Every September, the Philippines remembers one of the darkest chapters in its history when the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972.
Remembering Martial Law in the Philippines has always been a challenge. There are many reasons for this, with the late Jesuit sociologist Fr. John Carroll, S.J noting the Philippine’s lack of collective conscience and the solidarity of the elite, to which Marcos and his cronies belonged. On my part though, I will focus on a couple of factors that are closer to my area of work and experience: the failure of the educational system, and battle for memory in social media.
For the longest time, basic education has been the battleground for institutional memory for Martial Law, both in its representation in textbooks and how it was taught in class discussions. Historians and educators have long called for improvement in textbook writing in basic education, especially when it comes to the contentious topic of Martial Law. Some textbooks, for example, overly highlight the perceived achievements of the Marcos regime when it comes to infrastructure development.
Several Marcos “myths” and other historically inaccurate assertions sometimes still find their way in books. In one textbook I reviewed, I noted how the writers copied an erroneous assertion from a heavily criticized post from the Official Gazette in September 11, 2016, which claimed that Marcos “stepped down” from the presidency, instead of being ousted by the 1986 People Power Revolution. The government’s communications department eventually edited that post.
More than the treatment in textbooks and discussions, there is also a prevailing problem when it comes to access to history education in the Philippines. In the educational reforms in 2013, Philippine History was removed from the high school curriculum.
This left Filipino students with only two opportunities to learn Philippine history: in grade six when they are just eleven years old, or in their first year in college, should they wish to pursue learning in higher education institutions (HEI).
However, the participation rate of Filipinos in HEI is only at 33%, meaning that two out of three Filipinos will not get a mature discussion of Philippine history. Seeing the need for greater access to learning Philippine history, several groups lobbied for Philippine History to be included again in the high school curriculum.
The battle for memory has also transcended the classroom in this age of social media. While Marcos apologists and historical revisionist have yet to engage social scientists in scholarly publications, pro-Marcos revisionist videos abound in social media. This is particularly potent and dangerous for a nation that has suffered from fake news proliferation in Facebook and related sites in the last five years.
The importance of properly remembering this period is becoming more urgent given the political climate in the country, with President Rodrigo Duterte being a close ally of the Marcoses, and even making possible the dictator’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery). Just as alarming are the President’s Marcosian measures which have also been noted by human rights organizations and heavily criticized and opposed by civil society groups.
The pandemic has given new opportunities for learning, though. Given the six-month quarantine, many opportunities for learning have become available online. Educators, activists, historians and other social scientists have worked together this month to provide free webinars that make historical discussions more accessible to other educators and students.
Many of the webinars for example, tackled different aspects of Martial Law, with some zeroing in on historical revisionism. It was also announced this week that the Philippines will finally be having its first state-sponsored museum dedicated to remembering Martial Law.
The challenge of remembering this critical period in Philippine history has never been greater, especially in this age of social media and pandemic. But the challenge must be faced, both for historical accuracy and justice.
It is also important for the Philippine’s integrity as a nation since its Constitution highlights the values of human rights, democracy and social justice; values taken away from the Filipino people during the dark days of Martial Law.
TWENTY YEARS since fleeing the country in disgrace, Imelda Marcos — the glittering, partying, mesmerizing half of what has been called a conjugal dictatorship — still loves to go shopping. But alas, no longer at Tiffany’s.
With dozens of pending court cases, her foreign trips have been severely curtailed. Park Avenue will have to wait, as Imelda now goes where the Pinoy hoi polloi congregate, roughing it up in all her finery (pouf hairdo, outsized jewelry, and of course the shoes, the fabulous shoes) in such down-market places as 168 Mall in Binondo and Market!Market! in Fort Bonifacio.
“One of my big joys of going to 168, Market! Market!, the sari-sari store, or the flea market is because it makes me happy to see people, it enriches me,” she says giddily, like a little girl. “I feel so good being so accepted by them and hugged by them and kissed by them. And everybody wants to have a picture. I’m so complimented…When I go shopping I’m not really shopping for things, I’m really shopping for love.”
Even today no one says it like Imelda. No one does it like Imelda. Whatever we may think of her, she is an original. No one like her had appeared on our stage before, and no one has upstaged her since.
