There were about eight of them; my father woke me up as gently as he could, and I found myself staring into the barrel of a carbine. I was being arrested, they said, for violation of the anti-subversion law. I thought they were exaggerating; I wrote manifestos and such, and I was 18; I was a flea.
A few days later we were trucked off to a new “detention” site — the Ipil-Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio… We sat on benches in the evening and watched the Marlboro sign in the Guadalupe skyline. Sometimes, it almost seemed serene. There was terror roaming about the country, and it would reach us with every new incoming batch, and now and then someone would get picked on by the guards and beaten up…
Most of us would eventually be released under one amnesty or other. My own deliverance walked straight out of Kafka: one day in August, an officer arrived with a sheaf of papers, among which were mine. I was taking a shower when I heard my name being called over the PA system: “Dalisay, to the guardhouse!” The news, at the guardhouse, was always either very good or very bad. The officer looked at me and said: “Dalisay, are you still here? We have nothing on you. Pack your bags and go home.” I had been in prison for most of 1973 — seven months and four days — not bad, by martial-law standards.
The novel tells the story of every man, woman and child who lived during the time of martial law under Marcos’ orders. The internal conflict of every Filipino during these times, whose blood boils at being under the martial rule: voices suppressed, souls enchained and spirits crushed; and the human desire to stay alive, thus; silencing the inner cries that long to be heard and simply learning to survive.
The story starts with the protagonist, Noel Bulaong, reminiscing about his childhood days in his native land in Kangleong, somewhere in the Visayas region. He is on a flight going home from the US to bury his father. He reminisces about how he and his friends would pick up coconuts that fell from the tree and take these to a neighbor who would turn these into coconut candies: bucayo.
Fast-forward to college life in Manila where Noel decided to study. By his 2nd year in school, Noel was already among the students staging protests against the Marcos government and his martial law. This was introduced in the book via a protest being dispersed by the military,
In my second year of college, I ran across that field in a blind panic, hurried along by gunfire. The university was under siege by the military; we had set up barricades of commandeered tables, benches and chairs near the spot from where I had admired the study horses. We camped behind this makeshift wall, students and professors alike, listening to speeches and singing revolutionary songs. Our bones were cold, but our breath was warm. People talked of France and China and Vietnam. On the other side of the barricades stood Marcos’ assembled legions: truncheon-wielding riot police in khakis and cobalt-blue helmets, the army in fatigues, riding armored jeeps. All through the morning emissaries had crossed over from one side to the other.
Having survived this attack, Noel and his comrades settled in an apartment where they talked about the movement while in hiding. Noel by this time has decided to quit school. Talk of childhood days in their respective homes, family anecdotes and planning for counter-attacks took up most of Noel’s days, hidden in this apartment.
Fast-forward again to the future where Noel now serves as assistant to the Deputy Minister and writes his speeches, among other things. He has decided to leave the movement after being released from prison. He has lost contact with his other comrades.
Laurie, a former comrade in their apartment-hidden days ran into Noel one day and she has likewise decided to leave the movement. Perhaps both feeling misplaced, and disoriented, wanting to connect with each other in a way that would touch the persons that they used to be, Noel and Laurie made love.
But nothing came of this. They both decided it was too much too handle… too overwhelming an emotion that they wouldn’t be able to cope. They once again lost touch and last Noel heard, Laurie had gone back to the movement and is hiding in the mountains.
Their leader during their student-activist days, Benny, was also imprisoned and after pulling some strings, Noel managed to have Benny released. A few days later, Benny was found dead, floating in the river, eyes gouged out and signs of torture were evident. He was killed for being a traitor.
As the novel nears its end, Noel is depicted as a somewhat still misplaced soul, crying to be free from the restraints that society has enchained him with; and yet torn inside because he wants to remain alive. Alone, orphaned with the death of his father, orphaned with the burial of his beliefs and true self in order to survive, Noel ends his story on this note:
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
Killing Time in a Warm Place won the 1993 National Book Award for Fiction and was Co-Winner of the 1993 Palanca Grand Prize for the Novel, and Winner of the 1993 UP President’s Award for Most Outstanding Publications.