Martial law and the TikTok generation

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How Philippine history textbooks fail to discuss martial law, and how this connects to our education crisis. File photo by JL JAVIER

The query “martial laws [sic] marcos history” commands 10 billion eyeballs on social media platform Douyin, known outside of China as TikTok. The page features the Marcoses at the height of their reign. One bit of footage, which portrays a young Imelda descending from a presidential plane, links to an audio clip of Blackpink Lisa trilling: “Twerking, twerking when I buy the things I like / Dollar, dollars, dropping on my ass tonight.”

That the Marcos family — whose name is marred by 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 "disappeared," and 70,000 incarcerations — has been repackaged into celebrity royalty akin to the Kardashians is as baffling as the fact that a Chinese social network became this generation’s platform to “learn” about Philippine history.

But to blame it all on social media, TikTok to be exact, is to take a myopic view of the situation. Could it be that today’s youth’s naiveté — fawning over the ex-first lady’s youthful beauty while glossing over human rights violations — is rooted in something much deeper?

The dilemma of Philippine history textbooks

A Zoom forum organized by the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center on January 25, entitled #TwistedTruths: The dilemma of Philippine history textbooks, connected what it called an “education crisis” to how history is taught to young Filipino students.

The forum centered on an extensive review of Grade 5 and 6 Araling Panlipunan textbooks: “Lahing Kayumanggi: Mga Hamon at Tugon sa Pagkabansa," “Pagbuo ng Pilipinas Bilang Nasyon”, “Kronika: Mga Hamon at Tugon sa Pagkabansa," “Lahing Pilipino: Kaagapay sa Ika-21 Siglo," “Bansang Pilipinas, Lahing Pilipino,” “Araling Panlipunan: Pilipinas Bilang Isang Bansa," “Araling Panlipunan: Pag-usbong ng Nasyonalismong Pilipino," “Kultura, Kasaysayan, at Kabuhayan," and “Pilipinas sa Makabagong Mundo.”

Academics from the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Department of History — Dr. Kerby C. Alvarez, Dondy Pepito G. Ramos III, Francisco Jayme Paolo A. Guiang, and Aaron F. Viernes — conducted the review. Top historian Dr. Maria Serena I. Diokno, former chair of National Historical Commission of the Philippines, led the forum.

Read: Academicians say education must correct Marcos, martial law myths and disinformation

It could be remembered that in 2016, the top state historian tendered her resignation following the sudden burial of the late dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. In her words, she said the event “denies our history, erases the memory of lives lost and destroyed, mocks the collective action we took to oust the dictator, and denigrates the value of our struggle for freedom.”

“Fairly limited” space to discuss martial law

Martial law was among several key topics discussed in the forum, which opened with the tendency of textbooks to focus on political events and themes (which limited the discussion of non-political topics such as major disasters or history of diseases).

That said, the proportion of pages dedicated to martial law pales in comparison to other major political events.

According to the review, only 7 to 11% of the total number of pages of textbooks are focused on martial law — a chapter in history that spanned 14 years. By contrast, the reform movement, Katipunan, and Philippine-American war (which ran for eight years) are discussed across five chapters, occupying 20% of the textbooks.

Of this meager percentage, there is a “near-exclusive focus” on Marcos’s “New Society” programs.

Alvarez noted the positive assessment of PLEDGES, which stands for Peace and Order, Land Reform, Economic reform, Development of moral values through education, government reorganization, employment and manpower services, and Social services.

He says that this is provided “with little or no discussion of cost and impact.” Its “deleterious effects” were mentioned, but the explanation “lacks evidence.”

“Bothsideism” and the failure to mention economic crisis and plunder

Alvarez tallied the factors that influenced the imposition of martial law according to textbooks.

By his count, the so-called communist threat, rising protests, the Plaza Miranda bombing, the Enrile ambush, rampant criminality and drugs use, as well as the Mindanao problem were mentioned numerous times in various textbooks.

In comparison, there were only two mentions of Marcos’ ambition to remain in power.

For his part, Ramos noted that the textbook discussion of the events leading up to the 1986 People Power focuses much on the death of Ninoy Aquino, with a “near-absent mention” of the economic collapse of that time.

Moreover, apart from “some discussion” of Marcos’ cronies, the plunder of national coffers is also not taken up, except once, which was described in the book as merely “usap-usapan.”

Ramos noted a glaring lack of crucial evidence, such as economic data, the impact of martial law programs, evidence of human rights violations, as well as loans contracted on behalf of Marcos cronies.

The review also revealed that bothsideism, a phenomenon where issues are made to seem balanced between opposing viewpoints despite evidence, is practiced “in an effort to be neutral or objective.”

Diokno describes the textbook treatment of martial law as objective or at least fair, where the study of martial law is treated as “a matter of opinion,” as “some distance themselves from ‘sensitive’ opinions.”

“[The] question is not only to set fact apart from opinion, but also to evaluate. Given the massive disinformation and fake news going around, it is absolutely necessary that we teach our students how to evaluate an opinion.”

“[The] question is not only to set fact apart from opinion, but also to evaluate,” Diokno said. “Given the massive disinformation and fake news going around, it is absolutely necessary that we teach our students how to evaluate an opinion.”

“Critical thinking skills are hardly developed, and textbook attempts to solicit students’ opinions do not help develop the learners’ ability to gather evidence and evaluate opinions or perspective,” she added.

Diokno lamented: “We are suffering from a dearth in training in content.”

Dearth in content

As a result of this dearth, the youth lap up their political content online, such as on TikTok.

On the app, where fake news can thrive among whimsical content, the vulnerable are caught up in a new platform of speech. While TikTok has announced its crackdown on misinformation, it can be hard to regulate content from over a billion monthly active users.

But the problem is more than just misinformation. In this age of information, the more pressing problem is miseducation.

The term was popularized by Renato Constantino in his 1982 landmark essay “The Miseducation of the Filipino.” He wrote: “Education is a vital weapon of a people striving for economic emancipation, political independence and cultural renaissance… Philippine education therefore must produce Filipinos who are aware of their country's problems, who understand the basic solution to these problems, and who care enough to have courage to work and sacrifice for their country's salvation.”

Read: OPINION: The frailty of our Martial Law ‘education’

Today, the country needs to be saved from a new form of miseducation. Numerous calls for reforms in the education system have been made by various sectors, as social media platforms continue to enable the spread of lies and disinformation.

Read: DepEd: Textbook review to include SC decision on Marcos' burial

Algorithmically popular content on TikTok includes the gauche displays of wealth that led Filipinos to topple a dictatorship over 36 years ago.

But this time, the same footage is set to rap, skittering notes, and catchy beats — not the muted cries of thousands who never reached the day a Chinese app was used to tell an entirely different story.