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Sisyphus’ Lament

Why don’t we ban historical revisionism?

/ 04:50 AM September 19, 2016

SINGAPORE—Should someone have sued Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar for historical revisionism?

“Who has seen a copy of the Official Gazette?” former librarian and associate dean Myrna Feliciano asked my freshman class about the dry official journal that dated back to Spanish colonial times.

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In 2010, the Aquino administration brought it to Facebook with a lot more pictures.

Last Sept. 12, the Official Gazette posted a 99th birthday card for Ferdinand Marcos. The caption read in part: “In 1972, he declared martial law to suppress a communist insurgency and secessionism in Mindanao. In 1986, Marcos stepped down from the presidency to avoid bloodshed during the uprising that came to be known as ‘people power.’”

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Angry comments crying official revisionism soon filled the page. The caption was revised twice, finally citing martial law and people power.

Assistant Secretary Ramon Cualoping III apologized and asked the public to wait for their post on Sept. 21, the day Marcos declared martial law.

The satirical “Superficial Gazette” was soon put up to offer “quality and timely historical revisionism.” It portrayed the “Davao Death Squad” as a “nationwide charity organization,” the Bataan Death March as a “fun run” organized by Japan, and assassinated former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. dying after he “fell down airplane steps.”

The Superficial Gazette has 20,000 Facebook likes and was so effective its detractors had it suspended from Twitter.

But I was half-expecting someone to sue.

The Supreme Court hearings on the Marcos burial established that there is no explicit law that prohibits this.

Instead, former congressman Ibarra Gutierrez argued that our Constitution was rewritten with rejection of martial law intertwined in its lines, and the planned Marcos burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani so fundamentally contradicts this constitutionalized fact. Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon added it violates principles on reparation for human rights abuses, which go beyond monetary reparation.

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Justice Francis Jardeleza thus posited that the burial is “grave abuse of discretion” given how the Constitution and several laws and Supreme Court decisions condemn martial law abuses. After martial law, the Constitution was rewritten to empower the Supreme Court to void acts constituting such grave abuse, even if they are otherwise legal.

The best legal argument—there are compelling nonlegal arguments—against the Marcos burial is thus not specific to the burial. It translates to any other government act that deals with Marcos. Such as the Official Gazette.

Thus, beyond the burial, could we also sue over a government Facebook post?

One would think so. Critics of the planned hero’s burial for Marcos would consider the post historical revisionism in another medium. The Official Gazette’s Facebook posts are government-sponsored and a valid target for the same legal attack.

Yet it seemed wiser to let everyone vent on Facebook. This let the Superficial Gazette emerge as the clear winner in the marketplace of ideas. No one can protest that the debate was cut short by a handful of justices.

Further, there are important lessons underneath the satire. First, Official Gazette staffer Marco Angelo Cabrera was personally attacked by social media vigilantes for being a staffer of then Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. They claimed he should not be handling the Official Gazette because of “conflict of interest.”

But this alleged conflict of interest is a fake legal doctrine. On the contrary, it would violate human rights to block someone from government service because of his political beliefs or past affiliations. Further, Cualoping said he approved the post and Cabrera clearly did not hijack the Official Gazette. What was the latter’s crime beyond once working for the dictator’s son?

Not all self-styled anti-Marcos activists are as conscientious as Gutierrez or Gascon, and one shudders to think what the glory-seeking kind can come up with if allowed to invoke the kind of broad, subjective legal doctrine currently under debate in the Marcos burial case.

Second, activists might take cues from the Superficial Gazette. It is likely the handiwork of someone much younger than the torture victims who testified during the Marcos burial hearing. For example, it makes fun of Marcos Jr.’s son Sandro, who attracts more millennial critics on Twitter.

If the Superficial Gazette generated more discussion about a Facebook post than the legal challenge did about the Marcos burial, should we draw lessons from its more visual, more succinct style? Does it show how the stories of martial law can be better translated to social media?

Further, the Superficial Gazette did not patronizingly claim to present lessons to the youth from older people, and activists remain blind to how much resentment this has created in the post-Edsa generation.

I write this with journalist Raissa Robles’ book “Never Again” beside me. It is a beautiful retelling, complete with source documents and old photos comfortable for those who navigate Instagram and Scribd. Her birthday dedication to me begins: “Lawyers were a key part of the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship.”

Nevertheless, the resolution of the Official Gazette’s Facebook post makes me wonder if upholding the broader legal arguments in the Marcos burial case that go beyond black-letter law would be like keeping the One Ring instead of casting it into Mount Doom, believing that a court could be trusted with all of Sauron’s power. Perhaps the Superficial Gazette is a better venue than the Supreme Court for debating martial law’s legacy, from historical revisionism to how to present Marcos in school curricula.

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: Ferdinand Marcos, historical revisionism, Official Gazette, opinion, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar
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