 1981)

The Praying Man by Bienvenido N. Santos (Cellar Book Shop, 1982; New Day, 1982)

Cave and Shadows by Nick Joaquin (National Book Store, 1983)

Mass by F. Sionil José (Solidaridad Publishing House, 1983)

The Monsoon Collection by Ninotchka Rosca (1983)

Dekada ’70 by Lualhati Bautista (Jingle Clan, 1984; Carmelo & Bauermann Print Corp., 1988)

Fortress in the Plaza by Linda Ty-Casper (New Day, 1985)

Awaiting Trespass by Linda Ty-Casper (Readers International, 1985)

Lumpen by Federico Licsi Espino Jr. (Limbagang Araro, 1985)

Wings of Stone by Linda Ty-Casper (Readers International, 1986)

Subanons by Antonio R. Enriquez (1986; UP Press, 1999)

Tutubi, Tutubi, 'Wag Kang Magpahuli Sa Mamang Salbahe (Dragonfly, Dragonfly, Don't Get Caught by a Bad Guy) by Jun Cruz Reyes (New Day, 1987)

A Small Party in a Garden by Linda Ty-Casper (Cellar Book Shop, 1988)

Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café by Alfred Yuson (Adriana Print Co., 1988; revised ed., UP Press, 1998)

State of War by Ninotchka Rosca (W.W. Norton, 1988)

Planet Waves by Eric Gamalinda (New Day, 1989)

Bamboo in the Wind by Azucena Grajo Uranza (Vera-Reyes, 1990)

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn (Pantheon Books, 1990)

Slow Burn by Sabina Murray (1990)

Sebyo by Humberto Carlos (Linang, 1990)

Gera (War) by Ruth Firmeza (LINANG/Mainstream, 1991)

Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda (Anvil, 1992)

Killing Time in a Warm Place by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. (Anvil, 1992)

Salvaged Prose by Emannuel Lacaba (Ateneo de Manila University, 1992)

Twice Blessed by Ninotchka Rosca (Norton, 1992)

Viajero by F. Sionil José (Solidaridad Publishing House, 1993)

Writings in Protest, 1972-1985, ed. Alfrredo Navarro Salanga (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1993)

Eating Fire and Drinking Water by Arlene J. Chai (Headline Book Publishing, 1997)

America's Boy by James Hamilton-Paterson (Granta, 1998) – history/nonfiction

The Umbrella Country by Bino Realuyo (Random House, 1999)

Edad Medya: Mga Tula sa Katanghaliang Gulang (Edad Medya: Poems on Middle Age) by José F. Lacaba (Anvil, 2000)

Paghuhunos (Shedding Skin) by Ellen L. Sicat (UP Press, 2001)

Walo at Kalahating Dekada ng Isang Buhay (Eight and a Half Decades of a Life) by Genoveva Edroza-Matute (Anvil, 2001)

Kung Baga sa Bigas: Mga Piling Tula (As With the Rice: Selected Poems) by José F. Lacaba (UP Press, 2002)

Letters to Montgomery Clift by Noel Alumit (MacMurray & Beck, 2002)

Mata ng Apoy (Fire's Eyes) by Domingo G. Landicho (UP Press, 2003)

Tilad na Dalit (Mga Piling Tula: 1973-1999) (Palindrome: Selected Poems: 1973-1999) by Teo T. Antonio (UP Press, 2003)

Banyaga: A Song of War by Charlson Ong (Anvil, 2006)

The Jupiter Effect by Katrina Tuvera (Anvil, 2006)

Desaparesidos by Lualhati Bautista (Cacho Publishing House, 2007)

Baby Jesus Pawn Shop by Lucia Orth (Permanent Press, 2008)

Martial Law Babies by Arnold Arre (Nautilus Comics, 2008) – graphic

Lihim ng Ultramar (Secret of Ultramar) by Rhod V. Nuncio (Numina, 2009)

XXth Century: 2 Plays by Malou Jacob (UP Press, 2009)

Gun Dealers’ Daughter by Gina Apostol (Anvil, 2010)

Mondo Marcos: Mga Panulat sa Batas Militar at ng Marcos Babies, eds. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (Anvil, 2010)

Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, eds. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (Anvil, 2010)

Underground Spirit: Philippine Short Stories in English 1973 to 1989, 2 vols., ed. Gémino Abad (UP Press, 2010)

The Activist by Antonio Enriquez (UST Publishing House, 2011)

Leche by R. Zamora Linmark (Coffee House Press, 2011)

Further reading: Alternative Histories: Martial Law Novels as Counter-Memory by Ruth Jordana Luna Pison (UP Press, 2005), “Against the Dying of the Light: The Filipino Writer and Martial Law” by Ed Maranan, and The Opposing Thumb: Decoding Literature of the Marcos Regime by Leonard Casper (Giraffe Books, 1995).


  1. Thanks for the mention. THis is a good list of martial law fiction. The only books I finished reading from the list are Dekada ’70 (which is one of my favorte novels), Cave and Shadows (also another favorite), and Killing Time in a WarmPlace (which I detested). Have yet to read the old tattering photocopy of Hulagpos. While there are indeed many notable works of fiction based onthe Martial Law experience, I have always wondered why none eventually grew to the stature of Rizal's two big novels on the SPanish colonial experience. Which is better, the ENglish or the Filipino Mondo Marcos anthology? Will try to secure myself a copy as soon as I get extra income. I naturally find non-Book Sale items expensive so it's better to make sure. :)

  2. I think both volumes are just about equal. They're both a mixed set. It would have been better if the editors selected the best pieces and came up with just one book. Only the essays are consistently strong.

  3. Thanks for reading the anthology that included my story. And thanks for mentioning my story as well.

    Robert JA Basilio Jr.

  4. You're welcome, Robert. Thanks for visiting the blog.