“Why can’t we just move on?” I’ve been told by friends and relatives who don’t quite believe in dwelling on memories of martial law and the dictatorship.
The standard reply is to quote Rizal about the dangers of not remembering and not getting to our destination (but which Ambeth Ocampo says, in a column last January, isn’t quite authentic, preferring another quote from Rizal, translated from Spanish: “I enter the future with a memory of the past”).
I’d like to build on that but using a new metaphor, coming from environmental sustainability. There have been all kinds of memory aids used to describe the principles of this sustainability, usually drawing from the letter R—for example: reuse, recycle, renovate. Then it occurred to me that even with the longest “R” lists—one had 12 of them—none had “remember.”
If we can think of our country and our history in ecological terms, we will realize the importance of remembering, for sustainability and for the future.
In nature, remembering is vital for survival and evolution. Just think of our immune systems. When we are exposed to an infectious agent, an antigen, our defense system wards off the infectious agent even as it remembers that invader so that with a second infection, it immediately produces antibodies that are very specific to that invader. Vaccination is based on this antigen-antibody reaction, where we preempt an actual infection by introducing small amounts of the antigen to get the body to produce a strong enough reaction that we call immunization, to make itself immune.
We need to remember martial law and repeated “infections,” not just as a specific period (technically, from 1972 to 1981, with Marcos lifting martial law even before he was deposed), but as a concept, of strong-arm rule and of using the coercive and violent force of arms, not just of the military but also of the police.
We need to remember not only the abuses and atrocities of 1972 to 1981, but also the prelude, the events that led to the proclamation of martial law, the erosion of civil liberties (as in the 1971 suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus). We remember, too, the period after martial law was “lifted,” the continuing impunity that reached a peak with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.
We must remember, even after Edsa, the repeated threats of martial law and the actual declaration by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of martial law in Maguindanao from Dec. 4 to 12, 2009, and of President Duterte for the whole of Mindanao, from May 23, 2017 to the present.
We might even forget that Jose Laurel, during the Japanese occupation, also declared martial law from 1944 to 1945.
We remember, because we need to mobilize our collective defenses, and to pass these on to our young.
In the same way our bodies produce antibodies from a memory of an antigen attack, we need to convert memories into concrete outputs: articles, videos, movies and now, educational materials for the classroom. Our UP Diliman University Council just approved a new general education course on martial law, and it was made very clear that the course is not limited to the Marcos era, but will deal with all the other instances where the principles of martial law—again, a suspension of civil rights and the use of armed force—was used, sometimes even without a formal declaration.
We must remember, because the military and the police and the oppressive politicians do remember, and often recycle old tactics. It is remembering that makes us so vigilant, making us oppose the proposal to bring in the police into university campuses. Remembering makes us vigilant against red-baiting, against fake news, against all forms of violations of human rights from misogyny and homophobia to the use of martial law in Mindanao, and the way it is particularly oppressive to Muslims and the “lumad.”
Since we’re using environmental sustainability as a metaphor, we might want to know how other principles of that sustainability might be relevant to our remembering of martial law. Sustainability speaks of respect and responsibility—and repair. That last principle, repairing, is perhaps where we have been weakest; we have not done enough to deal with the injustices, and are therefore allowing history to repeat itself.
Yes we must move on to the future, with memories of the past. We remember martial law because we want a sustainable future for generations to come, one which must include a sustainable democracy.
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