Editor’s note: Jose K. Tirol, Ph.D. is an assistant professor at the Department of History of the Ateneo de Manila University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
(CNN Philippines Life) — The easiest way to comment about martial law, and Philippine history classes about martial law, is to describe the terrible legacy of the former, and the tepid quality of the latter. It has been three decades since the EDSA Revolution, but the tragedy is that a generation of young Filipinos remains largely ignorant of the narrative of martial law. These were only children during, or born after that period, and sheltered by parents who would rather not discuss what they had endured for so long.
An even greater tragedy, however, is that there are many older Filipinos who experienced martial law as adults and continue to support the memory of Ferdinand Marcos today. Within this category are Filipinos who either honestly do not know the extent of the excesses of the dictatorship, or even benefited from Marcos’ rule, and describe the period as the so-called Golden Era of Philippine history.
When we use the word “education,” we are referring not just to what is taught in the classroom, through our textbooks and our teachers. For most of the period after EDSA, the narrative transmitted throughout elementary and secondary school was a watered-down version of martial law. Abuses by the military and paramilitary units, and the plunder committed by the Marcos family and their cronies, were routinely downplayed, while emphasizing the positive accomplishments of the regime, as if it were a balance sheet.
Rather than let the teachers analyze and properly discuss martial law, students were encouraged to think for themselves, to come to their own conclusions. Such awful naïveté only created a generation that didn’t know the truths they needed to know, unless their parents took it upon themselves to fill in the gaps left by formal education. But this broadening of minds seems to be more the exception rather than the rule, as witnessed by many impressionable young Filipinos easily drawn into the propaganda of the Marcos faithful.
What needs to be understood about education, especially in the context of martial law, is the fact that what we learn about history transcends the classroom. The policies and guidelines from government offices, as fleshed out by authors, is actually only one facet of how society reinterprets and transmits narratives. Education about history is found in how society chooses to remember, or not remember, and this social memory, rather than history per se, is what in turn shapes our actions and understanding of the past.
Abuses by the military and paramilitary units, and the plunder committed by the Marcos family and their cronies, were routinely downplayed, while emphasizing the positive accomplishments of the regime, as if it were a balance sheet.
For example, we have one martial law museum in the entire Philippines, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, and it was set up as a private initiative. No government has yet to provide funding for a public museum on martial law. The monuments we build, or do not build, express volumes about the presence, or absence, of a proper grasp of society about its history.
Notice too the scarcity of Filipino movies explicitly about the Marcos family, or any attempt to capture the larger scope of martial law. We only have "Imelda," "Eskapo," and “Dekada ‘70” — the latter of which was more of a family history rather than a national history. We can produce quality films like “Heneral Luna,” but our film industry is extremely hesitant to make a legitimate movie about that dark era in our history.
Our reluctance to properly educate our people, and not just the young, about martial law, is actually not the first time when Filipinos have been hesitant to confront unpleasant historical memories. We have seen it in the blank stares of young people when they hear about the brutality of the Philippine-American War. We would rather remember America giving us democracy, public school education, and eventual independence. We would rather remember America’s gifts, which were actually not as altruistic as they initially seemed.
No government has yet to provide funding for a public museum on martial law. The monuments we build, or do not build, express volumes about the presence, or absence, of a proper grasp of society about its history.
We have also seen it in the haste with which issues of collaboration, of Filipino betraying Filipino, were swept under the rug following the Second World War. We wanted to focus on economic reconstruction so badly that it was politically convenient to forget that not all those who worked for the Japanese were honestly pro-Filipino, but unfortunately self-serving.
And then there is martial law, the ghost that won’t go away, manifesting itself in the division among us over the former president’s burial. After the Marcos family fled, along with many of their cronies and associates, there was no serious effort from any Philippine president to pursue justice for the thousands of lives lost and thousands more traumatized.
To speak of a lack of education, therefore, means a return to studying social memory, to go back and study where we — parents, teachers, institutions, both private and public — have been amiss in teaching our children, and in so doing, reclaiming our responsibility to shaping our nation’s future.