Although the signs of age and wear are there — she is, after all, 76 years old — she is still quotable, still fabulous, still so out of this world.
Until now, no one can propel us to the heights of hyper-reality as Imelda can. No one else can be so reviled as a symbol of extravagance and excess, while also remaining so appealing. For deep in the Pinoy soul is a sensibility as baroque as Imelda’s (just look at the jeepney), a flair for drama as flamboyant, and a craving for acceptance as desperate as hers.
This is why, even though we know all about her and she is more caricature than real, she remains an irresistible spectacle, a natural crowd drawer. She is still a star. Take it from her: “I try to be a star only because I want to be a light in the dark of the night, to give people hope and to give them the faith that if you can think it, you can make it, if you can dream it, it can be real. That’s my life.”
Indeed it is. One reason for Imelda’s enduring appeal is that she is Cinderella. We are suckers for rags-to-riches stories, for escapist fairy tales that help us deal with harsh reality.
The orphan Imelda grew up in a garage and became the stunningly beautiful young woman who landed in Manila with only P5 in her wallet. Snubbed by the Manila elite, she bagged the country’s most eligible bachelor, rising to become, before the fall of the House of Marcos, the most powerful woman in the country and one of the richest in the world.
In her prime, she rubbed elbows with Mao Zedong, Andrei Gromyko, and Muammar Khaddafy. The Reagans were close friends, as were assorted monarchs, movie stars, and millionaires. She shopped, she partied, she built.
Her edifice complex was as legendary as her buying sprees. She also dazzled. She organized beauty contests, film festivals, and cultural pageants. She may have kept us poor, but also vastly entertained.
She knew, long before the likes of Joseph Estrada and Ramon Revilla ended up in high public office, that politics is as much about entertainment and illusion as it is about money and power.
In 2004, Transparency International gave the Marcoses the distinction of being the second most corrupt leaders in the world in the past 20 years, next only to the Soehartos of Indonesia.
The Marcos personal fortune was estimated to be between $5 billion to $10 billion. Critics say the Marcos kleptocracy robbed Filipinos blind and kept them in the dark by muzzling the press and clamping down on dissenters.
Yet despite the ignominy of their fall, the Marcoses today are not pariahs. She may have lost her half-serious bids for the presidency in 1992 and 1998, but Imelda was elected Leyte representative in 1995. Her daughter Imee is on her third term in Congress and son Ferdinand Jr. or Bong-bong is Ilocos Norte governor.
They are also hardly paupers, even if they lost a $600-million account in a Swiss bank in a lawsuit in the United States, and the government has confiscated some of their properties, including buildings in New York.
Imelda herself continues to live in style, ensconced in an Ayala Avenue penthouse packed with mementoes of her past life and overflowing with the opulence and tackiness she loves. She still parties, attends concerts, and turns heads when she walks regally, guiltlessly, into a hotel lobby.
Much more than fairy tale, the life and times of Imelda Marcos is as much a fable on the capriciousness of human destiny as it is the sad story of how Filipinos have failed so dismally to bring to justice those who had so wronged them.
OF COURSE Imelda doesn’t see it that way. She believes it is she who has been wronged. “Edsa,” she says, “was really the .ght against Marcos of the feudal lords, the oligarchs, the clerico-fascists, and the neocolonialists.” Washington, she says, was not pleased with Marcos, who reduced the tenure of its bases in the Philippines to 25 years.
The rich wanted him out, too, because he implemented land reform and limited their privileges. “It was not the poor” who wanted Marcos out, insists Imelda, but more privileged Filipinos who were taken in by unfair media reports.
“They hired 16 top PR firms of the world f5rst to promote Cory and destroy the Marcoses,” she says. “They did a good job of it because the media is more powerful than the gun. The gun can kill you only up to your grave but the media can kill you beyond the grave unto in.nity.”
Yet for Imelda, eternally the positive thinker, Marcos’s fall was also his greatest triumph. “For me, the greatest moment of Marcos was Edsa,” she says. “This powerful man with all his power, he did not use that power to kill…The fault of Marcos was he loved his country so much.”
