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Literature / Dekada '70

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Pronounced Dekada Sitenta, this Filipino novel was written in The '80s by author Lualhati Bautista, depicting the struggles of a typical Filipino family trying to survive the Martial Law regime under the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which defined most of The '70s in the Philippines, for which the novel is named. The novel revolves around the five-child, solidly middle-class, Manila-based Bartolome family, headed by the conservative breadwinner Julian, and The Narrator Amanda, who has to balance her role as disciplinarian to her five sons with an inner feminist spirit encouraging her to find work—to support the family, yes, but also for her own sense of fulfilment.

Adapted by director Chito S. Roño into a 2001 film starring Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon as the Bartolome parents, Amanda and Julian (respectively). Piolo Pascual and Marvin Agustin play the two eldest children.


This was the Philippines' entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the 76th Academy Awards. A theatrical musical adaptation was released in 2020.

Compare Mass, which also critiques the Marcos regime and the imperialist U.S. support of it—but notably, it does this already before the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Fun fact: Lualhati Bautista herself translated Mass into Tagalog.

Relevant Tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: In the movie, Gani was about to do this while on the phone with his girlfriend—in full public view in the living room—when Amanda comes in and smacks him upside the head. The next time she catches him on the phone, he vehemently says: "Di ako nakahawak!" ("I'm not touching it!")
  • Adult Fear: Imagine raising five children in the middle of a dictatorship. Any or all of them could one day disappear in the night without prior warning and for no apparent reason, and you're faced with the sadistic roulette wheel of seeing them jailed, tortured, and/or killed, or simply never seeing them again, among other options. Plus, they're mostly minors—and boisterous, outspoken boys at that—so they don't act or think very maturely, and thus are always at risk of doing or saying things that could easily make them a target by the regime (doubly so if they're out of your sight, and teenagers will do anything to get away from their parents!). Whether it was intentional or accidental doesn't matter, and even if your kids have no obvious political activities or leanings whatsoever, even if they're actual children, they're all still fair game. Not to mention all this was a full generation before cellphones or email or instant messaging, which means if they have no access to a telephone (as is most likely the case for Jules when he goes out into the provinces), they're as good as gone.
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  • Banana Republic: Although set in Southeast Asia (but then again, it was a Spanish colony too for 300+ years), the Philippines under Martial Law is effectively this, with the Marcos dictatorship insidiously monitoring and brutally suppressing all opposition, including the rebel movement which Jules joins and Eman supports, and making the country a corporate playground for multinational (usually American) Mega Corps and a welcome mat for the U.S. military, in the form of the giant bases. Even apolitical, civilian, children aren't spared the damage, as Jason's murder tragically shows.
  • Beach Episode: The Bartolomes are shown in one scene vacationing at a secluded beach. One good thing about the titular decade is that—compared to The Present Day—Philippine beaches are at least relatively pristine and unmolested by vast hordes of tourists, and so they feel intimate and private.
  • Berserk Button: For Julian, Amanda deciding she wants a job. For Jules, Gani deciding he wants to join the U.S. Navy.
  • The Cameo: Major TV personality Kris Aquinonote  as a student activist during the First Quarter Storm in 1970, making her very distinctive shrill voice heard through a megaphone.
  • Les Collaborateurs: When Gani announces his intent to apply with the U.S. Navy, his elder brother Jules—who has in the meantime become an anti-American activist—wonders if he hasn't become this. Gani, of course, sees it differently.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Especially for the elder kids, notably Jules and Eman, who both become radicalised, anti-American, anticolonial and anti-dictatorship nationalists as the decade rolls through (and over) their lives, but the other boys' lives are drastically changed in this decade as well (as with Gani, who gravitates more toward the neocolonial Americans when seeking a job, at least in part because he has to support the family he accidentally created with his knocking up Evelyn).
  • Dead Guy Junior: Isagani was named after Amanda's favourite cousin, who died in the line of duty as a cop. (Though she doesn't say whether her cousin died before her son was born.)
  • Dirty Commies: The NPA (New People's Army, the armed wing of the new Communist Party of the Philippines note ) is the general scapegoat of the Marcos regime and its stated primary justification for declaring Martial Law, and is viewed with deep suspicion by the law-abiding middle class (like the Bartolomes themselves are), but its rank-and-file are humanised in the persona of Jules, who eventually joins it as part of his radicalisation process.
  • Eagle Land: Played with. The overweening flavour is Type 2, given Washington's support of the Marcos regime and American Mega Corps effectively monopolising Filipino production and consumption, which quite reasonably causes the radicalisation of Jules and Eman. Gani, however, sees a Type 1 Eagleland, noting (and this is Truth in Television) that joining the U.S. Navy will provide him a steady paycheck and benefits besides—not to mention a green card. Julian appears to see more of Type 1 in America as well, given he likely came of age in the "Liberation" of Manila during World War II, supports the (U.S.-backed) Marcos regime, and ribs Gani about bringing home fancy American imports (Blue Seal cigarettes in the novel, Johnnie Walker whiskey in the movie).
  • Electric Torture: Jules is put on the receiving end of a lot of this. But at least he survived—his friend Willy wasn't so lucky.
