(I made these remarks last Friday at the launch of “Not On Our Watch,” a book about the experiences of members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines during martial law. I wrote the introduction to the book. Something to reflect on the 40th anniversary of martial law by. That falls on Sept. 21.)
Can the Marcoses “Ilocanize” history?
That’s a good question to ask on the eve of the 40th anniversary of martial law.
I say “Ilocanize” because Ilocos Norte in particular has been an entire republic unto itself history-wise. It has its own version of the past that differs from the rest of the nation’s. One that says Ferdinand Marcos was the best thing to have happened to this country.
I got some insight into this when a cameraman from a TV station told me once that bilib ka rin kay Marcos, he was the only president who could deliver a Sona without script or teleprompter, everything came from memory. I was astonished and asked him where he got that idea. He said, from school in Ilocos Norte. Marcos was brilliant, he had a photographic memory. But doesn’t everyone know that? he asked me in turn, astonished.
Truly a separate republic, if only of the mind.
Can the Marcoses do the same thing to the rest of the country? Can they completely rewrite history?
I say “completely” because they’ve already done so in part. The attempt to bury Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani testifies to it. The entries in YouTube, portraying Marcos if not as a benign ruler at least as a visionary one, testify to it. It’s not that these things have sold well, it’s that they can now be pitched without fear of stoking public outrage.
And of course that Imelda is a representative, Imee is a governor, and Bongbong is a senator testifies to it.
Two things they can bank on for a revision of history.
The first is time.
For us in particular, yesterday is a century ago, 40 years are a previous lifetime. The gap alone between Edsa and today, which is 26 years, is the gap between 1945 and 1971. That is the gap between the so-called “Liberation” and the bombing of Plaza Miranda, between Glenn Miller and Led Zeppelin, between the veterans of World War II and the activists. In our case, that is the gap between national liberation and globalization, “Xerox journalism” and Facebook, fighting against imperialism or communism and fighting to save the planet from global warming.
That is not a gap, that is a chasm.
If that’s so with Edsa, it’s worse with martial law. If you were four or five years old in 1986, you’d have a bare recollection of martial law. That means we now have a whole generation of Filipinos, 30 and below, who either have no direct experience of martial law or do not have a good impression of it. I’ve heard young people ask, “Were things really that bad during martial law?” It reminds me of what we used to ask, “Were things really that bad during the Japanese times?” And we didn’t have sushi then.
The second is our lack of capacity for collective remembering.
Other countries have a wealth of history books, art and literature, and museums to preserve the past. And they have a popular culture where the heroes of the past continue to live, even if in grotesque forms like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” That is how they make up for a lack of a direct experience of the past. We do not have that.
Our capacity to forget, and not just our utang in the sari-sari store, is legendary. I’ve always said we are the one country in the world that has been lobotomized. We live in a perpetual present, having no past, and therefore having no future.
There are many theories for this, but I’ll leave them for another day. Suffice it to say here that that makes fallow ground for revisionism.
To say that the viciousness of a rule alone guarantees that it will never be able to reinvent itself is to delude ourselves. It is to forget history, thereby repeating it.
American rule was vicious, at least when it began. You can’t have anything more vicious than an occupation born of deceit and betrayal, which Admiral George Dewey committed. You can’t have anything more vicious than the turning of Samar into a howling wilderness. You can’t have anything more vicious than a pacification campaign that proposed to civilize the monkeys with a Krag, a campaign that obliterated the leaders of the Katipunan whose only crime was to fight for their country.
Not unlike martial law. Yet today, American rule is widely regarded as the best thing to have happened to us.
Happily, history shows us another lesson. Which is that where there is another storyline, or narrative, these propositions can be crowded out. Fallow grounds do not naturally assure that there will be a harvest of revisionism. They can always only assure that more robust seeds will kill them.
The Japanese Occupation shows so. It was of course too short—three years—for its proposition of the Asian countries coming together to resist Western imperialism to take root in by then very pro-American Filipino minds. But even then, the Americans made sure after the War to obliterate it by the narrative, or myth, of the “Liberation.”
That myth said the Americans never abandoned the Philippines. Douglas MacArthur vowed, “I shall return,” and did. Instead of the Japanese coming to liberate us from our Western yoke, the story became that the Americans came back to liberate us from our fascist yoke. Into “I shall return” went images of Bataan and Corregidor, of Filipinos and Americans fighting side by side, sharing the same past and the same future. How powerful that story was we see in how we continue to see the end of Japanese rule as the “Liberation.” How powerful it was we see in the so-called “special relations” it spawned, which has sealed our fate, or doom, in the postwar world.
The same is true of martial law.
To be concluded