Remembering Martial Law (2)

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

WHILE military generals were Marcos’s enforcers of martial law, Solicitor General Estelito P. Mendoza was the benign face of the strong man’s regime in Pampanga.

Mendoza, legal braintrust of martial law, created wonders in the province. First, he reformed local bureaucracy, and second, he brought enormous infrastructure projects in all municipalities.

As Governor, the Marcos lawyer has tamed the ferocity of the military component in building the New Society. He had saved many radical militants and activists from detention, prevented what would have been summary executions, torture, and enforced disappearances. Despite his many achievements here, he lost a congressional fight against the former underground leader, Oca S. Rodriguez, the most awarded Pampanga elective official on record.


Most feared military officer in Region 3 was Col. Isidoro de Guzman. Pampango millionaires deferred to him and showed their obeisance by addressing him “Sir Ador.”

Once a wealthy couple invited him to a family wedding. They brought him an invitation card where the name “Isidro” instead of his real name Isidoro was written. The Colonel tore the card, threw it to the trash can, then berated the couple, “Pangalan ko lang hindi n’yo alam i-spell.”

A few prominent names surfaced during the martial law regime here. These were former Angeles cop-turned political leader Ruben Melchor and Rotarian Gener Lumanlan who played the role of dependable and trusted minions for General Tomas Diaz and USAF top brass at Clark. But the two deferred and feared the legendary Ms. Ceferenia Yepez, public affairs consultant of the US military. She can cause a cancelled pass or the grant of one if she desired.

When Gen. Gatan took over Diaz’s post, the most influential person in Angeles was businessman and massage parlor operator Romy D. Pascual. Gatan’s best friends in Dau were the PX magnate-couple Efren and Bien Hipolito.

You would know the few persons who were influential with military officials. They can secure you a Curfew Pass, then a priced status symbol, along with the much coveted VIP visitor’s Pass at Clark.

The VIP passholders look down on the bearers of the curfew pass. While the latter can freely travel at night they were unable to enjoy imported steaks at the Clark dining establishments.

The most envied individual circa ‘70s was the holder of both VIP and Curfew Pass. It means he was in the good graces of both the Philippine military as well as USAF officials.

In another level, it was the pride of the local family to have a soldier (a Private First Class, even) for a son-in-law or much better a single-striped USAF airman. The first is a guarantee against abuses by soldiers enforcing whatever decree, while the latter assures the family and the whole clan of continued supplies of US-made canned goods, Jim Beam whisky and blue seal cigarettes.

Consider that even lawyers and doctors in that era would say, “Yes, sir” to a lowly corporal in the PC checkpoint. The sergeants could shout at and order around big named businessmen when seeking assistance in military offices.

Popular destinations of Metro Manila visitors were Nepo Mart and the Dau market, the twin pillars of the PX industry in Pampanga.

Trading in PX merchandise, like drug trafficking, has its own intricate system. At times when US air force housewives could not find some grocery items in their Clark Commissaries, they would motor down Nepo or Dau.

They were certain to get the needed items at 15 times the dollar price.
Some Pampango golfer-playboys had girl friends from MAC-V wives. That was one for Laurel Langley Agreement. The US GI hits our girls at P200 a shot. That was for the MBA (now VFA).

Junior military officers at Camp Olivas had their watering hole at the Boliseum in San Fernando. The majors and colonels took to Angeles City, preferably at the Rajah Massage parlor of Romy Pascual or at the massage joint at the basement of Oasis hotel run by Eddie Antonio.

The non-coms frequented Eliong Bangsil’s Marisol Manor where they drank whiskey, regardless of source and quality. There they ogled lustily at singers Pilita Corrales in her long slit-dress, showing tender legs as she bent backwards, or amazed at crooner Carmen Soriano, then rumored to be the girlfriend of the dictator.

Marisol Manor was managed by Nonong Lumanlan, head of a rock group in, and later mayor of, Porac town. His assistant was the brash newsman Max Sangil who, even with his dapper plaid suits or evening wear, looked like a Mafia consiglieri.

With only so much money at that time, our BCDA director and former acting mayor (Max), was already a ladies man. He spent his salary on pretty starlets who were hired performers at the Club. Nonong, his cousin, went after the stellar guests -- the highly paid chanteuses whose allure arouse soldiers’ passion and rowdy drunkenness.
When newspapers closed down immediately after martial law and the sources of reporters’ income languished along with bankrupt local officials, Max and I pulled influence over some PC officials who granted us permits to hold special cockfights. We sold the pricey permits to derby promoters. As Max counted his share, he was very happy. “Mas maganda pa ito kaysa magbilang ka ng column inches sa mga news reports natin,” he said. Local newsmen were then paid by the number of column inches of their stories published.

In August of 1983 Max and I were returning from a Baguio trip. Somewhere in the Kennon road the radio broadcast the assassination at the MIA tarmac. The shot that killed Ninoy was the beginning of the end of the Marcos regime.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on September 24, 2012.


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