I was very fortunate to have spent my teen years in the crowning decade of the postwar era that was the 1960s. Turning 13 in 1962 was like riding on the crest of the wave. I was young and as alive as the exciting changes sweeping my world.
The 1960s was a time of changing patterns. It was a time of paradigm shifts in political ideology and governance and a time when the older generation became but spectators to the younger generation’s experiments in newfound empowerment.
It was the birth of new awareness, of protest and civil rights movements, US adventurism in Vietnam and its eventual first taste of defeat in a war. It was the genesis of flower power and Woodstock – the rites of passage from cigarettes and liquor to mind-altering LSD and marijuana, the predecessors of today’s drug menace. It was the age of student activism, folk art and music, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Muhammad Ali and Black Awakening in America.
We had heroes and we had public enemies. John F. Kennedy started the new age in US politics. He was young and his election signaled the turnover of US democracy to a younger generation who challenged the establishment.
Hollywood’s gods and goddesses had been unseated by new screen idols who depicted the cares, joys and dilemmas of the average person in the real world. Dustin Hoffman was unknown when he debuted in “The Graduate” for a measly sum of $17,000. After the filming, he filed for unemployment assistance not realizing that his role as Benjamin Braddock, which satirized the generation gap and the sexual revolution of the 60s, was to become one of the symbols of the pervading counterculture. The American tribal love rock musical HAIR captured the era and set new trends in Broadway when the entire company assembled in the nude at the end of the first act. HAIR raised questions on morality, sexuality, individualism, drug use, loyalty and social acceptance—the very same issues that plague America today.
The 1960s brought about a lust for freedom, new highs, new experiences. Good or not, these changes had effectively upset the old order, spawning the seeds of a totally new era, one that would be driven by innovation and technology.
Man was not content to have dominion only over terra firma. The 1960s opened the age of space exploration. Man orbited earth for the first time, then in due time, he was on the moon. The promise of peace offered by the Monroe Doctrine that sought to end wars and thirst for territorial expansions was nullified by the irreconcilable ideological differences between the US and the Soviet Union. When the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba to defend the communist ally and shift the balance of power in the region, Kennedy minced no words about retaliation, plunging the world into the grim prospect of a devastating nuclear holocaust.
Even the traditionally conservative Roman Catholic Church responded to the challenge of the times. Convening the Ecumenical Council called Vatican II, Pope John XXIII set in motion ideas and forces that brought Christianity to the modern world. For this, Time Magazine bestowed Pope John XXIII the title of 1962 Man of the Year.
Muhammad Ali gave the US establishment the full extent of his defiant finger, refused to fight in Vietnam for religious reasons and eventually scored a victory for his cause. Up to that date, it was unthinkable for a Black American to do that to Uncle Sam, much less win the fight. Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King provided the icons for Black Awakening in America, making it possible to start the process of reversing age-old prejudices and injustices.
In the early 1960s, the Philippine peso stood at less than P4 to the US$, the clear mark of an economy that was second only to Japan in Asia. The minimum wage was P4 a day and Filipinos lived a decent life on that daily wage. The price of gasoline was in centavos, as low as P0.15 for a liter of high octane during the early 1960s. Jeepney and bus fares were a mere P0.10 as was the price of a Coca Cola. The Volkswagen sold for less than P6,000 when it was first introduced and its advertising bragged that it can get you to Baguio and back to Manila on less than P3.50 peso worth of gas.
A company vice president made P2,500 a month average salary, a supervisory position would make P500 a month while rank and file employee’s salaries ranged from P180 to P350 a month. A good sized middle class home cost as little as P30,000 while rent for a first class two-bedroom apartment with carport cost as low as P120 a month. Middle class families felt secure with insurance coverage of no more than P150,000 for death or disability of the breadwinner.
The first-run theatres cost P1.00 for a movie and a family of four can have a hearty snack at Fairmont (noted for their Mocha ice cream) for just under P5 after the movie. It was the golden age of the panciterias in Manila – To Ho Antigua, San Jacinto, Rice Bowl, Far Eastern, China, Smart, Moderna, Ilang Ilang (the oldest), National, Marquina, Moonlit Terrace, Aroma, Wah Nam, to name the more popular ones – and an 8-course dinner for ten people will cost under P20. A pint of Magnolia ice cream, then packed in cartons, cost P1. A reserved section seat at the NCAA basketball games would cost P3.
In sports, it was the last of the best years of the Philippines. We dominated basketball in Asia until 1967. Flash Elorde fought his best championship fights in the 1960s and his title fight with Harold Gomes – when he won the World Jr. Lightweight boxing title in what was the opening feature of the new world-class Araneta Coliseum – was a sellout SRO affair. Up to the early 1960s, we were also a dominant force in Asian soccer. Filipina Mona Solaiman was the track sensation of the Asian Games. Dodjie Laurel won the Macau Grand Prix.
Filipinos set the tone in Asia for style and glamour. All over Asia, Filipinos were the celebrated travelers. Pitoy Moreno’s fashion shows and the Bayanihan Dance Troupe were the expressions of Filipino style and flair all over Asia where they were in great demand. Our neighbors in Asean envied us and sent their children here to study in our colleges and universities. When Filipinos left to work abroad, it was more likely to be a manager and not as rank and file and blue collar workers like the millions we export today.
In the 1960s, we had a theatre tradition going. Several groups like the Manila Theatre Guild, which performed in the old Army-Navy Club in Luneta, Repertory Philippines, which performed in the Insular Life Theatre in Makati, staged plays with regularity. Schools like the Ateneo, St. Paul’s, San Sebastian College, UST, UP maintained an annual play production. We even had our Broadway counterpart which catered to the general public’s theatre taste along the Rizal Avenue – these are the Old Manila Opera House and the Clover Theatre.
The Philippine senate of the 1960s was so respectable and esteemed that it made you want to be a senator. It would have been the dream of any lad then to be in the league of such luminaries as Recto, Tanada, Diokno, Rodrigo, Aquino, Tolentino, Pelaez, Manahan and company. Clowns belonged to the circus or the movies and none of them ever dared venture to seek comradeship with those senate greats of yore.
Should the post-1980s generation watch the movies that were shot in the 1960s, they will notice that the dwellings of poor people then were nowhere as pitiful as the lean-tos and hovels that now proliferate our urban landscape. The houses of people portrayed as poor in the movies of the 1960s would constitute the dwellings of our class D households today. In the 1960s we had respectable maralitas (under-privileged), quite unlike the pitiful impoverished millions we have today that are the result of social inequities akin to the misery depicted in the literary masterpiece “The Man with the Hoe.”
The 1960s was no less a period of transition in the Philippines. It marked the last of our good ole days and ushered in the era of trials and tribulations that the regime of Ferdinand Marcos started. While the 1960s brought a new renaissance to the Western world, for the Philippines the advent of the Marcos regime in 1965 brought us to the dark ages.
Up to now, Filipinos are waiting for the light and the hero who will ignite it.
You may email William M. Esposo at: email@example.com