A great tool to help children (8 years old and above) understand Martial Law is this children's book, Isang Harding Papel (P95), by Augie Rivera with illustrations by Rommel Joson and published by Adarna House). It depicts that time in history through the eyes of Jenny who makes a paper garden as she awaits her mother who is detained in Camp Crame.
I was three years old in 1972 when former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 that put our country under Martial Law. I don’t recall my parents ever explaining to me what Martial Law meant, but I believe it is our obligation as parents to share with our children exactly what went on. What and when exactly though should we tell our kids about this terrifying time in our history?
A scenario kids will get Teenagers should definitely get the unsanitized version of our history. Tales of torture and abuse should not be censored or merely rounded up in a statistic if we are to honor the victims properly. Too many children are approaching voting age with incomplete information about their own country’s history, and that ignorance produces a very faulty foundation for democracy.
For children who are younger, you need to equate it with their daily reality to make them listen and understand. To a child who has reached third or fourth grade, the better analogy perhaps is of an unpopular but very strict teacher who turns her back to the class as she writes something on the board. Say someone throws something like a balled paper at her, and the class erupts in giggles. She doesn’t turn around fast enough to see where the paper came from and who laughed, but it is immediately clear to everyone the whole class is in trouble. How will she decide who is the culprit? Who will get the stick?
At this point, the storyline is straightforward and reasonable for a child. But we know Marcos’ Martial Law didn’t play out that way, and this is where it becomes a little trickier for the parent.
Tell your son or daughter how the teacher may use those who have been troublemakers in the past as a basis of her decision on who is the offender. She automatically sends those “notorious” children to detention. To send a strong message to sympathizers, she may start singling out those children in the class who are close friends or groupmates of the troublemakers and punish them, too. If anyone dares to ask why or to declare his or her innocence, then he will get an additional punishment as well. After all, no one is allowed to speak up in Martial Law!
The analogy can go even further with the teacher conducting her own little investigation by calling students one by one, forcing each child to identify who threw the paper ball, exactly who laughed, or smiled impertinently. It spawns an unending cycle of suspicion and punishment, a witch hunt where questions and complaints are not allowed. Children nearing 10 years old will be able to relate as to why this isn’t fair, but they may still fall short of the fear that Martial Law should command. So it’s time to up the ante.
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Also for kids 8 years old and above is Edsa (P95), a story by Russell Molina about the events that led to the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. With illustrations by Sergio Bumatay III and published by Adarna House, the book is a tool for remembering and learning how ordinary Filipinos stood up to a dictator to fight for democratic freedom.
Introduce the concept of power In Martial Law, tell your child how power lies in one person, and it gives him the reason to dictate…everything. He will control people’s thoughts and words. How? Ask your child to imagine a situation where every channel on TV only showed programs that the man in power--the dictator--chose for the audience. Any show that would give people ideas on how to challenge him, even if it was something as unrelated to politics like a movie of a robot fighting an alien, is banned. Instead, the dictator will put on documentaries about his great childhood or the efforts he has done for the people.
Go on to describe how the dictator will find ways to control every word that could be printed in newspapers, magazines or even school textbooks. If he wanted to invent stories about doing great things, he will just ask writers to put it in the newspaper, and they would have no choice but to do so. If he got word that a journalist planned to write something negative about him, that reporter will simply disappear the next day (snap your fingers for effect).
Then go for the coup. Ask your child to imagine how the dictator will control the WiFi password for the entire country and decide to share it only with his friends. Everybody else’s Internet connection is down. Armageddon indeed.
In simple, accessible terms, you have painted a picture of Martial Law to your child. The whole idea seems very distant from our reality, yet with the world more than ever prone to suspicion and chaos, we can’t discount the possibility that it could happen again. The full repercussions of bringing back Martial Law should be clear not just to us but to future generations as well.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.”
Chary Mercado is an education consultant for teens who spends an inordinate amount of time driving for, negotiating with, and fussing over her two children, aged 16 and 12.