So we may never forget
Those old enough to remember will remember how it was in September 1972 when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and radically changed life as they knew it — the uneasy quiet, the shuttered legislature and media outlets, the arrest of opposition figures and activists, the suspension of civil rights… And that was only the beginning.
The extent of the horrors of the martial law era would be known much later, as revealed by researchers, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups: at least 70,000 detained, 34,000 tortured, and 3,240 killed — mere numbers and abstractions now to many, but cold reality to those who experienced them and continue to suffer because of them.
Given the unspeakable evils of this dark period in our history and their inevitable link to the dictator’s name, how could it happen that his son and namesake got within spitting distance of the vice presidency in the 2016 elections? And that his mother and sister continue to hold elective positions and wield political power?
Have people so quickly forgotten? Are the millennials who form the bulk of young voters and the majority of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s supporters correct to call it “this martial law thingy,” and thus finding it easy to follow his advice to forget the past and move on?
But what is there for them to remember anyway? They weren’t even born during the Marcos years and never experienced the terrors of the era. What most of them know, alas, come from watered-down sources, mainly public school textbooks.
Educator Antonio Calipjo Go, who has examined how martial law is discussed in textbooks, observes that it is “often glossed over, even trivialized,” in a few pithy and generic sentences that dismiss the abominations of that period.
In his report “Kuri-kulam: Are Philippine textbooks sanitizing martial law?” Go says certain textbooks discuss Philippine history only from Magellan’s time up to the Commonwealth years, as if our story as a nation ended in the 1940s. He says one textbook even extols the “achievements” of martial law without mentioning its murderous side.
“How can you love something when you know nothing about it?” writes Go. “To teach children love of country, nationalism and patriotism, they must be told about the long arduous journey our forefathers took to get us to where we are.”
But “misremembering” martial law is worse than forgetting it, says the Inquirer’s Eric Caruncho. With some people rhapsodizing about “the golden age” of martial law, is it any wonder that we are now seeing its “impending relapse?” he writes, citing “the rising body count in a murderous war on drugs, the beginnings of a police surveillance state with spies in every barangay, the dismissal of human rights as an irrelevance, and an actual declaration of martial law, albeit restricted to Mindanao.” And, he adds, “people have been complicit through their willful act of denial or selective memory.”
What to do? Jose K. Tirol, associate history professor at Ateneo de Manila University, is striving to break the “typical” Filipino habit of “forgetting the tragedies of our history and preferring to move on” through an elective course that he designed and called “History 172.”
He applied memory studies to martial law to come up with a “more in-depth history combined with not just what we need to know, but also why we have forgotten, and more importantly, why we need to know now.”
Another initiative toward collective memory is the virtual Martial Law Museum (MartialLawMuseum.ph) launched last weekend at Ateneo, the thrust of which is “to study, to teach and to take a stand.”
There are also cyberwarriors, individuals in the academe who have taken the war for truth to Wikipedia, the popular open-source reference platform that has of late been revised by anonymous parties to reflect a pro-Marcos bias.
Wiki Warriors have countered attempts to distort the truth on this online source, spending hours cleaning up unverified claims on Wikipedia pages, and backing their edits with credible sources.
Finally, there’s multimedia: TV, YouTube, videos, tweets, Facebook posts, and photographs — all these provide brief but visually engaging means to tell a story, share a message, and imprint memories, so that we may never forget.
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