For sure there has been more than some editing of history here — as indeed in much of what Imelda remembers. Marcos didn’t kill only because the soldiers manning the tanks and the pilots flying the helicopter gunships over the military camps refused to fire at the Edsa crowd.
Despite her selective memory, the events of February 1986 and the painful period that followed remain deeply etched in Imelda’s mind. “My most vivid memories of those days and the days and the years after,” she says, “I never could imagine that our own government, even our allies, friends, and foes, could be so cruel and inhuman.”
“I asked Marcos,” she continues, delivering this practiced monologue with great feeling, even if the lines seem to have been snitched from a bad play. “I said, ‘Ferdinand you are a brilliant man, you are a man of vision and foresight, did you not foresee this?’ He said, ‘Imelda, man can only foresee so far and prepare so far. Beyond that is divine will and destiny. Never argue with destiny. Just be on top of it.’
“But then I said, ‘Ferdinand, we are facing the mightiest sword of justice of the most powerful country in the world. We were in Hawaii, in exile, what chance do we have? We were penniless, countryless. What chance do we have?’ He said, ‘Imelda, fear not. All our lives we’re committed to the side of the right. Like the sun will rise tomorrow, the truth will set us free. And if you are on the side of right, God is on the side of the right, and if God is on your side, who can be against you?
“‘But Ferdinand we have so many cases against us.’ And he said, “Fear not, Imelda, exaggeration is a form of falsification.’ ‘But Ferdinand,’ I said, ‘one case alone has 350,000 documents, 100 witnesses, and America spent $60 million against me.’ He said, ‘Fear not, Imelda. Truth is like a diamond. The more you chop it, the more brilliant it will become.’ How true, how true. Truth is like a diamond. The more you chop it, the more brilliant it will become.”
TWENTY YEARS after Edsa, Imelda is still the country’s foremost drama queen. Her voice breaks and tears well up in her eyes when she remembers her husband, whose corpse remains unburied in a mausoleum in his hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte since his death in Honolulu in 1989.
Imelda has refused to inter him until he is given a hero’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. So he lies in state still, waxed and preserved like one of the figures at Madame Tussaud’s.
“He is so visited,” gushes Imelda. “When he was alive, he was not as visited as now that he is dead. There are thousands there visiting him. And he is so nicely placed there, like sleeping only. In fact no less than a friend of his, (sugar baron Roberto) Benedicto, said to me, ‘Mrs. Marcos, you have so many projects, but this is the best of all.’”
Ferdinand Marcos’s passing saved him the indignity of undergoing trial in New York for mail fraud, fraudulent misappropriation of property, and obstruction of justice.
Instead, the newly widowed Imelda had to face the bar of justice alone in March 1990. With an expensive and colorful American lawyer arguing her defense and the support of high-society friends like tobacco heiress Doris Duke, Imelda stood trial with as much histrionics as she could muster.
She was acquitted in July 1990, largely because there was no evidence linking her directly to the charges (there was evidence against Ferdinand, but he was dead and he took the brunt of the blame).
The following year, a triumphant Imelda returned to the Philippines and in 1992 made an audacious try for the presidency. Only six years after their fall, the rehabilitation of the Marcoses was well underway.
They were not alone. The cases filed against Marcos cronies have either been dismissed or snowed under by years of half-hearted litigation. The governments that came after Marcos showed a lack of will and resolve to prosecute the ousted president and his associates; some of those tasked with chasing after ill-gotten wealth have themselves even been accused of corruption.
Over the years, most of the cronies who had followed the Marcoses in exile also returned to the Philippines. Some, like Benedicto and Davao banana magnate Antonio Floirendo, entered into compromise agreements with the Aquino government.
Others like coconut and beer tycoon Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr. are still contesting their ownership of shares in companies. Cojuangco himself is back at the helm of the prized San Miguel Corp. despite pending lawsuits.
And as if to further demonstrate that history runs in circles, the $600 million from the Marcos account in a Swiss bank that had been turned over to the government in 2003 appears to have again been stolen.
Last year, farmers’ groups accused the Arroyo government of using funds recovered from the Swiss account to bankroll the current president’s 2004 campaign.
In 1994, a Hawaii court did find Marcos responsible for the executions, disappearances, and torture during his regime, and awarded $2 billion in damages to surviving victims of such human-rights abuses.
