Filipino first, Ilocano second
When I was four, our family moved to Manila for whatever reason my parents had. My mother said I knew how to speak Ilocano then, a facility that unfortunately vanished like a victim of state-enforced disappearance. Almost two decades later, our family is still in Manila, but I can no more string a few words, let alone a complete sentence, in Ilocano. I guess it is never too soon to forget your mother tongue, or to make reference to martial law.
Growing up, I would hear my parents shouting from a distance, only to find out that they were merely talking. I realized that innate in every person of Ilocano descent is the roughness of the northern tongue. For the most part, I guess you could say the same with the way they view the late former president Ferdinand Marcos. For my parents, and my grandparents, it was undebatable: He was the best president the country ever had.
This was something I swallowed straight up as a kid, no questions asked. It was like being taught a new language; having no knowledge of the subject makes you treat it as the absolute truth (as though there were actual absolute truths). Hearing it said that it was better during Marcos’ time—the value of the peso was higher, the prices of commodities were lower, the people were disciplined—was tantamount to hearing the sound of a rooster crowing at the break of dawn: It was something inevitable.
That aspect of Filipino culture that compels a child to be submissive to his or her parents did not help in any way. Any unwanted question was treated as a threat to the family hierarchy—a typical dictatorship of a sort. Any effort to seek reference regarding their claims proved to be futile. They just brushed it off as though they heard nothing.
But curiosity is as curiosity does. I entered my early teenage years with an embarrassing amount of zits on my face, harboring more questions than an entire box of high school history flashcards. Fortunately, this was the same time the internet was within reach, and honestly, it did serve its purpose early on. Everything was a mouse click away. Any doubt I had was provided an answer.
And this was what I found out: Not everything you read and hear is right. Not everything that is served on your plate is edible. You have to know what you put in your mouth lest you drop dead.
But knowing was the easy part. Defending the truth from people so caught up in their opinions was the real battle. Hi, mom and dad.
The search for credible sources was hard. Of course, just like seeking to know what you would ingest, you gravitate toward choosing only what you want. Cognitive dissonance is a culture perpetuated in our country, nurtured so much that our personal garden becomes too curated. We come to trim only the weeds that we define in the first place as unappealing. We are scared of going into other gardens, thinking to ourselves: What if the weeds they tend to are different from mine? What if they realize my weeds are different and they shove theirs down my throat?
I guess it is just like how the typical Ilocano who survived martial law views what happened during that time—looking through an eyepiece with the other eye closed so as not to properly see the big picture.
Were they wrong in saying they were safe back in the 1970s and 1980s? Not really. They were most likely actually safe. But the thing is, just because there were people who slept comfortably every night—who did not worry about and weep over their missing son or daughter whose voice was deemed worthy to be heard—doesn’t mean everyone experienced the same.
And this is something we should strongly think about: that just because some people saw the light at the end of the tunnel, even without having to actually walk through it, does not mean they should turn a blind eye to those who weren’t able to.
During martial law, people were tortured, raped, and killed for their principles. Billions of pesos were stolen from our country. You continue to disregard these realities because you are afraid that you would have to tend these weeds. You want people to “move on” because you have done so for so long. Because it was easy for you, you want it to be just as easy for everyone else. And isn’t that the greater evil, to not empathize, to watch your garden blossom while those of your neighbors rot to hell?
In the May 2010 elections, Imelda Marcos sought to represent the second district of Ilocos Norte. She won, then renewed her term, and was again reelected in May 2016 for her third and final term. In the same manner, Imee Marcos became the governor of Ilocos Norte and has stayed in that ivory tower for three terms. And what about Bongbong Marcos, the would-be vice president of the Philippines had he not been beaten?
We brought back the same people who took our freedom away from us and gave them again their lifeblood—power. I think it is now safe to conclude: What destabilizes the country is not the media—although that is another topic of its own—but this toxic regionalism of which we are so proud.
The Big Bad Wolf is not the Marcos family per se, but a region believing in an ideology that there could only be one man, or woman, who would save the entire country from eternal damnation. The truth now becomes this: There will be no Solid Philippines until the Solid North (or the United Bicol, or what have you) starts to realize that the nationalism they should be engaging in is one where the sins of a dictator are remembered and condemned. And one where every Filipino is included.
I am Filipino first, Ilocano second. I will step out of my home, be proud of where I was born and raised, never forget our culture and tradition, but, above everything, understand that I am more than the province from which I came. I am from the Philippines, tongue and delicacies and legends aside, and that is all that should matter.
Jumarvin R. Ridulfa, 23, is associate editor of The Adamson Chronicle and “Ilocano through and through.”