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There’s the Rub

Written in water

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Serge Osmeña and Sonny Belmonte are aghast. After Juan Ponce Enrile, comes now Roberto Ongpin revising history.

In an interview with the Inquirer run during the 27th anniversary of Edsa, Ongpin felt emboldened enough to claim a couple of things. One was that Ferdinand Marcos and not Cory Aquino actually won the snap election, and two was that he actually did the Philippines a favor by putting up the so-called “Binondo Central Bank” after Ninoy Aquino was murdered and money began to fly out of the country.

“Good Lord,” exclaimed Osmeña, “more revisionism?! There’s nothing noble about the use of police powers to suspend the law of supply and demand to cover up the plunder and gross mismanagement of the economy and keep the Filipino people in ignorance and misery.” Belmonte was floored: “What about Enrile’s claim that there was really an ambush prior to Marcos’ proclamation [of martial law]? It’s a different tune from the one he sang before (while holed up in Camp Aguinaldo).”

Well, revisionism is virulent and tends to infect. If Enrile can get away with lying harap-harapan about his ambush in Wack Wack, so can others. Ongpin clearly thinks he can. It’s not unlikely the Marcoses will follow suit soon, particularly as the next presidential election is just three years away. They’ve already been doing so surreptitiously via entries on YouTube that make martial law out to be not as bad as people think, if not the best thing to have happened to us. It won’t be long before they’ll be doing it in-your-face.

Antonio Tinio gives a good perspective on things. “The results of the snap election are irrelevant. No rigged and thoroughly corrupted polls could confer legitimacy on Marcos.” But more than that, he gets to the heart of things: “Ongpin’s revisionism highlights the urgent need for a thoroughgoing review of how the history of the martial law period is written, discussed in public and taught in our schools. In Germany, no one can speak favorably about the Hitler period without being called to account. It should be the same here regarding the Marcos era.”

Teofisto Guingona III agrees with the latter point: “We should have an historical account of the 20 years of Marcos misrule and make it part of our educational curriculum.”

I’m all for teaching a truthful version of martial law in schools—truthful defined as hewing closely to the people’s actual experience of it, not least the victims of torture, “salvaging,” and forced disappearances, who are covered by the reparations law. Education Secretary Armin Luistro has repeatedly announced that it will find itself in the curriculum soon. It should have some effect particularly where taught at elementary level.

But a sense of realism is also needed here. The curriculum of the 1950s and 1960s also carried accounts of Japanese atrocity during World War II, yet none of it is greatly remembered today, if at all it was so in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, the problem goes deeper than can be solved by teaching things in school. The problem is the political culture itself.

What is that culture? You see it in the current election campaign, you see it in the current composition of Team PNoy and UNA, you see it in the candidates who are currently doing exceedingly well. It is a culture characterized by personality rather than ideology, by popularity rather than principle, by charisma rather than ideya. We see it starkly in this: In the United States, the first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney almost changed the face of the elections. In this country, you can have as many debates as you want—we did have them for the presidential candidates in the past, which succeeded only in making Mang Pandoy known to Pinoys—and it wouldn’t matter one bit. Elections are not won by what one stands for, by what plans one has for the nation. They are won by how personable one is, how well one gets along (pakikisama) with others.
The far-reaching effects of this are patent. Three years after the end of the Japanese occupation, and after the Filipino collaborators were tried for treason (trials that lasted only briefly and produced no major casualties), the collaborators were back in business running for public office. Government itself became more concerned with wiping out the Huks, who fought the Japanese, than punishing the collaborators, who helped them put up their vicious rule.

The same was true after martial law. A few years after martial law, and not long after the Marcoses and their cronies fled the country, the Marcoses and their cronies were back, Imelda and Danding Cojuangco running for president in 1992. Imelda never became a serious threat but Cojuangco did, claiming he lost the election only because he was massively cheated. Government itself became more concerned with wiping out the NPA, who fought Marcos, than punishing those who helped him put up his vicious rule.

That is the political culture. Ideological concerns do not preoccupy it, political interpretations do not obsess it, historical memories do not cling to it. Of course, any mention of Hitler will cause violent upheavals among Germans, while any mention of Marcos will only spark a tidal wave of text jokes among us. I remember again someone telling me during the 2002 German elections: “The elections this year are boring. They are only about personalities, not about ideas.” The opposite is true here, of course.

That is what needs addressing, that is what needs solving. We have a saying that IOUs that are written in water, isinulat sa tubig, are not going to be paid. That’s what our culture does to our history, which makes revisionism not just possible but the easiest thing in the world. It’s not written in blood.

It’s written in water.


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