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Human Face

Teaching about martial law and its horrors

/ 05:06 AM September 26, 2019

Holocaust survivor, eminent writer and humanist Elie Wiesel said: “How do you teach events that defy knowledge, experiences that go beyond imagination? How do you tell children, big and small, that society could lose its mind and start murdering its own soul and its own future? How do you unveil horrors without offering at the same time some measure of hope? Hope in what? In whom? In progress, in science and literature and God?”

I found that quote in “Teaching About the Holocaust:  Rationale, Content, Methodology and Resources” by Samuel Totten and Stephen Feinberg.

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Yes, how do you teach about a horrible era so that we learn lessons from it?

Last Friday, Sept. 20, playwright and scriptwriter Bonifacio Ilagan and I spoke at the forum organized by the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute and the College of Mass Communication. The topic: “Media, Human Rights and Martial Law.”

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The forum was preceded by the screening for a bigger audience of “Liway,” directed and co-written by Kip Oebanda. (His original name Dakip, which means capture, was later changed to Kip.) Kip grew up inside Camp Delgado in Iloilo where his parents were political detainees. The young audience gave a rousing applause at the end.

For a forum, we had a rather big audience of mostly students who were very attentive. The topic was serious. I was astounded by the questions they asked and the comments they made. I thought, this crop of students, mostly in their teens and 20s, were really interested in a dark era long gone but never to be forgotten.

Boni spoke about his experiences as a student activist and later as an underground operative that fought the Marcos dictatorship. He tried to elude arrest, but was captured, tortured and detained. His younger sister, Rizalina, also an activist, is among those considered disappeared.

What else could I talk about if not my own experiences as a journalist at that time: “Better Dead than Read: The Years of Writing Dangerously.” I brought a PowerPoint presentation to be clicked in succession while I spoke. Its lead slide showed me—in flak jacket,  with a camera—being dragged by the Metrocom.

Boni and I consider ourselves storytellers, so the better to regale the young audience with personal accounts, our own and those we knew about firsthand.

I have done this countless times, and I always begin with: … “speaking about it is not easy because … always, a flood of memories surges, tsunami-like. I would feel the warmth of triumph and of freedom long won, but I also feel sadness over the loss of those I had met and known and written about.”

Answering the students’ questions, I suddenly felt like a teacher before an audience of eager students. Oh my, I thought, they’re listening and they’re remembering stories they have heard or read. One young man stood up to say he never forgot a column piece that I wrote that had only the names of the disappeared, names etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. (Goosebumps!)

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I am so delighted to know that UP’s Philippine Studies would now be teaching martial law (as brutally imposed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos) as a subject. (What about the College of Law?) UP Masscom also teaches it, and my book, “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship” (UP Press, 2019), is on the list of references.

A history teacher, Cristina Cristobal of the Philippine Science High School, has found a way to make her students learn about martial rule during the Marcos regime and counter historical “distortion” (“Martial law ‘good’? Teacher finds way to counter ‘distortion,’” Inquirer.net, 9/21/19).

One place to start is the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, with its soaring monument of a defiant mother holding a fallen son, and its Wall of Remembrance. And its archives and museum, of course.

Soon to rise is the Freedom Memorial Museum at the UP grounds and facing University Avenue as mandated in Republic Act No. 10368. The winning architects have been announced. Soon, the groundbreaking.

The memorial will not only be a place for remembering and honoring those who fought for freedom. It will also be a teaching and learning place.

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TAGS: Bonifacio Ilagan, Elie Wiesel, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, martial law, rights abuses
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