Martial Law Stories: I Did Not Have a Campus Romance

 A rare photo of Bibeth Orteza, with buddy Willi Inong, with Melba de Guzman and Phoebe Okol in August 1973 at UP Palma Hall. (Source: facebook)

A rare photo of Bibeth Orteza, with buddy Willi Inong, with Melba de Guzman and Phoebe Okol in August 1973 at UP Palma Hall. (Source: facebook)

Outside of my unrequited crushes — the poets Emman Lacaba, Nonilon Queaño, and Jimmy Abad, including a fleeting attraction for film historian Nic Tiongson — there was no one special in my college life. I walked almost daily from Palma Hall to Vinzon’s for lunch and back by my lonesome, watched a play or a movie only with friends if not family, had no one to snuggle with in rallies where Bal Pinguel cursed his best and the likes of Sonny Coloma and Gary Olivar were beginning to look guwapo (handsome).

Members of the State Varsity Christian Fellowship had partners to lean against with while studying the Bible in the greens at the back of the Main Library; but me, heck, I’d never been brought to the Lagoon to neck; I at one point ran there when no one was looking, rubbed mud on the seat and the hem of my jeans to make it appear that I’d been “Lagooned,” and therefore, no longer innocent.

“CC” must have destroyed it for me.

We were block mates as college freshmen in 1970, each other’s BFF way before the acronym. Among our usual topics of after-class discussion was how liberated women were getting to be, and that pretty soon, girls could be doing the courting,

"What do you think of that?" I asked him.

"If I liked my suitor well enough," he replied with the best of his Notre Dame High School charm, “I’d say yes.”

And I believed him.

 University of the Philippines’ Vinzons Hall (Source: wikipedia)

University of the Philippines’ Vinzons Hall (Source: wikipedia)

So, when future Marikina Congressman Romeo “Ome” Candazo (RIP) confided that CC liked me ("Gusto ka no'n, gusto ka no'n") I took that as truth, as well. With another classmate, also now gone, I visited CC in his parents’ house in Caloocan, not just once or twice; a few times I even brought him home, so he’d see how honest my intentions were.

But he turned me down.

He couldn’t tell me, to my face. He said so, in a letter he surreptitiously handed over in our block adviser Prof. Isagani Medina’s Philippine History class, parts of which went: “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I couldn’t handle a woman doing the courting. I can’t do this. But you’re a fine person. I’m sure you’ll someday meet a good man to be with.”

And that was it. From then on we stopped having our class breaks together; the short smoking trips behind the sandwich vendo stalls near the Main Lib ended like they never happened. I was so devastated, I told Prof. Medina about it. The good man chuckled, “Mga bata pa kayo, di pa tapos ang kuwento n’yo” (You’re both still young, your story isn’t over).

I was among those being trained by the Aletheia to write manifestos in English and Filipino for countless of student mobilization activities following the First Quarter Storm; I refused to face CC in organization meetings. I quit and swung to the other extreme of the political divide, and went from natdem to socdem (national democrat to social democrat).


Among our usual topics of after-class discussion was how liberated women were getting to be, and that pretty soon, girls could be doing the courting.

I LOL now, at the memory.

I ran for the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council (1971-72) under the Lakas Diwa’s Tuligsa party, and we won, a near landslide win, with all the guys in our slate being Atenistas.

But that we had handily won couldn’t be attributed to socdem superiority; neither could Manuel Ortega’s victory over Rey Vea, as university student council head.

A couple of days before council elections, the Diliman campus woke up swathed in slogans painted in red all over stairways, hallways, walls and blackboards, “Mabuhay ang Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas!” “Isulong ang Kaisipang Mao Tse-Tung!” Drawings of the hammer-and-sickle reached as far as the comfort rooms, more than enough to scare parents and students into banding together to elect a restrained and temperate student government, lest a repeat of the Diliman Commune occur.

The black propaganda was bruited to be the handiwork of pro-government elements in the UP Vanguards. The through-and-through moderates enjoyed their win; but some of us were not comfortable, especially when soon after the bombing of the Liberal Party Proclamation Rally in Plaza Miranda, President Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in August 1972, and Lakas Diwa leaders told us not to worry, because “We are the good guys, we have nothing to fear.”

A group of us left socdem ranks.

CC, well, I no longer knew where he was then. The activist rumor mill said he was already in the “service of the people,” but I had truthfully stopped caring.

I grew into a woman who did not have to be with someone to be happy, and took comfort in other campus activities, from the UP Mobile Theater, became founding member, then Chairman of the UP Repertory Company; member of the Consultative Committee on Student Affairs (ConComSA), the interim student council post-Martial Law; the UP Writers’ Club; Fellow to the 1974 Silliman Writers’ Workshop; and two-term staffer of the UP Collegian, under editors Diwa Gunigundo and Emmanuel Esguerra.

Years passed.

 University of the Philippines’ Palma Hall (Source: iskiwiki.up.edu.ph)

University of the Philippines’ Palma Hall (Source: iskiwiki.up.edu.ph)

I bumped into CC again, in a reunion, where my husband tagged along. CC looked at him, and whispered to me, “Pasalamat ka, binasted kita” (You should thank me for rejecting you).

In January of 2015, CC and I went out on a “date” and watched KM@50, a musical program celebrating the 50 years of the Kabataang Makabayan. Going down the van, he reached out to steady my gait, and took my hand. I pushed him away, and shrieked: “Ngayon mo ako hahawakan, kung kailan huli na ang lahat? ‘Tse!” (You’re going to touch me now when it’s too late!)

And he laughed. Really laughed at me, the fool.


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Bibeth Orteza: I’m still me and I’m still at it. Happily married, happily a mom.