Interview With Dora

Dora discusses her childhood, education, teaching career in Mindanao, and her involvement with the student movements in the early 1970s, as well as how her political views changed after the fall of Marcos.

Tags & Keywords

Born in the 1930s to a teacher and his homemaker wife, Dora begins by recollecting her childhood in Cagayan de Oro from the 1940s. She recalls that while there were already many roads, there were no traffic jams as very few residents (e.g. the politicians) had cars . Civilians like herself traveled by horse cart. During the Japanese Occupation, she remembers being very afraid of and hiding from the bayonet-wielding Japanese soldiers. Although she had heard stories of the Japanese military’s brutality towards civilians, she did not personally experience any violence as a child; her only encounter with them was when a soldier questioned her at the age of 5.

    As a child, Dora has no memory of how the Philippines gained independence, but remembers that the schools no longer had American teachers. She and her siblings were taught by Filipino teachers, unlike her parents’ generation who had both American and Filipino teachers. She lost her father at age 11, and her mother and aunts struggled to support the family, working various jobs and selling all they had to make ends meet. Although her family was poor, they prioritized the children’s education, having only completed high school themselves. After the war, Dora resumed her elementary schooling, eventually completing her tertiary education in the late 1950s. She attended an all-girls Catholic college, where she made friends who would later invite her into the leftist movement of the 1970s.

    Dora began teaching at a public school in her mid 20s. However, some of her students were older than her due to disruptions from wartime, and saw themselves as her equal. She taught English and Filipino, and found the former more difficult to teach. She also moved to teach at other schools in Misamis Oriental, returning to Cagayan de Oro in 1965. 

    In the 1970s, some of her students became the leading activists protesting against the Marcos government’s declaration of Martial Law. She was one of only 3 teachers invited to join the Kabataang Makabayang (KM), an underground youth socialist movement and forerunner to the New People’s Army (NPA); which she joined because her friends were involved. She was not significantly affected under martial law, other than having to accept a pay cut, which was restored when a new President Corazon Aquino took over the office following the end of the Marcos regime Though Dora initially believed Marcos was harming the Philippine public, after his regime was toppled in 1986, she changed her views; finding that Marcos had to declare martial law to “discipline” the civilian populace, while she grew to disagree with Aquino’s governance. This change in her views also leads her to agree with the methods of President Duterte.

Interviewee: Dora

Interviewer & writer: Kisho Tsuchiya                    Interpreter: Marjorie Tsuchiya

Transcriber: Dominique J. Lucagbo

Date: August 21, 2019

Location: Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental

Language: English

Interviewer: My previous “interviews” are always with the Mormons who wanted me to change my religion – they lived here for 25 years. So, I am honoured to have a more academic interview today. 

Dora: My name is Dora. I don’t want to say exactly, but I am in my 80s.I was born in Cagayan de Oro City during the late 1930s. I am a single woman, retired teacher. 

My paternal great-grandfather originated from Cebu, and his wife was from Blaccan in Luzon. They migrated to Mindanao way before we were born. My grandfather became a farmer. We used to have a farm, roughly 7 hector land about 5km away from the downtown area. My grandmother used to fish along the Cagayan River.

My parents lived in CDO too. My father was a teacher. My mother was a house wife. We were 4 siblings in all; one brother deceased, and a sister deceased too. Two of us, sisters, remain now.

When I was a child, during the 40s, CDO was very different. There were already main avenues and roads, but no traffic jam. Very few cars were running because only politicians had cars. This is what I remember. In addition, we used to ride in tartanilla (carriage) that was led by a horse. 

It was the American time. There were American teachers. My parents were educated both by American and Filipino teachers. But, after the war, my siblings and I were educated solely by Filipinos teachers, not Americans. 

During the Japanese time, we siblings sometimes hid somewhere along the western bank of the Cagayan River. We were so afraid because the Japanese soldiers had bayonets. Every gun they had was bayonet. But, we never witnessed any violent incident. We were just told by others. 

One day we were hiding, someone warned us like, “Japanese, Japanese soldiers!” We scattered and I was separated from my parents. I was 5 years old that time. My brother and I were with an old woman, our neighbour. We saw about five Japanese soldiers. We were terrified because there had been stories about Japanese atrocities. But, for me personally, this did not happen to us. They just came over and asked a few things. I spoke to them frankly. After 5 to 10 minutes, they just left, saying “Goodbye.” That was the only encounter I had with Japanese soldiers. You know how they speak? They have at lot of “r”. They cannot distinguish “l” and “r”. So, sometimes I did not understand. That’s why we had to very carefully listen to the Japanese soldiers. Some old people told us that if we do not talk to them, the Japanese would kill us. But, it did not happen to us. We did not experience any murder like that as a little girl. We only heard those stories. 

As for lived experience, I don’t remember how the Philippines became independent. We were only told by parents that we were already independent. Almost everything came from my parents. After the war, we started schooling. The Philippines was reoccupied, and there were again Americans. They were visiting the schools. But, they were never again our teachers. Filipino teachers, some of them were already experienced since the pre-war period, came back. But many were sick and could not come back to the job. 

By the way, after the liberation I did not see any Japanese. What happened to them? 

Interviewer: Many went back to their countries. Many, estimated at 430,000 also died in this country because of the war. 

Dora: Oh…

Interviewer: Eventually, you became a teacher, right? How did your educational process go until then?

Dora: In the post-war period, I finished elementary school, high school, then college. After college, I became a teacher. My college education took place sometime around 1957, 58. The subjects in the college were very different from today. I studied mathematics, communication arts, English, Filipino, and religion. Religion was included because I went to a Catholic girls’ school, Lourdes College. In the college, there are sisters and priests. Some teachers were American priests. I enjoyed a lot studying at the college. And there were already quite a lot of girls studying in the college level. 