The victims later agreed to a $150-million settlement but the case remains tied up in litigation, this time with the Philippine government, which is asserting its primary right to the Marcos wealth. Meanwhile, despite the barrage of lawsuits, Imelda has not had a conviction affirmed by the Philippine Supreme Court.
There is therefore reason for her to feel vindicated and to think she can still do something grand for Filipinos, like opening a deuterium mine to solve all our energy problems or building a tunnel that will link the Pacific Ocean to the China Sea.
She knows she still holds powerful sway not only on the imagination of Filipinos, but of others as well. Later this year, British DJ Fatboy Slim and Talking Heads singer David Byrne will open a new musical (yet another) on Imelda.
“I don’t know if (Filipinos) love me,” she says, “but they surely do not hate me.”
And her husband? “Marcos,” she says with certainty, “is now being more and more missed.” — Sheila S. Coronel
“1978. Sampung taong gulang ako nang utusan ako ng Tatay kong ihatid ang ilang sulat sa piniling mga kapitbahay.
Maikli ang mensahe: ang naalala ko ay ang salitang LABAN at tagubiling may noise barrage sa isang takdang petsa, ika-8 ng gabi. Magdala raw ng mga pang-ingay at lumabas ng bahay.
Sa takdang araw, inaya na kami ng Tatay, dala nila ng Nanay at kuya ko ang mga kawali, kaldero at sandok namin. Malakas na tumatawag ang Tatay ko sa mga kapitbahay na lumabas na at sa isang iglap ay masayang magkakasama kami sa kahabaan ng Old Sta. Mesa St. at tinatambol ang mga kawali at malalaking kaldero.
Lumabas din ang mga taga-Teresa St. at nagsunog ng gulong habang sumisigaw ang lahat ng “laban, laban” at nakataas ang mga kamay sa letrang L.
Iyon ay sandali. Ngunit matagal na sandali ng katapangan at pagkakaisa na mariing kumintal sa aking pagkatao.
Dalawang taon matapos iyon ay mawawalay ang aming ama sa amin dahil kabilang sya sa diaspora ng mga Pilipino patungong Gitnang Silangan.
Hindi maalwan ang pamumuhay sa ilalim ng administrasyon ni Ferdinand Marcos. Lumilipad ang implasyon mula 1971 (21.4%), nuong 1974 (34.2%), at nuong 1984 ay nasa 50.3%.
Hindi na-subsidyuhan ng pamahalaan ang malalaking input na hinihingi ng Masagana 99. Maraming magsasaka ang itinulak sa kalunsuran, subalit ang tunay na halaga ng sahod ay bumaba nang 24% sa gitna ng 70s. Sa panahong ito pa lamang ay 40% na ang nasa ilalim ng linya ng kahirapan.
Ipinagbawal ang welga, ang pananggol ng mga manggagawa sa sariling kapakanan.
Wala ang Tatay nang tumanggap ako ng medalya sa pagtatapos ng elementarya nuong 1980. Nasa ikalawang taon naman sa UP ang kuya ko at nag-uuwi ng Philippine Collegian na lalong nagmulat sa aking mga mata sa pulitika.
Hindi nagtagal ay kasama na ako ng mga ate ko papunta sa Liwasang Bonifacio at duon na kami nagkikita ng kuya ko. Naka-high school uniform ako sa edad na 13 nang magsimulang magsalita sa itaas ng bubong ng underpass sa may Plaza Miranda tungkol sa kalagayan ng pampublikong edukasyon.
1981 at first year sa hayskul nang may debate kami sa English class hinggil sa Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). Nasa Pilipinas at nasa pagitan ng kontrata ang Tatay.
Ipinaliwanag nya sa akin ang aksidenteng nukleyar sa Three Mile Island nuong 1979, ang fault line sa Bataan, ang kinita nina Marcos at kaibigan nitong si Herminio Disini mula sa Westinghouse at ang utang panlabas na ginastos dito. Kaya buo ang kumpiyansa ko nang sumalang sa debate.
