Forgetting martial law
How soon will it be before we forget the national nightmare that began on Sept. 21, 1972, and ended sometime in February 1986? Not too long, I’m afraid, and that’s truly worrisome. That is why the families of martial law victims have launched a national campaign, called [email protected]!, to make us remember the 40th anniversary of the start of the Marcos dictatorship. They will host events on the 21st of each month leading up to September. Tomorrow, they will gather at the UP Diliman campus specifically to call on Congress to enact the law to give compensation to Marcos’ human rights victims.
I wish them well. We have short memories as a people. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I wonder: How long did it take before our forebears started looking askance at the veterans of the Philippine Revolution of 1898? I imagine that during the early postwar commemorations, the veteranos basked in the oohs and aahs of admiring crowds when they were still sprightly young warriors marching proudly in town plazas in their rayadillo uniforms.
But it certainly didn’t take long before the new top local honchos held sway—the Federalistas, the first Filipinos who collaborated with the American invaders, among them Cayetano Arellano, the first chief justice of the Philippines. And in the 1935 presidential election—that’s still five years short of the martial law survivors’ 40th anniversary—for the brand-new Commonwealth, Manuel Quezon won handily over two bona fide giants of the Philippine Revolution, Emilio Aguinaldo and Gregorio Aglipay. By then the generation of revolucionarios were old men, grandfathers who would dust off their ill-fitting uniforms for memorials and ceremonies, and reminisce on war stories. I can only hope that their apo were patient enough to indulge Lolo and listen.
The next cataclysm was the Japanese invasion during World War II. Again, how long did it take before we forgave the Filipinos who collaborated with the Japanese? This time, our collective amnesia was hastened by political expediency as Douglas MacArthur resuscitated Manuel A. Roxas as president, and revisionist historians anointed Jose P. Laurel and Claro M. Recto as icons of Philippine nationalism. Conversely, the war veterans were the ones left to scrounge for postwar backpay, and it was each man to his own for a share of the war reparations booty paid by Japan.
If after World War II we called them collaborators, after the Edsa revolution we called them balimbing. This time around, the forgetting seemed to go even faster.
One, to start with, Edsa was doomed into built-in amnesia about the martial-law-era roles of Marcos’ former defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and then Gen. Fidel Ramos, since these two played key roles in the coup de grâce on Marcos. The forgetting was almost deliberate, and we pretended that the past can so easily be put aside in exchange for present-day, short-term alliances.
Two, the Philippine Left, which paid the heaviest price in terms of lives lost or ruined by martial law, itself began to devour its own children. If Laurel and Recto needed revisionist historians who engineered their redemption, the Left needed only itself to enact its own condemnation.
Three, there was genuine ideological confusion on how to rebuild our country after Marcos. In other words, we had so romanticized democracy that, after Edsa I, we realized belatedly it wouldn’t solve all our problems.
A generation of student activists reared in the anti-Marcos struggle this time struggled to redefine themselves in a changed world, some of them founding nongovernment organizations dedicated to various causes, others taking the corporate path and exchanging their NPA creds for MBAs. Those who remained steadfast to the old Maoist gospel survived politically only by joining mainstream politicos to take part in populist politics shorn of the Maoist mystification of “the people.”
The veterans of the KM-SDK era must now be at the same stage in life as the 1898 revolucionarios who were marginalized by the new breed of politicians personified by Manuel Quezon. (Indeed, I noticed that the
[email protected]! movement is organizing sports fests. I’m curious: How many of the KM-SDK veterans can still take part in the running and jumping?)
That is why the martial law survivors are right in having that era’s intelligence files declassified. Now archived with the Commission on Human Rights led by Etta Rosales, herself a Marcos-era human rights victim, it couldn’t have happened better. We can pick up a few ideas from the movie “The Lives of Others” about democracy activists under investigation by the Stasi, the East German secret police. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, followed by the reunification, they appointed a “Federal Commissioner Preserving the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic,” and systematized access to people’s files.
If the martial law veterans want the next generation to remember, they should produce more history books, short stories, novels and documentaries on that dark period. The kids’ brains today are wired differently. The oldies did propaganda work in black-and-white via Gestetner stencils and mimeographing machines. The kids today need videos, with music and vivid color, posted instantaneously on the web. The oldies thought in terms of competing dogma. The kids start with reality, raw and undigested—they prefer to do the digesting themselves.
I was a UP student when we were under martial law. We must tell and retell our stories, including small acts of defiance that do not rise to the level of the heroic. Otherwise, it’s not that the youth will not remember. It’s simply that they will have nothing to forget.
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