Interviewer: I assume that only children of privileged families had opportunities to study at a college. I am I correct? 

Dora: No. We were very poor. But, my mother and aunties prioritized our education, and somehow managed to put us into the college level education. It is probably because they know how it was like to lack higher education. They only finished high school. 

Interviewer: It was also the time when Americans were engaging the “Cold War” while neighbouring countries to the Philippines were decolonizing. The Huk Rebellion was occurring in Luzon. What was the situation in Mindanao? 

Dora: Americans were busy with other countries like Japan. In Mindanao, there was a migration of the Huks to Wao. They also migrated to Mindanao because they were overpopulated in Luzon. The official migration program started during Magsaysay’s term. 

Interviewer: How did you feel when you first started teaching?

Dora: I started teaching at a public school in 1961. Most of the students are as old as I was. There were students even older than me. I was in my 20s, but some students were as old as 25 years old. It was because of war, absence, and stopping schooling to help their parents. And some of them came back to the school years later. So, I felt they were equal to me. That’s what I felt. 

Interviewer: I asked this question because I myself taught undergraduate students when I was 25 or 26.

Dora: Then, how did YOU feel?

Interviewer: I was quite scared because I taught at the top school in Singapore, and I felt some of them were even smarter than me. 

Dora: But did you study in Singapore? Were you born in Singapore with Japanese parents?

Interviewer: I’m Japanese, born in Tokyo, but I also lived in Indonesia and East Timor. My higher education took place in Singapore. Now I am researching about 20th century Southeast Asia, and that’s why I am interviewing people like you. 

Dora: Now I want to turn the table and interview you. (Laughing) Did you study sociology? 

Interviewer: Yes, and no. I didn’t belong to the Department of Sociology, but I took some classes of sociological theories. 

Dora: Ah, I see. It seems to me that history and sociology have some relations. 

Interviewer: They have similar interests and questions. Nowadays historians study sociology and sociologists study historically. 

Dora: It seems history majors are intelligent. You have to have good memory. 

Interviewer: I’m not very sure. (Laughing) If I forget I can just go back to my note. Anyway, let’s go back to MY interview… Actually, it’s my first time interviewing a teacher, but what were you teaching? 

Dora: English and Filipino. Two languages. 

Interviewer: The policy on national language was quite controversial in the 1950s, right? How did you experience it as a teacher? 

Dora: The students are good in Filipino. 

Interviewer: But your students were Bisaya speaking people, right? 

Dora: Yes. But, Bisaya have a lot of same and similar words with Filipino. Filipino is based on Tagalog. And, it’s easy for us to understand Tagalog. Teaching English was much more tough. I think the Filipino language is necessary for all Filipinos because it’s easy to understand and it’s our language. However, I don’t know with the young people though. Young people want to learn English, Korean and other languages. It’s ok to learn other languages as long as they can speak Filipino. 

Interviewer: One of my interviewees told me about the student movement in the early 1970s when President Marcos declared the Martial Law. Do you remember anything related to it? 

Dora: (Smiling) Yes. I was one of activists. There were three teachers who were invited to the movement by the leaders. I was invited to Kabataang Makabayang. Now they call it NPA (New People’s Army). Of about 300 of us, only 3 teachers were involved in the student movement. I was one of them.  But, I was not fighting with guns. We were invited because most of my friends were leftists…when I was young. 

Interviewer: Could you talk a bit more about it? We are very interested in that topic. 

Dora: The leading activists were my students. They were putting red head band. And, they were saying that President Marcos was bad. They were against the declaration of the Martial Law in general. And we were young… I was also young, and thought Marcos was not doing the right thing. Years after that, I realized that he was doing well…he was doing good for the Filipinos. 

My views changed much later, after 1986. Perhaps during the term of Cory Aquino. At first, I praised and worshiped Cory…But, there was something I did not like about the way she ran the government, and gradually realized that Marcos was doing good in his way. When we are young, we keep changing our views. Only after getting older, you realize something you didn’t earlier.  When you reach a certain age, you can view things in a balanced way: He used to be good, he is bad now, or she used to be bad, but she is good now, etc. 

I think Marcos chose to rule in that way because the Filipinos were undisciplined. They needed discipline. Even now. That’s why I like the way of the present president (Duterte). 

Personally my life during the Martial Law was ok. Just that, our salary was lower. We were made to believe that it had to be like that. After Cory became president…Boom. Salary suddenly increased… I was supportive of Cory. 

Interviewer: Did you teach in other places too? 

Dora: Yes. I also taught at general high school in Medina and Ginggog in Misamis Oriental for 8 years. It’s a rich, but small town. At night, I also taught two subjects at Liceu de Cagayan. I came back to CDO around 1965. 

Interviewer: When was the most difficult time in your life? 

Dora: It was the time when my father passed away. My papa passed away when I was 11. He was only 33. My mother when she was 67 so it was much later. When my father passed away, our lives were very difficult. We had to live with our aunties. It was difficult, because…one aunt was teaching…another aunty was doing house work. We were very poor. We sold anything that we could sell such as vegetable, kankong, etc…. That’s why you should live until your children finish, at least, their college education. Even after all, we are still poor! 

Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya

Interviewee: Dora

Tags & Keywords

Transcript Notes


  1. How does Dora’s testimony enrich our understanding of student activism in the Cold War Philippines from the educator’s perspective?

  2. How does Dora’s testimony challenge traditional understandings of the ideological divide which shaped the Cold War

  3. What does Dora’s changed views of Marcos’ presidency suggest about the nature of the Cold War in the Philippines? How is her response shaped by her own positionality, social and economic background?