By Pia Rodrigo
Today, September 21-, marks the 48th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’ proclamation of martial law in the Philippines.
Recently, a social media debate erupted over a Tweet expressing a sentiment that has been rehashed time and time again: that the youth do not understand what they’re talking about when they speak out against the Marcos regime and martial law, as they did not live to experience it. The Tweet in question posited that the younger generation, when condemning martial law, is simply condemning a construct.
I was born in 1998 — 12 years after the dictator was overthrown by the People Power Revolution and almost 30 years after the declaration of martial law. Growing up, I was made very much aware of the atrocities of the Marcos regime, in large part because of the people who raised me.
Martial law and the EDSA revolution were a never-ending point of conversation both at home and in school. I’ll never forget the chills I felt in Grade 3 when researching for a history project, I read about Eman Lacaba. He was the poet, writer and activist who was killed upon capture, with the bullet fired at close range entering his mouth and piercing his skull. I was moved every single time I watched a student production of Desaparesidos or Dekada ‘70. In my freshman year in college, my English professor asked us to write a profile about someone who lived through martial law, and so I interviewed a family friend who had been incarcerated for years during the Marcos regime.
My parents and the educational institutions responsible for my formation made an effort to inform me of the facts and constantly expose me to all kinds of stories about martial law. This led me to seeing martial law atrocities not as a construct, but as a reality. When I express my condemnation of the violence and torture, widespread cronyism, and pillaging of the country’s resources during Marcos’ regime, I am doing so not because my parents or my schools brainwashed me into believing a certain narrative, but because they were responsible enough to tell me the truth and present me with facts.
The Tweet in question insinuated that we do not have the license to denounce historical events we did not live through. But I don’t necessarily have to live through the Japanese occupation to understand the gravity of crimes against Filipino comfort women.
When people try to paint martial law atrocities as a construct, or something that is subjective, it allows historical narratives to be falsified and our national memory to be distorted. It leads to revisionism and denialism, in the interest of “moving on.” It sweeps aside and invalidates the stories of all those who suffered and moved the struggle for freedom forward.
The spread of disinformation and the deeply divided political atmosphere have created fertile ground for Marcos supporters to attempt to undermine national memory. And it’s working — YouTube videos and Facebook posts glorifying the regime and peddling outright lies get thousands of views and shares. Earlier this month, the Congress approved a bill proclaiming Sept. 11 a special non-working holiday in Ilocos Norte to commemorate Ferdinand Marcos’ birth anniversary, for his “life and contributions to national development as a World War II veteran, distinguished legislator, and former president.” The bill received 197 affirmative votes.
And then we have the people who tell us to “move on and let go.” But we can never move on, because evidently, Marcos is still here.
He is still here through his wife Imelda, and his children, Bongbong and Imee, who not only have yet to return their ill-gotten wealth, but also wield an alarming amount of political power as legislators. They still have monopoly over the political space and are insidiously twisting the narrative in their favor, time and time again.
And of course, Marcos’ authoritarian regime persists today in the Duterte administration and its tactics. Both the Duterte and Marcos regimes have attacked press freedom and shut down the broadcasting network ABS-CBN, allied with the military and police, carried out extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses, and portrayed themselves to be dismantling the oligarchy. The climate of impunity and oppression during Marcos’ era has found its way back to our current political landscape.
Now, more than ever, is the time for Filipinos, most especially the younger generation, to revive our collective memory and to resist those who deny and whitewash the atrocities committed during martial law and rehabilitate Marcos. As Milan Kundera wrote, the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
Pia Rodrigo is the communications officer of Action for Economic Reforms and a Political Science graduate of Ateneo de Manila University.