First published in Manila Today, November 25, 2016.
I was a few months old when my grandmother took me away from my mother because I was getting sick inside prison walls. I grew up with my mother’s loving family, but my childhood away from my parents was not easy. I would always look for them growing up, but I was made to understand that it would be dangerous for them and for me if we were together.
I would see them at times and those were the happiest moments I had. It would always be emotionally traumatizing and painful when they had to leave. They would tell me that our situation was special and that they would always be with me in my heart. I couldn’t fully understand the reality we were in, but I had to swallow what grief I had as part of the struggle.
We could not mention my parents’ names in the open and would only use code names.
There were times that my titos and titas would hide me in the car just so I could meet my mama and papa in discreet hiding places. We would move from place to place. I would go with my parents to secret meetings and sleep on their laps just so I could be with them.
There were times I would just listen to the radio they left in our room wishing I would hear from them. “Breaker….breaker…this is little 123.” I would keep on calling out to them when I missed them terribly but would not get a response.
One time, I saw my papa cleaning a gun in the room. There was one time my mom suddenly arrived in the house scared and anxious after escaping armed men running after her in motorcycles. I could not forget her bursting into tears after we saw on the news that my father got caught. I remember visiting my father in prison in Cebu and seeing him thin and emaciated with quite a number of political detainees stuffed in a small prison cell. My father was tortured when he was captured. Both my parents were in and out of prison in my early years. I remember throwing tantrums and bawling by the gate because my mom had to leave and go to the mountains.
My mama and papa never stopped at making me feel loved even when they were miles away. They kept sending me letters folded so small we called them “chicklet,” just to tell me they loved me.
I remember spending time in Bicutan (detention center for political detainees) with other children whose parents were there. There we had art classes, karate classes, climbed trees, ate aratilis and took care of pigeons just to give us a sense of “normalcy” when there was none.
I was one of the “lucky” ones at that time. There were those whose parents died, those whose families were massacred and those who saw their families killed in front of them. There was even one child who was left with people who would feed him along with the pigs (a real account).
I grew up living a life of fear. I was afraid because my parents could die at any time. I was lucky I never had to face horrible news like that.
I was only able to finally be with them when they resurfaced when I started college. Even then, there would be times that my mama and papa’s safety would be threatened. Until now I am still making up for the lost time.
No child should grow up living in fear. But because of the Marcos regime and even years after that, we Filipinos had to live in a time of struggle against violent oppressors.
We should not let this happen again. How can we forget when the wounds have never really healed and the cancer we see in our society continues to oppress the majority of our nation.
We can never forget. I continue to live with the consequences of that time. We continue to live with the consequences of that time.
Issa Manalo Lopez is a theatre director-actor-filmmaker-acting coach-educator-contemporary dancer. She is interested in applied theatre and pursues work that engages socio-political issues. She is a graduate of BA Theatre Arts in UP Diliman and a Certificate Course in Advanced Motion Picture Production in MDAFI (Marilou Diaz Abaya Film Institute and Arts Center).