A season of remembering | Inquirer Opinion

A season of remembering

/ 12:22 AM February 13, 2016

MY PARENTS, who were born in the 1920s, used to tell me of a young, electrifying speaker named Ferdinand Edralin Marcos who won the hearts and minds of a rapt audience by challenging his listeners to “elect me as your congressman today and I promise you an Ilocano president in
20 years.”

That was in 1949. Marcos became a congressman for 10 years and a senator for six more. True to his word, he became president in 1965 and promised all and sundry that “this nation can be great again.”

Marcos spoke quite differently to my generation. We were in the eye of the First Quarter Storm and he was well into his second term of
office. Despite his public pronouncements, evidence was mounting that he would try to stay in power beyond the end of his term in 1973, by any means at his disposal. On one occasion, a soft-spoken student leader from Ateneo named Edgar Jopson dared to ask Marcos to put in writing that he would not seek a third term. “Who are you to tell me what to do? You are only the son of a grocer” was Marcos’ stinging rebuke. Meanwhile, the prices of fuel, basic commodities and bus and jeepney fares continued to rise. The street protests grew in number and stridency, and the Marcos administration’s response became more and more vicious.

In September 1972, Marcos went on television to declare: “My countrymen, as of the twenty-third of this month, I signed Proclamation No. 1081 placing the entire Philippines under martial law.” Thenceforth he ruled by decree and his dictatorship would last for 14
harrowing years.


The generation that came after us was endearingly called the “martial law babies.” They sang “Ang Bagong Lipunan” right after the national anthem in school. They were fed “nutribuns” and took the “Love Bus” to get around. A curfew from midnight to 4 a.m. was a fact of life. The word of the man in uniform was law, and there was nothing anyone could do about military personnel holding high-level civilian jobs. Most of all, this generation existed in a world where everything seemed to depend on Marcos, his family, his kin and his friends.

All these are easily verifiable, especially today with the power of Google. Still, it is not uncommon for those born during and after the martial law years to have only a passing knowledge of the Marcos dictatorship and the 1986 Edsa Revolution. The gap seems to lie in how history has been taught and appreciated in our schools versus how the different generations choose to interpret historical events.

According to the eminent historian Ma. Serena Diokno, “to think historically is not to memorize or recite the facts but to proceed from the facts toward an understanding of past reality… Historical judgment, therefore, is a considered conclusion, not a litany of facts.”

Diokno adds: “Why is history taught in school? History serves numerous purposes, from the development of citizens as meaningful members of a larger community with which they identify, to the training of the mind in critical thinking and sound judgment. A good citizen is one who, as our elementary textbooks teach our children, obeys traffic lights. A good citizen, too, is one who is able to weigh options and make decisions, including whom to believe and trust, based not on feelings of loyalty or partisan allegiance but on demonstrable grounds.


“History’s social purpose rests on the discipline’s intimate alliance with identity, both individual and shared. History opens one’s mind to the world outside family and school, and invites identification (mental and social) with the fundamental concerns and problems of humanity in the broadest sense, and of nation and community building. For this reason, history is also closely linked with civics and the values of citizenship, sovereignty, freedom, and justice. For this reason, too, history is taught to children in the hope that they grow up to be fine citizens, conscious of their identities, rights and duties as persons and members of the nation and the world.”

The journey that began with a promise of deliverance in 1949 came to an end on Feb. 25, 1986, when the Marcos regime crumbled beneath its own weight and was toppled by a popular uprising known as the Edsa People Power Revolution. That social phenomenon began when the first student activist fell to gunfire from riot police at the Battle of Mendiola in 1970 and culminated in a sea of humanity peacefully gathered between Camps Crame and Aguinaldo and on major thoroughfares in other cities for four days in February 1986.


Marcos himself must have had a sense of foreboding early on. On April 3, 1971, at 7 a.m., he wrote in his diary: “I am president. I am the most powerful man in the Philippines. All that I have dreamt of I have. More accurately, I have all the material things I want of life—a wife who is loving and is a partner in the things I do, bright children who will carry my name, a life well lived, all. But I feel a discontent. Because I may not have done all that I can. Because I may have taken the safer and easy way out.”
Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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