“Martsa ng Bayan”, Jesús Manuel Santiago

One of the best perks I have gotten from this job so far is getting to watch poet and protest musician Jess Santiago perform Martsa ng Bayan live.

I first heard the song while doing press work as a campus reporter more than 10 years ago. Although I was only around for Edsa Dos and the rallies that led to it, it (and a bunch of posters protesting UP budget cuts) was one of the few things I took away from my short time as an activist.

I never thought I would get to hear the song sung by the man who wrote it 30 years ago. Or that I would get to hear him sing “lansagin ang pasistang diktadura” in front of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, former Defense minister for that diktadura.

Enrile at a lunch commemorating the junking of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement 20 years ago

The song was written in 1981 for a rally in Baguio City. Supposedly, that was the first time that anti-Marcos groups from different sectors came together. I was either a baby or a baby-in-waiting then, so I do not know if this is true.

Santiago says he wrote the song and forgot about it until he heard it again at a rally after Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated in 1983.

Enrile testifying in 1983 at an official inquiry into the Aquino assassination (Filipinas Heritage Library)

Nagulat ako kasi marami na palang nakaka-alam. Nagulat ako, yung mga madre, nagmumudmod sila ng hindi lang ng lyrics. May music sheet pa. May nota pa. (I was surprised because a lot of people knew the song. They were giving away the lyrics. They even had sheet music),” he says.

Talo pa ako. Hindi ako marunong bumasa ng nota (I couldn’t even read the notes).”

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