The novel Dekada ‘70 was written by renowned Filipino novelist, Lualhati Bautista, and was published in 1988. When translated into English, the title of the novel is Decade ’70 due to the time period in which the work highlights. The story is about a middle class family living in Manila during the 1970’s at the height of the authoritarian government of Ferdinand Marcos. The declaration of Martial Law and the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus both set the social and political tone of the novel. The story focuses on the experiences of the Bartolome family during this pivotal time in Philippine history. However, the novel is centered on the perspective of the main female protagonist character, Amanda Bartolome, who is a wife and mother of five boys. The novel explores the personal struggles of the mother, the conflict among the family, as well as the political chaos of the time period.
The main character of the novel, Amanda Bartolome, experiences dissatisfaction with her life as she attempts to negotiate her roles as a woman, wife, and mother. As the only woman in a house full of men, she often feels outnumbered and overlooked. Also, since all of Amanda’s sons are older, she no longer feels that her role as a mother is enough, so she experiences a lack of fulfillment in her life. However, when she expresses to her husband, Julian, that she is interested in getting a job outside of the home, he quickly denies her request. Therefore, throughout the novel Amanda is on a journey to establish her own personal identity and discover her purpose in life.
Each of the five sons in the novel has their own personality and takes on different roles within society, as well as within their family. The oldest son, Jules, become involved in anti-government activity and eventually leaves home to join the New People’s Army. The second son, Isagani or “Gani,” leaves home in order to join the United States navy. The third son, Emmanuel or “Em,” goes to college and becomes a writer of anti-government and pro-human rights literature. The fourth son, Jason, is the social and carefree son that enjoys his time being a teenager, but who is unfortunately later murdered by the police. The youngest son, Benjamin or “Bingo,” is the innocent child of the story who attempts to make sense of the events occurring around him.
Dekada ’70 proved itself to be a significant Philippine literary work prior to its official publication, as well as for many years after. Before being officially published in 1988, Lualhati Bautista was a grand prizewinner in the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1983 for Dekada ’70, which is a foundation dedicated to the development and recognition of outstanding Philippine literary work. Since its official publication, Dekada ’70 has come to solidify its place as a notable and historically significant piece of literature. One of the reasons the novel gained acclaim was because of its focus on Martial Law and the Marcos regime, which was a pivotal time period in Philippine history. Most importantly, the novel explored the reciprocal relationship between society and the family. Even though family is often seen as the core of Filipino culture, Dekada ’70 illustrated the ways in which the social and political backdrop of the times can influence this fundamental structure. The novel was even made into a film by Star Cinema in 2002, fourteen years after its original publication, which shows its continued relevance and importance in Filipino culture.
– Stephanie Enano