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Requiem for teacher who loved democracy - Diane Wagner

I'm tempted to use his name, but there's an off chance that he's still alive.

It's just that all this discussion about terrorism and the Mid-East situation has got me reliving my high school days in the Philippines, when Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were in power.

Marcos was the so-called "strongman" our government backed n put in power and helped keep in power n as the head of that country.

I only know what I read about other U.S.-backed strongmen like Peron, Somoza and even Noriega before he became an embarrassment. With Marcos, I know what I saw.

Which is why I'm not going to name my teacher. He was an earnest young Filipino; a favorite with students because he assumed we shared his enthusiasm for the study of history and government and spoke to us as friends. I still remember the day he came in pale, his hands trembling just a little and his voice unusually subdued.

He acted as if nothing was wrong but we found out later. A friend of his had been taken by Marcos' police a few days earlier and the missing friend had just been found: In a far-off field, with his eyes and tongue cut out.

The Filipino people have since overthrown the dictator Marcos, and his wife with the thousands of shoes, and I like to think my teacher helped.

But at that time the country was still under martial law. Some of the manifestations I remember are a strict 10 p.m. curfew for everyone and armed soldiers everywhere from highway toll gates to shopping malls and even my school.

(We military brats went to a private school with the children of wealthy Filipinos, corporate executives and foreign ambassadors. Everyone spoke English.)

My father was part of a military advisory group to the Philippine army and we lived in a small compound in the capital, Quezon City. "On the economy," it was called, as opposed to inside one of the big military bases (that we have since been forced to relinquish).

There were guards at that little gate too, but we kids paid them scant attention. To us, it was just a fact of life in a foreign country, just how they did things there.

We used to laugh about the stories of Marcos' luxurious excesses. One or two of the students would whisper when Imelda was photographed in jewelry that had belonged to an aunt or cousin of theirs n before the U.S. helped Marcos "stabilize the country."

I still have a photograph of one of Quezon City's slums. It's a cluster of small box-like structures made out of pieces of old billboards, tin scraps and plywood. Surrounded by a bright orange painted bamboo fence bearing a sign reading "Beautification Project of First Lady Imelda Marcos." I thought it was funny.

Once, when I was arguing for an increase in my $3 a week allowance, my mother hissed "keep your voice down." Apparently that was more than the cook and the maid were making.

That was a disparity even a high school kid couldn't ignore but, when I questioned her further, my mother said they were forbidden to pay Filipino workers more because it would screw up their economy. In my family's defense, I'll say that Mom gave the maids a lot of food and "hand-me-down" items ? and made us fold our clothes and clean our rooms.

I'm not really sure what the point of all this reminiscing is, but there's a lot of talk these days about bringing freedom to the Iraqi people.

I guess I'm just hoping that, when all is said and done, the strongman we charge with stabilizing the region goes for the hearts and minds of his people instead of their tongues and eyes.

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or