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We should not demonize Ferdinand Marcos

/ 03:09 PM April 15, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO—Ferdinand Marcos’s allies complain that he’s been demonized in the media and the schools. I agree with the premise of the complaint: We shouldn’t demonize Ferdinand Marcos.

Because to demonize him is to make it appear like he wasn’t real— like he was just some scary, but made up character. Like a villain in a sci-fi or horror movie. Like Darth Maul in ‘Star Wars,’ or that demon who looks like Darth Maul in the more recent movie ‘Insidious.’

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Marcos was real. And what our country went through under him was painfully real.

Many are understandably outraged over the ongoing campaign to rehabilitate the late dictator, to transform him into some heroic figure who deserves to be buried in a sacred place.

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But there’s at least one good thing that’s come out of this debate on whether Marcos should be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani: We’re talking about Marcos again.

And we should keep talking. And we should get young Filipinos involved in the conversation. For they should know and understand what we went through.

Now, I’m not talking about Nazi-style brainwashing, in which young Pinoys are made to swallow a drab list of facts and figures about the regime. And I don’t think we should teach that chapter of our history in good-versus-evil terms.

Instead, young people should be encouraged to think critically. You don’t do that by censoring information, banning books, or restricting access to the Web. That’s Marcos’s way—the way of tyrants.

Instead, let’s expose young Pinoys to as much information about that period. And we should even include, and perhaps even start with, the information put out by the dictatorship.

By all means, have young Filipinos soak in all the TV coverage of Marcos and Imelda at the height of their power. Let them view hours and hours of footage of Imelda entertaining foreign guests and looking beautiful and glamorous—since some apparently believe that such spectacles were proof of how much better things were back then.

Let them listen to Marcos’s speeches, and have them read all his executive orders and official pronouncements. Heck, even let them read “The Filipino Ideology” (though I suspect that may be considered a form of torture.)

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But then, let’s also have them read the books chronicling the abuses of the regime, the reports from the alternative press during those years, those put out by publications Marcos shut down or tried to shut down.

They should see the photos and video clips of those who were tortured and massacred, of the displaced peasants and factory workers who were brutally dispersed by police.

Let’s have young Pinoys watch the brilliant documentaries about that era, especially the classic “To Sing Our Own Song” featuring the late Senator Pepe Diokno. They should go over the thousands of articles and the reels of footage on the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and the upheaval that followed.

I’m sure Amnesty International still has boxes and boxes of files that documented one atrocity after another, one torture after another, one gruesome act of political violence after another.

Young Filipinos should go over those reports and others from other human rights organizations. They should go on field trips to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, to learn about all the martyrs who fought and died fighting against dictatorship.

By all means, let’s expose young Filipinos to all these materials. Let’s expose them to all the claims and counter-claims about what we went through. There should even be spirited debates. We should acknowledge policies the regime embraced that made sense.

Nothing should be held back.

One debate I personally find useful focused on what it means to have a strong government. For clearly, the Philippines has needed one badly for a long time. But clearly, there’s a huge difference between strong government and brutal government.

Marcos created a brutal government, and one that also landed him on the list of the most corrupt leaders in world history.

I’m willing to bet that young Filipinos, once they get the real, complete picture, will decide that yes, Philippine democracy may be messy and chaotic, and that there’s still much work to be done to create a more just society, but it still is far superior to, and more humane than, authoritarian rule.

This is not about being vindictive or hateful. It’s about learning from our past, so we don’t fall into the trap of believing demagogues and tyrants—those who claim to have all the answers, and who say they deserve all the power.

We should not demonize Marcos. The reality our country endured was scary enough, painful enough to serve as a powerful reminder that we must never ever let anything like it happen again.

Copyright 2011 by Benjamin Pimentel. On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel

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