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Looking Back

Edsa for millennials

/ 05:06 AM February 28, 2018

The results of Mocha Uson’s recent online poll on Edsa should make Araling Panlipunan teachers work double time. Eighty-six percent of Uson’s followers believed that the events of Edsa 1986 were “fake news.” This can either mean that Edsa 1986 did not happen, or that the way history has recorded and commemorated it is not to be trusted. Three decades have passed and the official commemoration has thinned, the President of the Philippines was somewhere else, and Fidel V. Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile, the main actors in the story who were once hailed as heroes are now seen as irrelevant relics of another time and place. Edsa was once the site of the successful protest that drove Ferdinand Marcos into exile; today it is the site for gridlock and the loss of tempers and an estimated P3.5 billion daily. How do we make young people remember? More importantly, how do we make them appreciate that past that made the world they know today possible?

History teachers my age often have to be reminded that students under their care do not feel strongly about the dark days of Marcos and martial law because they did not live through it. It is not that millennials do not care, but that so many of them were born after 1986. A historian’s life can be made so much easier if we are to follow the Mocha Uson method — ask people a question in a poll and the side that gets the most number of votes wins.

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Obscure and long forgotten is the 1970 book, “The Filipino Historian: Controversial Issues in Philippine History,” by Pedro Gagelonia that changed my life. It is not a groundbreaking book, but merely a compilation of issues and events contested in Philippine history from the conflicting number of islands in the archipelago culled from various history books, to the assassination of Antonio Luna and the case against Andres Bonifacio.

Of the 20 chapters in the book, only the first that deals with the physical shape and parts of the Philippines has found resolution. For example, in Gagelonia’s survey of textbooks in use at the time of his writing: Agoncillo and Alfonso’s “History of the Filipino People” (1967) said “more than 7,000 islands and islets”; Molina in “The Philippines Through the Centuries Vol. 2” (1960) gave “7,083 islands”; Alip’s “Political and Cultural History of the Philippines Vol. 1” (1954) gave “7,100 islands and islets.” What is amusing is that the prolific Gregorio Zaide gave 7,100 in one textbook and 7,083 in another! Gagelonia did not distinguish between high and low tide, neither did he point to the magic number 7,107 but all of this is now obsolete because the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria), using modern technology, has given us the official and definitive count of 7,641 islands, islets and rock formations.

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Namria can surely put to rest Gagelonia’s other controversial issues on the number of named islands, the size and location of the Philippines, etc. So the next question should be how updated and accurate are the textbooks presently in use in our schools? We are not even talking about interpretation of historical events but merely being factually correct. It is not in Gagelonia’s book, but how do we settle the issue of Ferdinand Marcos’ birth because 1917 is the year on which his birth centennial was reckoned, but the civil registry states 1916? Then of course, there are a number of textbooks that still state that Marcos declared martial law in 1972 to save the Republic from communism.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has resolved some controversies. Based on available evidence it has ruled that: Code of Kalantiaw is a 20th century forgery; that the First Mass was held in Limasawa; that the Blood Compact between Legazpi and Sikatuna in Bohol was held in Loay and not Tagbilaran, where the depiction by the late National Artist Napoleon V. Abueva now stands; that the First Shot in the Filipino-American War was fired in the corner of Silencio and Sociego streets in Sta. Mesa, not San Juan Bridge, etc. Tossing a coin is simpler. Doing a Mocha Uson poll may be tempting but history moves and changes based on new research, primary source documentation, and analysis so controversies will continue to hound us.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, edsa people power revolt, Looking Back, Philippine history
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