Human Rights

To forget is not to heal

Written by Jovic Yee, published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer
(I was interviewed by the writer on the meaning of martial law for millennials)

(Last of two parts)

Despite the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ grave human rights violations and plunder of the government coffers, some Filipinos who lived under his administration pine for the days when he ruled the Philippines with an iron fist.

Experts attribute this phenomenon to a false sense of security and prosperity that the dictatorship’s propaganda machine churned out at the time, or to frustration over the government’s failure to foster a more equitable society three decades after the fall of Marcos.

For millennial Renee Karunungan, one of the 10 outstanding Filipino students in 2011, any accommodation to the Marcos family “will take away a part of our history that needs to be remembered.”

“It will invalidate the suffering and pain many Filipinos went through for freedom. And in the longer term, we are bound to repeat our history …. To forget is not to heal. To forget is to allow the Marcoses to get away with injustice,” she said.

Political analyst Richard Heydarian, himself a member of the millennial generation that is blamed for forgetting the lessons of martial law, described this phenomenon as “not historical amnesia but autocratic nostalgia.”

Heydarian said the roots of this nostalgia for the dictator’s iron-fist rule could be traced to the failure of those who lived through the martial law years to ensure that the Marcoses would not be able to rebound, rehabilitate themselves and preserve  their political base.

“We have them to blame more than anyone else. I come from the Ilocos region, and it’s understandable in our region that there’s a lot of sympathy for Marcos,” Heydarian said.

“But I’m surprised to see regions that did not benefit much from the Marcos period but have very strong sentiments that the Marcos era was an era of discipline and prosperity, that the Philippines was the second richest [in Asia. These are] statements that have no basis in reality,” he said.

Heydarian acknowledged that the Philippines was indeed the second richest country in Asia in the 1950s. But by the next decade, he said, the country was already in a downward spiral.

Economic disaster

“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,” he said.

Historian Ricardo Jose of the University of the Philippines said the communist New People’s Army, toward the end of the 1970s, considered Marcos its “No. 1 recruiter.”

Jose explained that this was because living conditions in the provinces were getting bad, but across the country, people had no idea what was going on because the press was censored.

PH has no golden age

Heydarian said some Filipinos may be longing for strongman rule because the Marcos years had been cast as the country’s golden era.

The Chinese, he said, look back on the glory of the Qing dynasty, while the youth in the Middle East have the golden days of Islam to recall.

In contrast, he said, the Philippines has no such golden age.

“Some of us are trying to have hopes for the future by reimagining the past. Before Marcos, we don’t have much of a memory [of other administrations] since they look too far away for us to have any tangible emotional attachment …. It’s the emotional comfort that not long ago we were great and we can be great again if we have the right leaders,” he said.

Not entirely to blame

This longing for strongman rule, however, is dangerous to a fragile democracy like the Philippines, as it lacks an appreciation of the complexity of government, he said.

The success of a country, he said, has many variables, from internal and external conditions to the right kind of leadership.

“Many people are disappointed with what’s happening with the country, disappointed with the promises that went unfulfilled since the fall of Marcos, so somehow their emotional frustration with the present is distorting their perception of the past. Or in some cases, deliberately distorting the memory of the past,” he said.

For that reason, Heydarian said, it is unfair to blame millennials entirely for the erroneous appreciation of the Marcos years as the Philippines’ golden age

Millennials, he said, are “partly victims of the shortcomings” of the martial law generation.

“If some of the millennials are enamored with the Marcos era, and want the Marcoses to come back, you have the martial law babies and Marcos-era intellectuals to blame for not doing enough to help them realize that while over the past 30 years Philippine democracy has not been very successful in terms of creating equitable economic conditions and cutting down social inequality in terms of providing prosperity,” he said.

“The Marcos era was an unmitigated disaster in economic terms and even a bigger humanitarian disaster in political terms,” he said.

Resist propaganda

But millennials, he said, have to resist martial law propaganda proliferating on the internet, and they must equip themselves with correct information about one of the darkest periods in the Philippines’ history and pass this on to ensure that it will not be forgotten.

Recently, there have been efforts by various sectors to educate the youth on the truth about martial law that unfortunately has been left out in textbooks used in schools.

Among these are Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ distribution of books retelling stories of survivors and the private sector’s  staging of plays about the Marcos dictatorship.

The Duterte administration is seen as too friendly to the Marcos family, but some millennials hope that the government will not be in the forefront of historical revisionism, especially with its planned burial of the dictator at Libingan ng mga Bayani.

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Originally published at the Philippine Daily Inquirer

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