(This article was originally published in the Philippine Collegian Special Martial Law issue, 21 September 2018)
■ LCID CRESCENT FERNANDEZ
Maybe it was cold in the car, as he received news that the exhibit on historical atrocities was removed for his visit. Maybe he thought about his speech, about the small talk he would make with people in attendance. Maybe he even practiced his smile before he opened the door, only to be blasted by screams: NEVER AGAIN! NEVER AGAIN! NEVER AGAIN TO MARTIAL LAW!
In the midst of campaign activities, former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. met strong protest when he visited the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo City on April 13, 2016. The following month, Leni Robredo was proclaimed Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines, beating him by a slim margin.
When discussions about the legacy of Martial Law erupted all over social media, an old familiar line was drawn. Some Filipinos believed the late dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr. was the greatest president of the Philippines. Some people hailed his regime as the golden age of Philippine economy. Inversely, some Filipinos viewed his time as the darkest in Philippine history, its effects still plaguing our nation to this day. For them, martial rule under Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was notorious for its gross violation of human rights and civil liberties, and utter disregard for human life. The polarized state of public discourse on Martial Law had become as familiar as pandesal for breakfast.
But why is there so much confusion? Why do we remember things differently?
There are many explanations for the divided opinion of Filipinos on the Martial Law era. One such explanation is alleged to be geographical disparity. There is a notion that those who oppose Martial Law are limited to Metro Manila and Luzon inhabitants who have been the primary participants of the EDSA Revolution. The southern parts of the Philippines, on the other hand, are believed to be in favor of, or at least neutral to, the Martial Law period under Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Such a generalization seems a grave misrepresentation; it creates a false dichotomy between Luzon and the rest of the country. The truth may be closer to a whole nation in dissent—there remains active opposition to Martial Law across the archipelago—as established beyond doubt through the views of other students from Visayas and Mindanao on Martial Law.
Mark from Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISAT-U) shares that, generally, students in his university do not like Martial Law. Ernies, 23, from Saint Anthony’s College in Antique, shares the same sentiment. When asked if she is fine with having Martial Law implemented in the country in the present time, she answers, “Never again.” Federic, 27, from the University of San Carlos in Cebu, emphatically stresses that the Martial Law era has been “…the death of justice and democracy. The authoritarian dogma was absolute in that all dissents were silenced either by torture, forced disappearances or even death.”
Therese, 28, from Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, describes the Martial Law era as “oppressive and corrupt.” She adds that there has been “no respect for human rights whatsoever. Any form of opposition is immediately silenced, and any improvement is only done to hide corrupt activities.” Finally, Vince from West Mindanao State University views the Martial Law era as “a way to retain and amass power for self-serving interests.”
However, to say that all students in Visayas and Mindanao view the Martial Law era as a dark period in history is also inaccurate. Silver, 23, from the University of Antique (UA), judges the Martial Law era as fine since it made more people feel safe due to the suppression of crimes. He welcomes its return.
Looking deeper into the source of people’s opinions on the Martial Law era, there appears a lack of formal integration into the academic system of lessons about the atrocities committed during Martial Law. While some universities are lucky to have professors who are passionate about dispelling the myths of Martial Law, there are some schools which do not discuss the issue at all. Mark from ISAT-U has received his knowledge of Martial Law from his elders and not from his school. Silver from UA likewise says that professors in his school never mentioned a word about Martial Law.
Angelika, 24, from University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City, shares that she comes from an institution which favors being conservative over tackling issues confronting the country. While some professors share their insights on Martial Law, the topic is never discussed exhaustively. Rey, 26, from University of the Philippines Visayas in Miagao, claims that Martial Law is never really discussed outside of a few history classes and symposia, causing some of his schoolmates to be misled with regard to the period. He views this as “a failure on the part of the school.”
This gap in education has led many Filipinos to look to other dubious sources, leading to the difference in remembrance. With the advent of fake news, Filipinos are all the more vulnerable to misinformation on such a crucial issue. Dr. Herman Lagon, principal of Ateneo de Iloilo–Santa Maria Catholic School, for his part, is exercising his best efforts at remedying this problem: “We have invited 8 lawyers, activists, and human rights advocates this September 21 for our Martial Law talk which we have been doing annually.” He emphasized the need to “prepare the next generation (and even wake our own generation up).”
The path to ensuring that Marcos atrocities will never be forgotten is quite clear: education. This is where we will win the war against historical revisionism.
A Marcos return to Malacañang is looming over the horizon. Another intends to become a senator, all while unapologetically asking all of us to move on. It’s up to us now to help educate our people. This is not just the Manileños’ fight. Everywhere in the Philippines, Ilonggos, Cebuanos, Antiqueños, and Mindanaoans stand against the Marcoses—and we are unrelenting.
Last September 9, Ilocos Norte Gov. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos cancelled her event at ISAT-U as the people chanted what her brother once faced: NEVER AGAIN! NEVER AGAIN! NEVER AGAIN TO MARTIAL LAW!
The people remember and memory is made more potent by collective anger. When horror joins hope, old hurts find expression in disruptive assertions necessary to keep succeeding generations from that vilest of sins: forgetting.
There will come a day rage won’t just be screams. There will come a day we tear down for good the tower where tyrants and monsters live. There will come a future where we will find that dream we all chase, one defined by freedom and justice.