By Audrie Bernas
SEPTEMBER 21, 2019 —Lest the whole nation forgets what a fascist regime looked like when Martial Law was imposed 47 years ago, it is also crucial thought how music carved an emotional uprising in the backends of our conscience and consciousness as a people.
Considered to be one of the most turbulent periods in the country’s history, the era saw the rise of many social and cultural commentary presented in the art scene. Perhaps music remains to be its mysterious counterpart. To what end did artists unsparingly define a tyrannical rule?
Overt, radical protest songs bolstered a channel of consensus in the anti-Marcos movement.
But in the altar of anthems, it was “Bayan Ko” that resembled the musical prayer of the time. It saved souls from the purgatory of indifference, so much that it washed away the original sin of the Adam and Eve of viper politics in Malacañang.
The song would later stir a choir of freedom-loving Filipinos who gallantly recited the lyrical praise of “Bayan Ko” and its promise of democratic ressurection that culminated in the tumultous Edsa People Power.
It was deemed seditious by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos when he imposed Martial Law in 1972. Public performances of the song were banned, with potential arrest and detention as punishment.
But the more the song gained infamy among the higher ups, the more the masses equally returned the favor. In 1983, the people trooped the streets for Sen. Benigno Aquino’s funeral, belting out the anthem, and again in 1986 with OPM legend Freddie Aguilar leading the crowd.
The sound of resistance
Music’s role in the public sphere during the Martial Law years can be described as a set of protests by those who resisted the dictatorship, in the same breath as how films empowered the ideals of a revolution against the repressive administration.
Political communication has long been a part of civic engagement over the years, with artists intermixing their own treatment. Issue-wise, the songs back then were deeply visceral in shooing away whatever pestered the mother land—be it corruption, tyranny or modern colonization.
In Joey Ayala’s “Wala Nang Tao Sa Sta. Filomena,” he lamented the ingrained threat of displacement among the Lumad peoples or the indigenous tribes that resided in the mountains. This could be traced to Marcos troopers who hamletted innumerable villages across the country for market-driven acquisitions.
“Pagka’t wala nang tao sa Sta. Filomena
Walang aani sa alay ng lupa.
Nakayuko ang palay, tila bang nalulumbay”
Released in 1981, seemingly an ode for farmers and their displaced lands, the song recounted the story of villagers who have fled their homes and livelihood to save themselves from the soldiers, who ironically vowed to protect the people, somehow a narrow depiction of militarization in their land.
Another blunt memoir of unsparing criticism against the Marcoses was “Oras Na,” an historic medley from protest singer-songwriter Coritha. It resonated among street parliamentarians, particularly in the persona of Satur Ocampo.
“Ang takot ay nasa isip lamang,” as Cory Aquino quoted the song in her 1986 People Power speech. The song revolutionized the Filipino psyche, subsequently echoing the people’s longing to spew the venom of vehemence that palmed and paled the strongman and his ilk: Tama na, sobra na!
The song resurfaced at the high point of Joseph Estrada’s ouster in 2001. The singer herself even rendered the song in front of 100,000 rallyists at Edsa Shrine. Indeed, the masa’s musical expressionism is really timeless.
Broadening the scope of discontent and protest against the economic injustices committed by the Marcos regime, the political currents between that fateful date in 1972 and 1986 saw sweeping numbers of shifts in social actions and artistic expressions.
Parallel with the activists’ movements was the conjoined, galvanized culture of nationalism. “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy,” from the so-called “protest” band Banyuhay, carries the trademark assessment that we are no one’s slave, not even the Marcoses who kowtowed to U.S. hegemony for personal interests.
With the strengthened cultivation of activism and the growing number of reformists and its radicals, anything that smells of Western peopling and pretension is a threat that has to be addressed in poem and protest, as well as mantra and melody.
There may be no direct connections as to how the song began to mandate dissent among the masses. But it grew stronger by the day, with the song becoming a figure of identity.
“Dito sa Silangan, tayo’y isinilang
Kung saan nagmumula ang sikat ng araw
Subalit nasaan ang sikat ng araw
Ba’t tayo ang humahanga doon sa Kanluran?”
Forty-seven years later, the music that defined a generation remains the same.
But now, the uprising is more than protest or performance.
It is a song that feeds the emotional ear.
And rids the people of political fear.