Tuesday, January 16, 2018
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That ‘martial law thingy’: How Bongbong did us a big favor

Here’s an odd twist 30 years after the fall of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos: His son actually helped Filipinos remember what one of the world’s most corrupt rulers did to the country.

Bongbong lost to Leni Robredo in a stunning victory for the nation, but let’s give him credit for one thing: he helped many Filipinos come to grips with his father’s reign of terror and greed.

In fact, here’s another irony: Marcos Jr. helped fix one of the grave failings of Cory and Noynoy Aquino. Well, he’s not going accept this, and of course. Aquino supporters will protest.

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But Marcos Jr.’s campaign, based on the arrogant premise that our painful past didn’t really happen, has done more to help Filipinos remember and understand what happened to us during the Marcos regime.

On this important task, the Aquinos failed. Miserably.

The Aquinos were in power during 12 of the 30 years since we defeated the dictator, more than enough time to make sure the lessons of that terrible chapter in our history are never forgotten.

Did the Aquinos do anything? Not really. We have monuments and yearly celebrations. That’s about it.

They certainly didn’t do much in one of the most important tasks of the post-dictatorship era: Reforming the educational system to help young Filipinos know about and understand tyranny Marcos-style.

That certainly made it possible for Bongbong to come close to winning the vice presidency. Thank god, that didn’t happen.

And here’s another unexpected twist: Not only did Marcos Jr. lose, his campaign turned the spotlight on the past. Suddenly, everyone, including young people, are talking about martial law and the Marcos era.

Now, my friend and fellow Inquirer columnist Oscar Franklin Tan has something to say about this, about the heightened focus on the Marcos years. About the martial law thingy.

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“Let’s move on from that martial law thingy,” he says.

The retelling of the Marcos years, Oscar predicts, “will be shaped by young voters who do not disbelieve martial law’s horrors, but are critical of how much work remains to make democracy real.”

I hope so, Oscar. And I trust that you will play a key role in keeping the memory of those terrible years alive.

But I’m not so crazy about your headline and some of things you said.

For when you say, “Let’s move on from that martial law thingy,” what people might hear is: “Let’s forget about what happened during martial law.”

I know that’s not what you meant. But I worry that that’s what others think you’re saying: that you’re so sick and tired of these “old Filipinos who knew martial law” — as you playfully titled your homage/parody of my essay — talk and pontificate about martial law and the Marcos dictatorship.

They might miss what you really wanted to say which got buried toward the end of your column: “One hopes our education is extended from the end of World War II not just to 1986 but to 2016. When youth appear receptive to moving on from that martial law thingy, they do not intend to forget it. Rather, they hope to avoid inheriting a truncated tale that ends in 1986.”

I totally agree.

You argue that the main thrust of criticisms against young Filipinos “unconsciously implies millennials must be guilty for not yet being born in 1986 and not learning the facts of martial law from textbooks prescribed by their elders. It implies the youth are not equal participants, so ‘shut up ka na lang.’”

If you come across anyone, especially from my generation, who expresses such views or who call on young Filipinos to shut up, let me know, Oscar, and I’ll join you in speaking out against them.

You also said the dominant anti-martial law narrative “implies it is illegitimate for millennials to be more conscious of the 2000s than the distant 1970s. One may certainly criticize someone for not knowing the facts of martial law. However, can one similarly dismiss a young idealist who wants to talk about the SAF 44 or the Kidapawan farmers more than martial law?”

I have news for you, Oscar: many of us who have complained about the lack of education on the martial law era also spoke out on these tragedies.

I wrote about the Aquino administration’s clueless, insensitive response to the Kidapawan massacre — which did not make me too popular on the “Never Again” anti-Marcos dictatorship page on Facebook.

In fact, one of my posts blasting Aquino for not even acknowledging the hunger that drove the farmers to join the protest was reported to the group’s administrators by a member who opposes Marcos but who apparently didn’t have a problem with one of his tactics: suppression of dissenting views.

You raise the issue of the generational divide. You argue that we tend to overemphasize it.

I agree, but neither should we ignore it. It’s important and we need to engage these generational differences. They’ve always been there. Even during our time.

Take the hero whose story actually made us friends. I chronicled Edgar Jopson’s story in “UG An Underground Tale,” the book which you said you appreciated because it “pushed me to ask what conviction I might muster in a society descending into martial law.”

You were inspired by Edjop’s story and so was I. That’s why I wrote the book. The three of us — Edjop, you and I — represent three generations.

Edjop belonged to the First Quarter Storm generation which led the youth protests against Marcos in the 60s and early 70s. I was a young boy then.

When I became an activist a decade later, some from Edjop’s generation weren’t exactly impressed with my generation’s brand of activism.

Some hardline FQS firebrands thought we were too loud but with not much substance, too soft. I remember a veteran activist and ex-political detainee even remarking about activists he considered too opinionated, “Hindi pa nga sila nakatikim ng kulungan.”

Trust me, many of us are self aware enough about not coming across as self-righteous and arrogant about our past. That’s because many of us remember how we were viewed by an earlier generation. And also because many of us were once guilty of such arrogance and narrow-mindedness.

Including me.

For example, as activists, we were so critical of America’s role in the Philippines, we downplayed and even dismissed the sacrifices of Filipinos who fought in World War II. We called that conflict “America’s war,” a conflict in which Filipinos were but pawns in an imperialist game.

I still cringe every time I remember how I thought this way. Mainly because among the Filipino World War 2 whose bravery and courage we devalued was my father. It was so wrong. And I even wrote about it to apologize.

I’m glad you are raising questions on how we remember and retell our past, including “that martial law thingy.”

Discussions and debates about how to view and understand our past are important.

Now you say “the tone of our democracy’s story will now be set” by social media exchanges, including the Twitter rivalry between Aika Robredo and Sandro Marcos.

“No one knows how a critical new generation will choose to immortalize it, but if the election social media frenzy is any gauge, it will surely be as impassioned as the first drafts.”

I hope you’re right about the passion with which our past, including the martial law era, will be retold by future generations. We need that. That passion will be key in keeping those stories alive and making sure they remain relevant.

But I also hope you and your generation aren’t too in a hurry to cast away the first drafts.

We can all still learn much from them.

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TAGS: “UG An Underground Tale, Benigno Aquino III, collective memory Filipinos, Cory Aquino, Edgar Jopson, Filipino millennials, history, Marcos dictatorship, memorializing, memory of Martial Law Philippines, Oscar Franklin Tan
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