The duty to remember

The 40TH anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law is fast approaching. There is not much fanfare, which is understandable considering that it was a dark chapter in our history that can be evoked only with anxiety and trepidation. The official neglect of the commemoration is worrisome, however, because it suggests that the state, which was complicit in the dictatorship to which martial law gave rise, has yet to fully consolidate as a restored democracy. Military adventurism, corruption in the military and the police, human rights violations, and the insurgencies and conflicts that martial law helped engender are still with us.

To some extent democracy remains tenuous, and certain sectors of society still look back at the dictatorship with nostalgia. Young Filipinos are being brought up without an appreciation of the dire lessons of history. Indeed, the horrors of martial law are glossed over in our history schoolbooks. Thankfully, there are a number of private-sector attempts to commemorate the grim era that began in September 1972.

Last Saturday, the art exhibit “ReCollection 1081: Clear and Present Danger (Visual Dissent on Martial Rule)” opened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Bulwagang Juan Luna and Pasilyo Guillermo Tolentino. Organized by the Liongoren Gallery and the Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development (Canvas), it is part of “Piglas,” a series of art events at the CCP to mark the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. Among the participating artists are National Artist BenCab, Alfredo Liongoren, Pablo Baens Santos, Edgar Talusan Fernandez, Orlando Castillo, Al Manrique, José Tence Ruiz, Renato Habulan, Brenda Fajardo, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Antipas Delotavo, Jaime de Guzman, Anna Fer, and Edicio de la Torre.

Some of the works on exhibit were made during martial law. De la Torre, a former priest, was one of those who went underground during the Marcos regime, and two of his works in the exhibit were done inside his prison cell in Camp Bago Bantay. BenCab’s contribution to the exhibit is an original piece done during martial law but set against a reworked digital drawing of the same work.

The show is an attempt to provide diverse perspectives on that dark chapter, conveying these to audiences through various media and genre styles, which overall should allow those who lived during that time to reminisce and those who live vicariously through them to sift through the raw material and heed the lessons therein. “It should not stop at this,” said Norma Liongoren of the Liongoren Gallery, who was herself  an anti-Marcos activist. “This is only the beginning. This is why museums are important. I believe that we should have permanent visual exhibitions that would impart knowledge on significant events in Philippine history accurately.”

Meanwhile, the book “Tibak Rising: Activism in the Days of Martial Law” will be launched today at 4 p.m. at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Put out by Anvil Publishing and the UP National College of Public Administration, the anthology consists of personal memoirs by political activists.

And then there’s #rememberML@40, which young Filipinos themselves have organized. Organizations in a number of colleges and universities have banded together to launch the information campaign for the benefit of the youth who are generally ignorant of the painful chapter in our past that has yet to see closure and just resolution. The organizers weren’t yet around during the Marcos dictatorship, so they struggle vicariously to remember and learn. “It is hard to fight for something that you did not experience firsthand, so we want the youth to remember and never forget,” said Nolivee Barrido, a student leader from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, A good corrective to that, he said, would be to gun for 40,000 “likes” or approving clicks on a Facebook page dedicated to the dark era’s victims and unsung heroes, as well as related information.

It is gratifying that tech-savvy young Filipinos are making use of the social media to raise awareness about martial law and Philippine history as a guard against the treacheries of a short memory. The nation as a whole should learn from them. Out of the mouths of babes comes the reminder that it’s watchful remembering that will make possible our survival as a democracy and as a nation.

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