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Looking Back

Predicting the past

Prediction is rooted in the Latin “praedicere” (to make known beforehand). It is a word we tend to associate with astrologers, economists, fortune-tellers, stockbrokers, and the good people at Pagasa. Prediction reminded me of declined invitations to forums about the future, simply because my job is to seek, reconstruct, and make sense of the past—something as fulfilling as finding out how many holes are on a Fita or Skyflakes cracker.

Predicting the past is a contradiction in terms, at best counterfactual. Teodoro Agoncillo advised against my fascination for “what-ifs” in Philippine history, saying these were useless. He cut me as I began to argue that sometimes the what-ifs are more engaging than what had happened; he stared me down and declared: “With so many gaps in our past that require research and our attention, don’t waste your time on things that did not happen.”

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Since there is no antonym or opposite for “prediction,” maybe I could change the idea to fit “retrodict,” an obscure word in the Oxford English Dictionary that means “to state a fact about the past from inference or deduction rather than evidence.” If we cannot predict the past, we can review or survey the course of events or period of the past (retrospect), or understand an event or situation after it occurred (hindsight). Jose Rizal believed that one could predict the future from the past and left us with this famous quote: “To foretell the destiny of a nation, it is necessary to open the book of her past.”

Things are not as simple, because the book of recent past shows that history seems to have repeated itself twice in my lifetime: Two male presidents were overthrown by “People Power” and replaced by women presidents. The question that bothers me is that after the euphoria of these events, we didn’t live happily ever after as they do in fairy tales.

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Looking back on other foundational events in our history—the executions of Gomburza and Rizal, the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution against Spain, the Philippine-American War, the Declaration of Independence on June 12, 1898, the founding of the Malolos Republic and Congress in 1899, the establishment of the Commonwealth, the end of the Japanese Occupation, the birth of the Republic of the Philippines—none of these led to people living happily ever after, but they detail how people had tried, and often failed, to be the nation our Founding Fathers imagined us to be.

For the past 22 years, I have taught a required course that covers prehistory to the emergence of the Filipino nation to college juniors and seniors, and now look forward to teaching freshmen, a new generation formed by K-to-12, who were born at the tail-end of Joseph Estrada’s term and probably came of age believing Gloria Arroyo came with Malacañang’s furniture.

Plotting the ages of people born when our presidents assumed office: Those born in 1935 when Manuel L. Quezon became Commonwealth president are 85 years old today. Those born in 1944 when Vice President Sergio Osmeña took over upon Quezon’s death are 76. Those born when Jose P. Laurel became president of the Japanese-sponsored Republic in 1943 are 77.

In 1946, Manuel A. Roxas transitioned from being the last president of the Commonwealth and the first of the Republic; those born then are 74 now. Roxas’ fatal heart attack made Vice President Elpidio Quirino president in 1948; those born when he won a full term in 1949 are 71 today. Those born when Ramon Magsaysay was elected in 1953 will be 67. Magsaysay’s death in a plane crash in 1957 removed “Vice” from Carlos P. Garcia’s title; he won a full term the same year, making those born then 63. Those born when Diosdado P. Macapagal was elected in 1961 are 59; those born in 1965, Ferdinand Marcos’ first term, are 55; those born when martial law was declared in 1972 are 48; those born in the time of People Power 1986 and the assumption of Cory Aquino are 34; those born in 1992 for the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos are 28; those born in the forgettable Erap Estrada presidency in 1998 are 22; those born with GMA in 2004 are 16; those with P-Noy in 2010 are 10; and those born when President Duterte assumed office in 2016 are all but 4 years old today.

Teachers of Araling Panlipunan should appreciate how young their students are, and the importance of helping them imagine a world before their own. That way we can, as Rizal said, “enter the future carrying a memory of the past.”

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: astrologers, economists, fortune-tellers, stockbrokers
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