Earlier this year, online debates popped up all over the Philippine end of Facebook. Friendships called it quits, comment threads turned nasty, and the entire thing got so toxic that I wasn’t sure if things would blow over even after the winners were announced.
(Spoilers: They did, but not entirely.)
What struck me however, was how much Martial Law was discussed, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. For one, Ferdinand Marcos’ son had decided to run for Vice Presidency and while doing so, used his father’s legacy to bolster his platform. For another, candidate Rodrigo Duterte drew heavy parallels to the late ex-president, since he advocated iron fist-like methods and was also running for the Presidential seat.
This is where I think 12:01 comes in, as a way to educate the public in an accessible format. It tells the story of a group of friends who are stuck after curfew during the Martial Law Era, where arrest and other violent atrocities would follow if you were caught violating a government mandate. In 12:01, Russell Molina and Kajo Baldisimo are courageous in not omitting the cruel realities of this era, and it is also commendable that they do so in a non-violent telling.
A quick disclaimer: This article is NOT spoiler free. You should exit now if you want to read the comic first. Otherwise, read right on ahead!
The comic opens with a band in concert, and a flashback to the beginning of their career when they had just finished a gig. The group belatedly realizes that it’s 12:01. It’s past curfew and they have to a find a place to stay or get caught.
The friends decide on a printing press and conveniently, one member of the group realizes that the press is his dad’s old workplace. This is followed by an awkward exposition of how this character’s father — an editor — was arrested and dragged out of the office for criticizing the Martial Law Regime. The entire scene comes across as heavy handed, yet it does its job in illustrating how freedom of speech was stomped on during those years.
Soon after, the group runs across a jeepney driver who helps them out. Once again, conveniently painted on the ceiling of the vehicle is the driver’s daughter who one band member recognizes. She wasn’t just a friend – she was also a protester who was taken away for speaking out against Marcos and his Martial Law. The scene felt so surreal to me. However, I realize that the authors’ purpose was to drive home a message, which it clearly does.
The chase then continues and the band is eventually blocked by the police. In a deus ex machina moment, the residents of the street they’re cornered in start banging their pots and pans as loudly as they can. The police are spooked, give up, and run.
At this point, Molina and Baldisimo try to impart to readers that amidst adversity there is hope. Interesting fact: The banging of pots and pans was an actual tactic used during the protests of that era. However, said tactics were more to support Marcos’ opposition — the Aquino party — instead of scaring away corrupt lawmen.
I have my qualms about the pace of the story and the use of song lyrics. I also believe this whole comic would have done better story-wise in a multi-issue format instead of single, thin volume.
I admit, I disliked the manner at how this comic was written. The shorter format allows the writers to gun the story without apologies, giving quick accounts of how Martial Law was through a narrative that is easy to follow. By no means though, is it completely cohesive. For one, it’s very in your face. I feel it throws the anti-Martial Law message at readers at the expense of good narrative and dialogue. This makes it feel very rushed and slightly claustrophobic. To tell the story in 47 pages with this much (too much) crammed in, leaves less emphasis on good development and more on a propaganda-esque take of storytelling.
As an avid comic reader, I tend to pick apart stories and their writing. I will always enjoy good writing, and I don’t think this was completely achieved here.
I can see though, the necessity of how and why it was written this way: Komiks in the Philippines have always been a way to tell a story – whether absurd or realistic. With 12:01, Molina and Baldisimo do their best to tell the comic audience (a good majority of whom are composed of teens and 20-something so-called millennials) what they have fortunately never experienced.
I’m 24 and part of this skew in demographic. I never had a curfew imposed by the government. Growing up, I may have had restrictions imposed by my parents, but their punishments were less severe than that of policemen who have forgotten what humanity feels like after being given absolute power.
What I therefore find significant in the narrative is the depiction that freedom of speech in the press or otherwise was clearly oppressed. Those who expressed opinions were silenced by their deaths, because dead men tell no tales. People would go missing for having thoughts and ideas which ran contrary to what Marcos thought would threaten his power. In fact, during that terrifying period, this very article might have landed myself — and likely the rest of the writing staff — behind bars, or worse.
While many people clamored their support for Duterte and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. citing freedom of speech as their god-given right, I think it’s important to point that the very claim of freedom of speech would not exist if Martial Law were still in effect.
It might be hard to believe, but small, seemingly insignificant tweets such as “Curfew Sucks” would be considered criticism; and jail and torture would immediately be around the corner if you didn’t run fast enough. Even more frightening to consider: what if it was one of your followers who snitched about you. That was the reality of the time.
After the elections, President-elect Duterte made the announcement that bounties are on the heads of criminals involved with drugs. That said, it’s hard not to feel like we might have landed ourselves in the same spot.
Duterte plays on two things: first, that many people in this country are still poor; and second, that there are those who are desperate for justice and money. Shooting a criminal becomes associated with easy money after pronouncements of bounties. This comes at the cost of parties who may not be involved, but get caught up in it anyway due to bad information or plain greed.
It’s sad to know that many of my generation — and even those who are old enough to recall what Martial Law was like — root for this kind of “justice”. And while there are claims that selective amnesia is why people have forgotten about the horrors of Martial Law, I also think it stems from a lack of educational reform where our history is concerned.
This photograph from textbooks in schools made its rounds recently:
It’s a piecemeal article on Ferdinand Marcos, and actually glosses over what he did during his presidency. In a handful of paragraphs, he is seen as strict but benevolent, leading our country forward to prosperity, so much that we were comparable to the success of Japan’s economy.
This textbook entry given to children in school practically erases the experiences of those for whom Martial Law was a time of terror. It omits research done to account for the billions of pesos that found their way into the Marcoses’ coffers. Billions, which belong to the citizens of this country and were acquired by no legal means. To put it bluntly: this reads like alternative history fanfiction. That makes it even more distressing, because of the reality we Filipinos live in, and how this is what many children have and will grow up to believe. Hell, even my mom thinks this snippet is true.
So, what now?
So maybe the comic wasn’t a good read, but it does speak volumes of what many do not know or have forgotten. It’s also an accessible source of media and a good resource for education if employed through the right means.
A kid who likes comics could learn about history and see what some schools have neglected to teach. I admit, it would have been great if 12:01 had been distributed during the elections to counterpoint people who cried foul, claiming theft and cheating throughout the electoral process.
That said, no matter how short, heavy-handed, or crammed 12:01 is, I want to emphasize that this comic is a voice speaking for those who lost their voices during Martial Law. Because it speaks in a time when our voices can be heard, and where the authors make no apology in order for us to remember.