Lorena (honor, victory) | Inquirer Opinion
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Lorena (honor, victory)

What can your P500 million build? Apparently, a martial law museum.

I read a report online about the plan of the Commission on Human Rights to build a martial law museum on the grounds of Bonifacio Global City, where once upon a time many Filipino activists were jailed. While reading the report, I was actually feeling good and very much excited about the thought of having something that would preserve that part of our history forever, or at least until the museum stands.

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Unfortunately, the comments posted under the report showed that I was the only one who thought so. Most of those who posted comments said we should forget the past, move on, and just get over it. They said building a museum would just put the Marcos family members on a pedestal. And, of course, there were the people who firmly believed that martial law brought a lot more good than harm.

I almost cried. How foolish they were to think that of one of the darkest parts of our history. I thought about how ignorant some people were about the Philippines’ experience with martial law. I thought about all the families whose loved ones had disappeared. Are they supposed to just bury their dead? But then again, where is their dead?

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What about the “Never Again” campaign? Is there a way to remind ourselves to never let martial law happen again other than just moving on and getting over it? Are we supposed to be content with a metaphorical band-aid when those who fought the dictatorship are like diabetics that until now have raw wounds? Are we supposed to turn a blind eye to all the documented cases of torture and murder just because the economy then was supposedly booming? In fact the ousted president Ferdinand Marcos left more than P500 billion worth of debt. Is that your definition of a booming economy?

Martial law left everyone in the dark about how the country was really doing because newspapers, radio and television were under great surveillance and therefore unable to provide the necessary updates.

I admit that there was a time when I thought Marcos was the greatest Filipino president. It was during my high school years, when I was learning about Philippine history. Do you know why? Because Philippine textbooks portray martial law and Marcos in such a way that would make people who don’t know any better get caught up in the so-called “economic success,” which, as I said earlier, is folly. Skeptics might ask: What about our ability to produce our own crops and rice then? Well, let me ask in return: Would you be satisfied with old rice mixed with corn that would leave you making a beeline for the nearest bathroom? Well, we could probably be satisfied. After all, beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Maybe the government can allot the P500 million for things that are urgently needed, like transportation infrastructure, houses for the homeless, a strengthened and modernized military, or important research programs. But is it really all right for Filipinos to just close the book on that dark chapter of our lives?

If there’s one thing I realized from watching “Heneral Luna,” it is that we are still where we were back then—under the thumb of the powerful and the privileged, shooting down every advance from the minority without a second glance. There are a few—like Apolinario Mabini (President Emilio Aguinaldo’s adviser), who was not blind to the possibility of our standing up for ourselves, but eventually he turned his back on it. And we’re still lying under the thumb of the powerful and privileged because we don’t look back. We do not heed Jose Rizal, who once said that those who do not look back at where they came from will never reach their aspired destination.

I believe that we are most definitely not there yet, but I also believe that we can get there eventually. I hope that just holding to that thought would be enough to remind us that we are warriors, and warriors know their enemy.

It is saddening to see how eagerly some Filipinos forget martial law. We have a colorful history; don’t paint it in black and white. We were colonized by the Spaniards, the Japanese, and the Americans, who are all known to have a strong sense of nationalism. We do, too; we just keep forgetting about it. Building a martial law museum wouldn’t put the Marcoses on any kind of pedestal. Was Hitler put on a pedestal when the the Nazi museum was built? Of course not. Was the Berlin Wall Memorial built to simply be a tourist attraction? Of course not. They were both built to serve as a constant reminder of the terrible past and, at the same time, to honor the people who perished during those times. We should view a martial law museum as a medal of honor for every Filipino who fought the Marcos dictatorship, particularly those who died in the struggle.

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I was named after Lorena Barros, one of the brave Filipino fighters of the dictatorship, an icon of women empowerment. Her name, our name, means “honor and victory.” She was killed in an ambush during martial law. Her death was only one of many. Seventeen years after she died, I was born. Now, 39 years after her death, I am writing this article in the hope of making my fellow millennials realize that the Philippines needs Filipinos, and not just people who live in this country. I urge them all to wake up. Being a Filipino is not a right, it’s a privilege.

There are many books out there that describe martial law in detail, although it could get confusing because there are more than two sides in that story. Maybe P500 million is too much, but as a Filipino millennial worth dying for, you shouldn’t cheat yourself and your future children and grandchildren of the sense of nationalism that our parents showed before us.

We can’t afford to have selective amnesia when it comes to things that helped shape our present. We can’t keep on falling for the same tricks just because they are wrapped in a different, fancier box. We have to protect our history from being tainted by people who can. We have a voice, we are a smart generation, we should know better. Just because it happened in the past doesn’t mean that we have to leave it there. We have to keep something for ourselves that would remind us who we are and what we are capable of.

Ma. Lorena P. Hernandez, 21, is an NGO worker and licensed civil engineer.

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TAGS: Commission on Human Rights, Ferdinand Marcos, martial law, martial law museum
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