There is within us an unconscious identification with people our own age, a loyalty unspoken yet readily felt. Thus, when I see young people leave excitedly the portals of their schools, I could not help but recall my generation that long ago underwent the very same rite of passage. Where and how are they now?
My generation grew up in a fast-changing world, one brimming with contradictory currents being in transition from the old to the new. We were the children of the radical sixties, the adolescents of the conservative seventies and the young adults of the shifting eighties. We went through a wider spectrum of experiences than what other generations after World War II could ever hope to undergo in their formative years.
Those old enough to understand the unfolding events tend to look back with fondness at the liberalism and relative prosperity of the pre-martial law years. But my generation did not have that luxury. The sixties was a haze to a mind more perceptual rather than analytical and conceptual, after all, a child’s intellect is mainly interested in the observation of particularities rather than in the comprehension of generalities that determines maturity.
Thus to me, the aftershocks of the Cuba and Vietnam wars and the rebellion of the youths of the “Age of Aquarius” were only reflected in fragmens: a demonstration of student activists in front of Abellana High, the gang name “Bloody Che” scrawled in bold red on the fence of our City Central School and the portrait of Ernesto “Che” Guevarra silkscreened on our bags.
Our barkadas then were more interested in kites, spiders, marbles, Lucky 9 and Japanese game than in the serious business of societal transformation. I remember the family phonograph and our neighbor’s jukebox play Eddie Peregrina and Victor Wood songs and our radio set tuned to Diego Salvador, Agent 006, Amorsola and Mayor and Andal.
Then there were the action stars Fernando Poe Jr., Roberto Gonzales and Jun Aristorenas, the comedians Dolphy and Chiquito, kontrabidas Max Alvarado and Romy and Pacquito Diaz together with Django, Tarzan and James Bond in films and Popeye and Brutus on television.
To be sure, others of my generation had their own particular experiences. The diversity, though, was limited by the parameters set by the prevailing external circumstances. In a sense, the liberal sweep of that age must have somehow left a mark upon our subconscious because of its remarkable imprint on our nation’s history.
My generation’s real growth occurred the moment its intellect blossomed and the laws of nature and society were gradually being comprehended: during the seventies. This coincided with the shift from the disquiet of the sixties to the conservatism and relative normalcy of the martial law years. We are, therefore, a generation of synthesis, product as we are of the thesis and anti-thesis of historical evolution.
Less able to internalize the trauma of the forcible abnormalization of the political process, my generation went through government’s attempt at social transformation with minimal compulsion. I was still in grade school in September 1972 and was more curious than afraid of the prospect of seeing tanks (which never came) patrol the streets. But life remained the same, save for the easing up of tension after law enforcers seized the firearms and drove away the hoodlums from our sitio.
We were among the recipients of the attempt to propagate Martial Law values summed-up by the slogan, “sa ikakaunlad ng bayan disiplina ang kailangan,” and the ideology of “revolution from the center.” The critical phase of our existence saw us concentrating in our studies, following rules and regulations and adjusting to the prevailing mode of living. Politics and activism receded to the background and we made do with activities that were within the bounds of moderation.
I dropped from Science High, transferred to Southwestern University (SWU) and there learned the value of study. Then I went through some of the most memorable episodes of my life.
I could still recall the face of that mestisa classmate of ours, a member of our dance troupe, who later became popularly known as Alma Moreno. Then there was the youngest of those lovely Dejoras sisters who got a starring role in a Visayan picture (was the movie Veronica?). Another popular figure was the sister of actress Chanda Romero.
Ours was generally a clean batch—–marijuana use was still sporadic and shabu was unknown. My high school gang later learned to drink and smoke but fortunately within tolerable limits.
We went for the falsettoed Bee Gees, Stylistic and Mary McGregor, the rock stars Alice Cooper and Fog Hat, the Manila Sound exponents Rico Puno, Cinderella and Hotdog, the Pinoy folk and rock advocates Asin, Coritha, Mike Hanopol, Wally Gonzales and Sampaguita and even Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban.
It was the time of the Youth Development Training (YDT), the Citizens Army Training (CAT), the Youth Countryside Action for Progress (YCAP), the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) and those tree-planting schemes.
To a certain extent, we were a guinea pig generation: years before we went through the so-called mass progression experiment and got such vague grades as US, MS, S, VS, and Ex (for unsatisfactory, moderately satisfactory, satisfactory, very satisfactory and excellent) instead of the normal rating system.