  • Evil Colonialist: Nominally, the Philippines might be "independent", but the United States—their most recent coloniser, which supposedly let them go in 1946—still casts a very long shadow over the Philippine economy, government, and society. The book goes into some detail about how foreign Mega Corps—many of them headquartered in the U.S.—control so much local production and swallow up so much in Filipino assets; Washington, meanwhile, is seen as propping up Marcos not least because he was an avowed anti-Communist, and because he at least guarantees the security of the enormous military bases in Subic and Clark, among others. The movie shows various student demonstrations pillorying the Americans as much as Marcos for their imperialist actions.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Take a guess what era this novel/movie is set in. Go on. Hint: It's not the 1870s.
  • Fascists' Bed Time: The notorious Martial Law-era curfew gives the Bartolomes no end of trouble when their boys stay out late at night. When Jason disappears, part of what makes the search for him so harrowing is knowing that if he's caught out of doors after midnight, the police will instantly arrest him—if not worse. (Eventually, of course, it comes to the worst possible conclusion—he's found brutally murdered.)
  • The Film of the Book: Originally published around 1982, adapted into a film in 2001.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Em—in Grade 5 at the time (i.e., 11 years old)—was once caught basically giving The Talk to a similarly young neighbour by explaining in detail how his family's cat got pregnant—and how it compared to human pregnancies.
  • Gratuitous English: The Philippines having been an American colony (and neocolony) for a while by this point, full English phrases and sentences appear throughout what is otherwise a mostly Tagalog novel. Code-switching between the two is also frequent. The same is true in the film.
  • House Wife: Amanda, at least until she gets the idea that she wants a job, and starts looking for openings in the papers, much to Julian's chagrin.
  • Ironic Name: Isagani. Supposed to be a Filipino name, but its bearer ends up applying to join the navy of the "neocolonial" Americans.
  • La Résistance: The New People's Army (NPA), which Jules joins upon his radicalisation via meetings with oppressed poor and student activists. Truth in Television that this radical leftist group ballooned in membership under Martial Law repression—it is often said Marcos himself was the NPA's greatest recruiter.
  • Massively Numbered Siblings: The Bartolome family has five sons: Julian Jr ("Jules"), Isagani ("Gani"), Emmanuel ("Eman" or "Em"), Jason, and Benjamin ("Bingo").
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Bingo's formal given name is Benjamin—the youngest of the brood, like his Biblical namesake.
    • Eman's formal given name is Emmanuel. Possibly he was named after Real Life rebel/poet Emmanuel "Eman" Lacaba, part of the activist Lacaba family, who was killed at a young age in the middle of Martial Law.
  • Melting-Pot Nomenclature: English or generic Western, Hispanic, Biblical and native-Filipino names, all in one family, not to mention the names of their friends and colleagues.
  • No Warrant? No Problem!: The Metrocomnote  roll up to the Bartolome house and demand to search it without a warrant, forcing Julian and the boys to immediately burn any materials in the house that could be construed as remotely suspicious. Justified since, as a Police State under the Marcos dictatorship, the cops wouldn't bother with warrants anyway.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Jason goes missing for a long while and is finally found violently murdered. Suspicion is high that the regime was responsible, even if he had no or minimal political motivations, unlike his elder brothers.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: Gani is an interesting male example because he spends a lot of time on the phone with his girlfriend (to the point of nearly engaging in phone sex … until Amanda catches him).
  • Police State: The everyday reality for a family living through Martial Law, which covers nearly the entire decade (and part of The '80s as well). Its long, brutal tentacles come to affect the Bartolome family in various ways, initially with cops searching their house without a warrant, then eventually torturing Jules and murdering Jason.
  • Puppet State: The radicalised Jules and Eman (as well as their friends and colleagues in the university and rebel movement) fervently believe this is all the Philippines really is: a puppet (and not even a particularly subtle one) of the United States, with its Mega Corps draining the national economy and its government propping up Marcos and having free rein on the giant military bases. Truth in Television.
  • Shout-Out: To Khalil Gibran. Part of his poem "On Children" makes an appearance, in Tagalog translation. The book mistook him for Indian, though.
  • Slice of Life: Basically typical family life during a dictatorship.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Julian is adamantly against Amanda's looking for a job, and feels insulted she would consult one of his male friends about it.
  • Standard '50s Father: Julian. Despite the setting being the 1970s Philippines rather than 1950s Americanote , he fits most of the personality markers: he's uptight, conservative, dresses snappily in a shirt and tie for work, wears glasses, often reads the newspapers at home, gives platitudes and moral advice to his sons and discusses politics with his male friends, and gets genuinely offended when his wife attempts to look for a job—he feels insulted by this because he interprets it as her thinking he isn't doing enough for the family as it is.
  • The '70s: Well, duh.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Gani is forced to marry his girlfriend Evelyn when he knocks her up. There were no shotguns involved, but her father's word is as good as any firearm in this very hierarchical, family-oriented and elder-dominated society.
  • The '60s: Begins towards the tail-end of this decade, with Marcos seeking a second term (unprecedented for a Philippine President until then), and the boys being introduced as still young, fresh-faced, and relatively apolitical, just dealing with the pressures of family, childhood and youth (e.g., kite-flying, dirty songs, high school, crushes and prom dates, among other things).
  • Traumatic Haircut: Jules gets one in the film when the Metrocom interrogate and torture him. He's shaven the next time he gets to see his family—which is at Jason's funeral.


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