Keep the flame alive
Despite the passage of time, there are still enough Filipinos who remember where they were and what they were doing when President Ferdinand Marcos announced the declaration of martial law.
That day, people woke up to a strange silence: There was neither TV nor radio, and no newspapers arrived on doorsteps. Unbeknownst to many, soldiers had raided media outlets and padlocked the premises; members of the political opposition, prominent activists, labor organizers and media personalities were arrested and detained; Congress was dissolved; and in the days that followed there took place an orgy of draconian rule, typified by law enforcers accosting long-haired young men and giving them street-side haircuts. A curfew was imposed.
Meanwhile, hundreds of young and not-so-young individuals left their homes to take up arms against the government, going “UG,” the then-current slang for “underground.” In the years that followed, these same young folk, among them the best, the brightest and most idealistic of their generation, would be killed in battles or else arrested and detained in the “ABCs”—shortcut for the military camps Aguinaldo, Bonifacio and Crame—or in hastily-constructed provincial barracks. There, they were held without charges or a hearing and routinely tortured. Others simply disappeared, their whereabouts still a mystery to this day.
So much more happened in the 14 years of Marcos rule—including the plunder of the economy by the Marcoses and their cronies—than this necessarily brief recap of martial law can contain. But however brief, it is history, remembered and lived, often in painful flashbacks or in angry outbursts when attempts are made to sanitize or burnish the ugly truth.
Leading the campaign to “spin” the story of martial law are the surviving Marcoses. And given how they have somehow managed to worm themselves back into positions of power, they can’t be blamed for believing the Filipino people have forgiven them or forgotten their sins.
But lately, there have been displays of stubborn refusal to let the Marcoses go their merry way. And remarkably, leading the chorus of denunciation are millennials or even a younger cohort. They were not even born when martial law was declared, and for most of their lives knew about the years between 1972 and 1986 only through stories their parents would share, or read about them in brief paragraphs in textbooks. But by some miracle, they bravely resist the temptation to forgive and forget.
Remarkably, the sites of two of the latest confrontations have been venues for art and culture, and the target of their ire has been Irene Marcos-Araneta, the youngest of the Marcos children and the one who did not even dip a toe in national politics. But at the opening of the Areté “hub for creativity and innovation” of Ateneo de Manila University last April, Marcos-Araneta’s presence caused such a scandal that students and alumni were moved to protest the invitation given to her, and led to the resignation of its executive director.
Again, it was Irene who drew public ire when she recently attended a play by the University of the Philippines’ resident drama group Dulaang UP. She was greeted by a lightning rally of students loudly denouncing her presence, causing the group’s officials to later issue a public apology.
There were those who were quick to rush to Marcos-Araneta’s defense, protesting that art and politics are two distinct concerns and that patronage of the arts should not be contingent on one’s political stance. But perhaps the daughter was only taking a leaf from her mother Imelda’s playbook. For it was The Iron Butterfly’s conceit that, during their time in power, she was the country’s benevolent patroness of the arts.
Are the protests against Irene, and the determined pushback against attempts by Marcos enablers and supporters to normalize this unrepentant family’s presence in history and society, a sign that justice and accountability are close to settling their unfinished business with the dictator and his heirs? That seems doubtful, given that eldest daughter Imee has just won a seat in the Senate, and son Bongbong seems suspiciously confident of winning his electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. Still, on this anniversary of the declaration of martial law, the country would do well to keep the flame of remembrance alive, and keep reminding the Marcoses that they have yet to atone for the “lost” years of martial law, and that the resolve among many Filipinos to see justice done remains robust despite the passage of years.
Never, never and never again.
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