There was, during this period, a seemingly gradual convergence between my generation’s intellectual growth and the step-by step emergence of the political polarization of society. We entered college in the latter part of the seventies and at an age ripe enough to comprehend and tackle the responsibilities sought by the then rumbling social volcano.
Slowly outgrowing our adolescent ways, we developed an outward perspective as the national fabric was marred by discontent. The youths of the sixties had aged and it was our generation that was called upon to take over. While majority floated with the tide, the other chose to tread unfavorable grounds.
Politicization started slowly at the close of the seventies and accelerated in the eighties.
We reorganized and reactivated the youth organization in our sitio, then went full blast into community affairs involvement through the newly organized youth federation, the Kabataang Barangay (KB). I first tasted politics when I ran and got a seat in the council of the KB chapter in Sambag II.
The 1987 election was another fresh experience and we became part of the youth campaign arms of various candidates. It was also during this period that the underground left gained headway in the province and elsewhere.
While I relate the seventies with the academic fervor we poured into it, I associate the early eighties with the extra-curricular dynamism I went through.
Perhaps, the sixties in our subconscious asserted itself when we responded to the prevailing external circumstances. Some of us chose to lead the student protests in what might be termed as the sixties all over again–almost. Ours was an activism different in the sense that it took time to evolve and was tempered by the lessons of the past.
Here we should dwell on the divergence of views.
Those of my generation who were socially involved chose either the extreme route or the path of moderation. The more radicalized left the mainstream of society and went underground. The others filled the ranks of the Edsa spectrum. The rest remained loyal to the new society values they grew up with while the non-ideological majority followed the normal road of school, job and marriage.
The politics of discontent could be seen in the integration of Pinoy folk music into the activist culture. Banyuhay ni Heber and Asin’s message were rediscovered and Freddie Aguilar rose to the occasion.
The counter current was rock’s New Wave and the re-emergence of the drug menace as some of our peasants began to discover marijuana as a farm produce. But my generation was then fortunately into the more serious side of life.
We left college near the middle of the eighties when the tumult of an intensely polarized nation was intensifying. The lucky ones found decent jobs and began setting-up their own families.
As manpower export gained ground, many went abroad in search of the gold life. The others merely drifted while the rest continued involving themselves in the tasks of social transformation.
There is in the passing of the years a mellowing of our perceptions especially at that certain stage when the burden of individual responsibility gets heavier. The transition from the carefree days of youth to living within the parameter of family and occupation makes one recede from the limelight of societal concerns.
My generation went through this transitory phase when the nation underwent another political shift in February 1986 and later when it got into the process of rebuilding.
There was a certain degree of ambivalence as the decade drove to a close. For those of us who were at the forefront of the struggle for change, there was an initial optimism that was later transformed into disillusionment. The others chose to continue hoping. Still others pursued their crusade. The rest took everything in stride, became indifferent to politics and concentrated on their own individual day-to-day concerns.
And the future?
I describe the eighties as a shifting decade because of the speedy transformation it brought upon the nation and the world. That development is spilling over to the nineties. A new era is unfolding in the sphere of world community restructuring and science and technology advance.
We are at the dawn of a new age needing a concomitant adjustment in our perceptions, values and practices.
My generation is now waiting in the wings, more in the midst rather than at the helm, more in the periphery rather than in the inner circle of leadership. We are now in middle level posts in farms, factories, offices and even in the ranks of the rebels. We are continuing to learn, to grasp the essence of life, to form a definite view on how to turn the course of the nation.
To be sure, my generation has long been past the formative period when the prism used to view societal developments was still being manufactured. We might not be old but we have definitely matured in terms of having formed our own initial views of what the nation is and ought to be. These views may either be strengthened, weakened or reformed as the years unfurl.
Judging from what we’ve been through and what we are still going through, I would say that the future is secure. For my generation no longer is the carefree one that believed that life floated with the kites, fought with the spiders and smiled with the fortunes set by those Lucky 9 cards.
We already exhibit telltale signs of age in our foreheads–the scars of the battles won and lost in an age brimming with contradictory currents.When we will finally be asked to take over, we will bring with us a new dimension of leadership borne by the lessons of the past decades.
Today, as it sit back and recall the youths of long ago excitedly leaving the schools to face the challenge posed by society at large, I feel both sadness and pride. Sadness in remembering those juvenile frolic and pristine joys of innocence, and pride, yes, pride in seeing them go through the best and the worst that life could offer with flying colors.
If only for that, my generation will forever be where it has always been–in my heart.
–Candido O. Wenceslao
Sun.Star Weekend, 1991