In 1972, Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr. began his foray into the world of professional journalism by handing in a typewritten movie review at the Philippines Herald in Intramuros, Manila. It had been three days since he walked into the office for the first time and persuaded one of the editors, Nemesio Dacanay (who happened to be the only person present at that moment) into giving him a chance to apply as a writer. The Herald editors liked Dalisay’s movie review. Not only was he hired, but he was also assigned to fill up half a page daily for the newspaper’s features section. Soon after, he was made a general assignments reporter, a position that saw him going side-by-side with policemen to investigate nighttime chaos in the streets of Manila, travelling to Pangasinan on an amphibious ship to cover mid-year floods, and visiting the First Lady Imelda Marcos for an interview on her relief operations.
Dalisay was only eighteen at that time. He had stopped attending class at the University of the Philippines and sidestepped a career that could have otherwise herded him down the path of Industrial Engineering. “To be a reporter at that time was to be in the very womb of history,” says he of his youthful passion for the craft; “I thought nothing was more thrilling and more important than to be there in the frontlines.” Dropping out of college, to Dalisay, however, was not only about choosing journalism full-time. He left the University after completing only twenty-one units in order to be a full-time activist against the Marcos regime, a decision he made in the aftermath of the First Quarter Storm in 1970 and the Diliman Commune in 1971. Young activist-writers like him saw themselves at the helm of what they called the Second Propaganda Movement, evoking the memory of Spanish-period wordsmiths and reformists Rizal, Del Pilar, and Lopez Jaena. After a few months, Dalisay joined a group of strikers at the Herald and handed in his resignation. He then landed a job as a correspondent for Taliba under the Manila Times.
On the night of 22 September 1972, Dalisay was with a group of comrades and fraternity brothers at UP Diliman when he heard the crack of gunfire in the distance. He ran to the nearest telephone and called his boss, thinking he could pick up a scoop for the newspaper. “Nagbabarilan dito sa UP!” [“There’s a gunfight here in UP!”] he explained, but then his boss replied, “Tinututukan din kami dito. Wala nang diyaryo.” [“They’re pointing guns at us too. There is no more newspaper.”] Only then did Dalisay find out that Marcos had signed Proclamation No. 1081, setting the country under martial law. Earlier that same day, Marcos also ordered the taking over and control of all privately-owned media of communications through Letter of Instruction No. 1. In an instant, Dalisay and numerous other media staff across the country lost their jobs. In multiple other places, suspected subversives were waking up to ambush military raids and being made to surrender at gunpoint.
No place was safe for an Underground activist like Dalisay, least of all his home. This he confirmed while visiting his family for Christmas that same year, when a neighbor he had shared a beer with turned out to be a military informant. Dalisay spent the next seven months in Fort Bonifacio with other political detainees, many of them just as young as him.
Nearly twenty years lapsed between Dalisay’s release from prison and the year his semi-autobiography, Killing Time in a Warm Place, was published. Twenty years, he explains, allowed him time and distance to finally make sense of his experience during martial law, to confront and unravel the ways by which the period had dragged his strengths and weaknesses into full view, and how it had distorted many a relationship between parent and son, between friends, and between compatriots.
Killing Time chronicles the growing pains of a university dropout who yields himself fully to the far Left, finds himself in prison for “subversion,” and comes out at the other end working as a public relations writer for the government he used to resist. It tells of youthful idealism, of the loss of faith, of being forced to choose between life and death at a tender age, and of guilt.
Dalisay accepted a job offer as a writer for the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in 1973, fresh out of prison, when few opportunities for writers existed outside government service. The job entailed writing speeches on economics delivered by the President himself. Dalisay left the agency in 1983 and joined the EDSA People Power movement in 1986. He pursued a career in teaching and creative writing and for it has achieved an abundance of awards in the Philippines and abroad.
Martial law retains a significant weight in the recent works of Dalisay. Writing about it functions as a sense-making process and a bridge to redemption. With his words, he pierces the dictatorial regime – no longer with the passion of a young man of eighteen, but with the hindsight of a veteran. His insights and reflections are for Filipinos to use, that they may lift from his words some value and significance for their times.
 Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr., “Penman No. 161: To Be a Journalist,” Pinoy Penman 3.0 (blog), August 10, 2015, https://penmanila.ph/2015/08/10/penman-no-161-to-be-a-journalist/.
 Arlene VCD Palisoc Romualdo, “Beloved writer and professor Butch Dalisay retires after 35 years of service,” January 22, 2019, https://up.edu.ph/beloved-writer-and-professor-butch-dalisay-retires-after-35-years-of-service/.
 Dalisay, “Penman No. 161.”
 Ibid.; Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta, “Butch Dalisay on killing time in prison with Bencab, working under Brocka, and writing for Marcos,” August 24, 2019, https://news.abs-cbn.com/ancx/culture/books/08/24/19/butch-dalisay-on-killing-time-with-bencab-in-prison-working-for-brocka-and-writing-for-marcos.
 Ibid.; Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr., “Penman No. 13: Random Reflections on Martial Law,” Pinoy Penman 3.0 (blog), September 24, 2012, https://penmanila.ph/2012/09/24/penman-no-13-random-reflections-on-martial-law/.
 Dalisay, “Penman No. 13;” Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr., Killing Time in a Warm Place (Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 1992), 139.
 Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr., “Penman No. 72: Martial Law in Three Filipino Novels,” Pinoy Penman 3.0 (blog), November 12, 2013, https://penmanila.ph/2013/11/12/penman-no-72-martial-law-in-three-filipino-novels/; Dalisay, Killing Time in a Warm Place.
 Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr. “Penman No. 396: A Playwright for Our Time,” Pinoy Penman 3.0 (blog), September 14, 2020, https://penmanila.ph/2020/09/14/penman-no-396-a-playwright-for-our-time/.
 “Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., PhD,” Curriculum Vitae, Accessed April 21, 2021, https://up-diliman.academia.edu/JoseDalisay/CurriculumVitae; Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr., “The Freedom of Intelligence,” October 22, 2018, https://up.edu.ph/the-freedom-of-intelligence/.
 Dalisay, “Penman No. 72;” Dalisay, “Penman No. 13.”
“That is one sad development I keep hearing about [the youth today]. No consciousness about [Martial Law], how it was during those dark years,” laments Rene Saguisag about the perception of Martial Law today. “For one to take part in an electoral process in a dictatorship is to help forge the links in your own chains,” he also warns of the dangers of complicity of the citizenry amid tyranny.
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