To remember and tell the truth
One of the most moving experiences awaiting visitors to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, is the Hall of Remembrance. One walks through a corridor shrouded in almost total darkness, only to come upon a cavernous room lit by a single flame. In the dark, one is afforded a moment of silence and reflection, a chance to honor and remember the millions who died in the course of the Nazi campaign of extermination of Jews and minorities before and during World War II.
Of significance is the fact that Yad Vashem and other memorials dedicated to the Holocaust and other atrocities serve not only as tributes to the victims, but also as archives to store the names and life stories—the histories—of all who perished. The point, of course, is not just to remember but to keep the memories alive, to learn the lessons of such tragedies, as well as to hold accountable, at least in the public’s memory, those responsible.
It has been 48 years since the declaration of martial law in this country, and yet incredibly not only is there little remembrance of the events since, neither has there been any real accountability nor judgment rendered on those responsible. Even worse, a new generation with no experience or only a vague recall of the event has grown up ignorant of the abuses that took place and even accepting of the revisionism that is now taking place. How then are Filipinos to learn the necessary lessons? How will they ensure that there is no repeat of martial law and its excesses in the future?
This is why the announcement that a museum “remembering the horror and state oppression under the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos” will be built has many conscientious citizens excited and energized. Though perhaps for the remaining supporters of the conjugal dictatorship, including legislators who wanted to enact a “Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Day” in Ilocos Norte, the planned museum constitutes an affront to the myths they have come to believe as facts.
The planned “Freedom Memorial Museum” is set to open by 2022, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. The P500-million memorial will occupy a 1.4-hectare lot inside the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, and, as reported in this paper, will be “the first and only state-sponsored museum that officially recognizes the atrocities committed during martial law,” according to Carmelo Crisanto, executive director of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
Although we must ask: Why did the Filipino people allow half a century to pass before even acknowledging, much less memorializing, the horrors of martial law?
Regardless of time’s passage, the museum should at least help reaffirm the facts of the abuse of power and the consequential plunder of the Marcoses and all those complicit with the regime. Such a task is necessary today given the well-funded rabid campaign of Marcos apologists who wish to paint the entire “New Society”—the Marcoses’ favored term for their misguided rule — as a “Golden Age” of economic progress, infrastructure building, and cultural enrichment.
This paper’s former education section editor, Chelo Banal Formoso, posted recently about an exchange she once held with public school teachers and students on the myths surrounding the Marcos “Golden Age.”
Discipline and law and order? Formoso cited official figures and statistics to disprove such claims. People may have behaved better, “but that was true for maybe a year,” with crime rates falling because there was draconian enforcement of curfew. “But gradually everything went back to the old disorder.”
Economic progress? Formoso quoted economist Solita Monsod: “As the Marcos years tooled along, the amount of capital required to produce one unit of output more than doubled — suggesting waste and inefficiency. The bottomline: Marcos left such an economic hole that it took the country another 14 years (since 1986) before we could regain the real per capita income levels we were enjoying… before the collapse of 1983.”
And those are only two aspects of the state’s performance through the years of martial law.
Let’s give playwright Boni Ilagan, who endured and survived arrest and detention during the Marcos reign, the final word. “I belong to a generation that is slowly but surely vanishing,” he says. “For the remaining days of my life, I feel the need to tell and retell my story, and the story of the rest of us who fought and survived martial law.”
With the anticipated opening of the martial law museum, Ilagan and the country’s dwindling band of freedom fighters from that era will have an invaluable, long-overdue medium not just to tell their story, but also to remind the country of the painful lessons it should have learned by now about the fragility of democracy, and the perils of strongman rule.
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