A history lesson
There is no time to lose,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in reference to the urgent task of educating Filipino schoolchildren on the horrors of martial law and the necessity of defending democracy and upholding human rights. For an education secretary herself to point out what educators need to do differently about the nation’s martial law experience underscores the urgency addressing a situation gone awry.
The occasion was a public hearing of the Senate committee on education, where it was noted that school textbooks in use were not presenting accurate accounts about martial law and had made “glaring omissions” on human rights abuses.
“By omitting the atrocities, you’re not (being) neutral or objective. You’re in favor of it.” These words came from Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, someone who belongs to a family that knows very well the atrocities perpetrated during martial law.
Aquino pointed out a 2010 textbook with a chapter that appeared to glorify martial law initiatives and made students sing a hymn popularized during that time. “Isn’t that a slap on the face of [martial law victims] …?” Aquino asked, also noting that the book “did not say that people were tortured, jailed and killed” under the Marcos years, nor did it detail any part of how the Marcoses accumulated billions of pesos worth of ill-gotten wealth during their time in power.
Briones, who herself suffered as a victim of martial law, recalled how she “lost everything” during those years. She said: “We are teaching children to be critical so that they won’t cooperate, won’t be part of a dictatorship.”
Here’s a good opportunity to discuss the issue of young Filipinos being deceived about the nature of the Marcos reign, or growing up ignorant of what the country went through during that dark era, such that it is so easy for them to believe that was a “golden age,” which political analyst Richard Heydarian described as very much a mirage. “The martial law period, with the exemption of the first few years, was an economic disaster in so many ways. And speaking of discipline, I’m not sure how much we had of law and order when the bulk of the insurgency issues we experienced [and continue to experience] actually reached [a] peak during the Marcos era,” Heydarian said.
It’s good the DepEd and the senators are getting around to fixing this terrible “lapse” in textbooks. In the meantime, others have stepped forward to remind this generation about what it cost to ensure they would not have to live under the iron boot of authoritarianism.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts held “Sound of Silence,” a solo exhibit by Egai Talusan Fernandez, precisely because of his activist past and his message against martial law. “The fact that Fernandez always goes back to the rhetoric of who or what his art should serve echoes the need to remind himself and those present during the time of martial law that such horrors should never happen again,” the exhibit notes explained.
Plays were also held, including a festival of nine plays called “Never Again: Voices of Martial Law” which was staged at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Auditorium. Published books about martial law were displayed, forums held and fists raised in commemoration. And there were protests in the different provinces, reminding us that martial law was a national—not just a local—tragedy.
Now comes the time to educate the millennials on what they did not have to go through, and make them understand the principled stand being made against the burial of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
As Pit Maliksi explained in his “High Blood” contribution (“The correct sense–our ‘tamang katinuan,’” Opinion, 9/19/16): “As a longtime teacher, I am firm in my conviction that I am doing the right thing in discussing the sacrifice and martyrdom of Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. every Aug. 21,the dark dictatorial years of Ferdinand Marcos on or before Sept. 21, and the people’s regained freedom on Feb. 23-26,” he wrote.
Briones pointedly reminded during the hearing: “This really is a responsibility not only of DepEd but of the entire Philippine society,” she said, “because many of those who experienced the horrors of martial law are already gone, their stories already lost.”
Martial law is a history lesson about which we cannot afford to get wrong, as this would impact on how future Filipinos will view priceless values like human rights and democracy. It isn’t moving on when the evils of martial law are denied; there can be no future if we look back and see nothing wrong.