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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 Character 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 2002 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 began running in 2018, and a fully-English translation simply titled The 70s, written by Clarisse B. de Jesus and self-published by Bautista herself, followed in June 2021. In January 2022 Bautista publicly revealed that international English publisher Penguin Classics had taken notice of her novel and was considering republishing the English translation for an international market, though progress on that is currently up in the air ever since she died in February 2023.

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: The novel came out first in 1982, so the decade had just passed at the time.
    • Period Piece: Applies more to the film version, which came out in 2001, and the musical adaptation in 2020, almost 50 years removed from the start of the decade.
  • Anger Born of Worry: This comes naturally, especially to Amanda, doubly so as she struggles to keep her sons safe and disciplined—both of which become more and more difficult the more they grow up.
  • Bait-and-Switch: A very tragic one. Viewers are made to expect that Jules will eventually get caught, tortured and killed for his activism and NPA involvement. He does get caught and tortured—but he survives and he's released to his family. It's his apolitical younger brother Jason who vanishes one day and is found gruesomely murdered.
  • 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, undeveloped, 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.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: In the movie, Gani was about to masturbate 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!")
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Par for the course under a Police State, but here are some of the highlights:
    • Jason's murder is horrific. His corpse was discovered stabbed several times, his balls somehow smashed in, his elbows, knees and legs severely scraped, and his wrists bearing wire bondage marks, indicating he was tied by the wrists and dragged for a long distance behind a car (a bit like Achilles dragging a dead Hector around Troy several times). It's not known whether he was dragged before or after he was stabbed, but it's really rather horrible either way.
    • Willy, Jules' friend in the NPA, was viciously tortured; apart from Electric Torture he seems to have had pressure applied to a bullet wound which he originally survived, any of these torture methods likely hastening his death.
  • 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, starts out trying to rationalise 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, or, in Gani's case, when he brings his girlfriend Evelyn over into his room—forcing his parents to drive her home in the dead of night, risking arrest themselves for not having a curfew pass. Later, 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.
  • Grey Rain of Depression: It starts more as a Grey Rain of Suspense, pouring torrentially during the search for Jason, and unsurprisingly keeps going when he's finally found as a murder victim.
  • Heroic BSoD: Amanda faints at the news of Jason's death.
    • Villainous BSoD: He's not quite exactly a villain, except insofar as he starts out somewhat rationalising the Marcos regime (and in fact later does take pride in his sons' willingness to defend their convictions even if these place them in opposition to the government), but Julian's outraged scream in reaction to the same news could count.
  • 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.
  • Intimate Telecommunications: Gani almost engages in this with his girlfriend, in the living room, until Amanda slaps his hand away and scolds him. Next time he's on the phone he's at pains to show he's "not touching it".
  • Ironic Name: Isagani. Supposed to be a Filipino name, but its bearer ends up applying to join the navy of the "neocolonial" Americans.
  • Karma Houdini: Jason's killer/s, whoever they were, whether state forces or private-citizen criminals.
  • 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.
  • Missing Child: Jason goes missing one day, and Amanda and Julian are put through the harrowing experience of inquiring of his whereabouts through various police precincts and prisons, very few of whom are able or likely willing to help. They eventually find out he's been violently murdered.
  • The Mole: One of Jules' close friends in the NPA, Domeng, is well-known even to his family that even Amanda is visibly shocked when Jules drops the bombshell that he turned out to be a military spy—a Constabulary sergeant who thoroughly infiltrated Jules' NPA unit and was feeding intelligence to his superiors all this time. Domeng blended in so well and made such trusted relationships with the cadres, Jules most of all, that the betrayal is really painful when Jules warns Amanda that their house needs cleaning, i.e., burning or purging of anything that might be remotely construed as suspicious, and thus subversive.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We, let alone Amanda and her family, never do find out who exactly tortured and killed Jason so gruesomely, though it's strongly implied the authorities did it. Except in the musical adaptation, where the cops torture and kill him and dump his body in full view of the audience.
  • 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). Evelyn, the said girlfriend, logically also counts.
  • Police Are Useless: At the same time that they're a repressive force, the Constabulary can't or won't do much to help where it really matters, as in the search for Jason when he disappears; one desk sergeant does point out that Jason was booked and detained in his precinct, but they released him without notifying his family. And, even if it wasn't state forces responsible for killing him, obviously they weren't able or willing to prevent that.
  • Police Brutality: Naturally to be expected under a dictatorship.
  • 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.
  • Red Scare: What really drives much of the momentum towards Martial Law. The government had always been staunchly anti-Communist—even if ironically its own abuses and neglect creates the equal and opposite reaction of the New People's Army—and the largely conservative Julian falls more on the regime side even as some of his own sons are driven to oppose it.
  • Released to Elsewhere: Enforced disappearances are standard procedure under the dictatorship. At least Jason's dead body was found—many other families in Real Life never got the satisfaction of even knowing where their loved ones' corpses ended up.
  • 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. He puts on a calm, stable facade as society expects of him (since women are "more emotional") but Jason's murder or "salvaging" by the authorities finally makes him break down into a tearful, despairing rage, screaming that "they killed my son!" ("Pinatay nila ang anak ko!").
  • 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 when next his family are allowed to see him.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer for the movie spoils Julian's breakdown and thus that one of the boys dies.