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To wake up–and remember

/ 05:18 AM September 21, 2018

So much has been said about the need to remember what happened during martial law, accompanied by the slogan “Never again.” But I worry that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to restoring what we need to remember.

Sure, much has been done in the area of human rights violations, but even there, given the magnitude of “salvagings” (extrajudicial executions), disappearances and torture during the Marcos era, we’re really still dealing with numbers—numbing numbers.

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We need to bring back to life the disappeared and the dead through stories, retold by relatives and friends, that underscore their humanity. I thought last week of Dr. Bobby de la Paz who, after graduation from UP’s College of Medicine, chose to serve the poor in Samar and, for that, drew the ire of the military. He was killed in 1982. Last week was his birthday; had he lived, he would have been 66.

Several years ago, Asuncion David Maramba (who contributes occasional columns to the Inquirer), collected life stories, including that of Bobby, which were published as “Six Young Filipino Martyrs.” We need more of those anthologies to be written, and to be in schools and home libraries.

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Rightly so, there’s much concern about historical revisionism. But how will future generations of Filipinos be able to tell what facts have been distorted, when we don’t even have the facts made available to the public in the many new forms of media?

We tend to leave the defense of history to, well, historians, but we also need sectoral narratives about what happened during martial law. One important sector would be public health and medicine, and we need to hear from health professionals who lived through that dictatorship to assess what happened.

For example, there was much criticism during that era when Imelda Marcos set up highly specialized centers such as the Heart Center and the Lung Center. Yet, many Filipinos have benefited from these centers and will praise them.

But little is said about how those centers were built and maintained while neglecting community healthcare (sometimes called primary healthcare), which could have brought about more substantive and sustainable reforms in health, especially among the poor and in rural areas.

Again, I think of Bobby de la Paz, who was working with community-based programs specializing in tuberculosis.  Instead of supporting these programs, the dictatorship labeled them subversive, harassed health professionals and workers and, in the case of Bobby, resorted to assassination.

We are still paying for that neglect, still struggling with diseases that have long been conquered in other neighboring countries, tuberculosis being the prime example.

We will need similar assessments for other sectors, especially for areas where historical revisionism has already gone into full gear.

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Economics is one such area, especially with the way young Filipinos are being told that the Philippines developed rapidly under Marcos. Our economists need to present the facts, to explain how “development” under Marcos was driven by huge foreign debts and by exporting Filipinos. Even before Marcos fell, the UP School of Economics came out with a white paper outlining what had happened under Marcos, with dire warnings of economic collapse.

Another area where the dictatorship failed dismally was education.  Up to the 1960s, other countries sent their scholars to the Philippines to study because our universities—state-run as well as private—offered high-quality education. That changed as the government’s budget for education was sacrificed, and higher priority given to military spending and debt service.

Another sector that suffered was S&T or science and technology, again because budgets for research and development dwindled. The last years of the dictatorship were the worst, especially after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination.  I started teaching during that crisis period and saw the effects; our libraries, for example, were unable to renew subscriptions to important journals.

Recently, too, I was looking up some articles from the Far Eastern Economic Review, an excellent Hong Kong-based magazine, and realized that issues from 1972 and several years after were all missing.  The magazine had been banned by the martial law government.

It’s time now to come up with the real stories of how dictatorship affected the arts and humanities, sports, mass media, agriculture, fisheries and many other sectors. In doing so, we will realize how the dictatorship lives into the present through its long-term effects.

I think especially of the overarching theme of governance and how, through those years, we became a nation anesthetized—stripped of the ability to feel and to discern, and lulled into complacency with patronage and promises.

How can we remember, when we remain in deep slumber?

[email protected]

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