The bastardization of national memory
ELECTION DAY proved to be a day of reckoning. Some looked to it with hope, some with fear. This year’s elections, while forward-looking, were also very much about the past, with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late dictator, bidding for the second highest seat in the land.
Those who were victimized by the dictatorship couldn’t understand Marcos’ soaring popularity. It made them question the kind of history taught in school. Why do young people relish those horrendous years when democracy, freedom of expression, and human rights were trampled upon? Are they plainly naive as to what transpired? Or are they simply gullible victims of historical revisionism? We can’t really know for sure, but one thing is accurate: The early signs of the resurgence of the Marcoses had been quite expected.
As early as 2012, memes providing inaccurate depictions of the martial law years were surfacing in social media. Back then, people brushed these memes aside, thinking that those behind them were simply mad, and that no one would believe them for the plain inaccuracy of their work. We were proven wrong.
The Marcos family allegedly spent P4 billion to bankroll these online revisionists—interactive YouTube video creators, meme creators, troll accounts, commenters, biased blogs, and other various mechanisms that can be easily accessed by the youth who typically spend most of their waking hours online. The battlefield has changed: The war is now fought over consciousness. And with the 14.1 million votes that Marcos received in the elections, it seems that the Marcos family was able to fully maximize the power of social media. It managed to exploit the weakness of our educational system by employing a well-oiled machinery that targeted those who weren’t there during the dictatorship.
It is unfortunate that young people are so willing to forget/ignore what happened. It is sickening that they are willing to forego the sacrifices of the more than 100,000 victims of human rights violations by the Marcos regime in exchange for bridges, mothballed infrastructure projects, and the CCP Complex. Why choose infrastructures over human beings? What values are we teaching our children?
I have been living in Mindanao for five years, and I found it no surprise that the unofficial quick count showed Leni Robredo as the top choice of Mindanao for vice president. With the many inhumane experiences that the people of Mindanao were subjected to during those horrible years of martial law, it is highly unlikely that they would ever vote another Marcos in power.
The martial law regime created a monster that devoured the people of Mindanao. It made them lose the trust and confidence they once had as diverse peoples living in a rich land. Martial law supplanted good relations with doubt and suspicion. The migrant-settlers, the lumad, and the Bangsamoro were pitted against one another, making them enemies among themselves.
With the imposition of martial law came the pillage of their villages, destruction of their crops, burning of their dwellings, killing of their men, rape of their women, usurpation of their lands, and the division of these lands among those who were close to the dictator. The martial law regime victimized the people of Mindanao: Their interests were sacrificed to give way to the whims of the few.
One telling martial law narrative that the northerners must know happened in the village of Malisbong in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, in September 1974. For one week, the military troops showed the Muslim inhabitants of Malisbong the extent of their inhumanity. According to many accounts, 1,500 men were rounded up in the Tacbil Mosque, forced to dig their own graves, and killed batch by batch. The women, on the other hand, were brought to military ships and raped. The body count was like that of a natural disaster, but in this case all were made possible by the military under the dictator’s orders.
History books may not teach students of all the atrocities that happened in Mindanao. But the narratives will remain. The violence that the people of Mindanao experienced during martial law is too painful to remember. And I believe these stories will be passed on from one generation to the next. No amount of historical revisionism can change what transpired here. The people of Mindanao will never forget.
In the last elections, I voted here in my adoptive home. And as an adopted son of Mindanao, I will take part in telling our narratives to let the northerners know of the excesses of the dictator (together with his family and cronies). The people of Mindanao can never move on until their dignity is restored, and not until the many fallen during the dictatorship are acknowledged by no less than the dictator’s heirs.
The scholar James Carroll reminds us: “Memory is a political act. Forgetfulness is the handmaiden of tyranny.” It is our task as citizens of this republic to remember the horrors of the martial law years, to prevent a repeat of the same. Part of this task is the strengthening of our educational system, to thwart the attempts of some to twist national memory and supplant it with horrible fictions.
The battle for legitimate history goes on. This piece is written to add to the many voices expressing their dismay over the bastardization of national memory. We will never forget.
Jesse Angelo L. Altez teaches philosophy at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He is engaged in the work of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, the research arm formed under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. On Twitter: @aaltzz
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