Parang lastikong binabanat na ang agwat ng mayaman sa mahirap. Higit na naging marahas sa mga rali ang mga pulis. Kasama ang kuya ko sa nasaktan sa tulay ng Arroceros nuong Hulyo ng 1981. Sya at ang mga estudyante ng UP ay nagprotesta laban sa pagtaas ng matrikula.
Nang makapagtapos ng hayskul nuong 1984 ay nagsimula na ako ng unang taon sa UP. Subalit hinihila ako ng diwa ko pabalik sa kalsada. Tumulong ako sa pag-oorganisa ng mga kabataan sa komunidad, sa maralitang lungsod.
Duon, nagkikita kami uli ng kuya ko.Naging halal na pinuno ako sa pambansang antas, kung kaya’t nakakasama ang mga kabataang nagtatrabaho sa bukid, pangisdaan, at impormal na sektor. Binigyang pansin namin ang kahirapan ng kabataan sa mga aping uri.
Sa mga panahong ito nakauwi ang Tatay at tumutungo sila ng Nanay sa Liwasang Bonifacio, kasama ang unang apo, sa papalaking mga rally, hanggang sa EDSA nuong 1986.
Ang aming mga magulang, nangamba man at nagalit sa pagpili namin ng pag-oorganisa kaysa pormal na edukasyon nuon, ay nagpunla ng binhi sa aming mapagpalayang diwa. Ang mga punlang ito ay yumayabong sa puso ng aming mga anak ngayon.
Lahat kami, nuon at ngayon, nakikita man sa telebisyon o hindi, ay may malaking iniambag sa pagwawakas ng diktadura. Ang nakikita sa midya at hindi ay nag-aambag sa pagbabanyuhay ng diwa ng bayang pilit ginapi, subalit nagtatagumpay.”
“Sa edad na 23, ikinulong ako ng gubyernong Marcos bilang isang bilanggong pulitikal. Inaresto ako noong Marso 7, 1983 sa Baguio habang nagpapamigay ng polyetong bumabatikos sa marahas na pagbuwag ng mga pulis sa rali ng mga istudyanteng Igorot.
Pinakawalan ako nang pansamantala ngunit inaresto muli ng mga myembro ng Philippine Constabulary pagkalipas ng dalawang araw. Walang warrant of arrest na dala ang mga PC at nakasibilyan lang ang mga umaresto.
Ikinulong ako sa Camp Dangwa sa Benguet nang walang anumang kaso laban sa akin. Sa kulungan, dumanas ako ng matinding pisikal na tortyur.
Binugbog ako at pinagtatadyakan ng mga sundalo. Inilagay ako sa solitary confinement sa isang seldang walang kubeta. Doon na rin ako umiihi at dumudumi. Napilitan akong inumin ang sarili kong ihi dahil wala ring tubig sa selda.
Minsan, ipinatawag ako sa opisina ng isang tenyente ng PC. Pinagsquat ako nang buong araw at tuwing uupo ako dahil sa pagod, inuumpog ang ulo ko sa pader.
Nagsampa sa korte ang nanay ko ng Writ of Habeas Corpus. Gayunpaman, tinumbasan ito ng paglalabas ng Presidential Commitment Order na lagda mismo ni Pangulong Ferdinand Marcos.
Kinasuhan na ako ng subersyon, pagkakaroon ng subersibong mga dokumento, at paggamit ng alyas para gumawa ng krimen. Pinalaya rin ako at ang anim pang bilanggong pulitikal noong Disyembre 7, 1983 matapos ang ilang araw naming hunger strike.
Noong Abril 30, 1985, lumabas ang desisyon ng korte. Pinawalang-sala ako sa lahat ng kaso laban sa akin. Pero paano na ang halos isang taon kong nawala dahil sa aking pagkakakulong? Walang naging pananagutan ang gubyernong Marcos.”
“Five decades ago, at the onset of what was then dubbed “The First Quarter Storm,” a band of students and seminarians, out-of-school youth, and professionals came together to establish Lakasdiwa.
Founded on the day of the martyrdom of Filipino patriot-priests Frs. Gomez, Burgos and Zamora on 17 February 1970, Lakasdiwa espoused the ideals of non-violent struggle for justice, the defence of human rights, and the protection of democratic space.
We drew inspiration from the principles of satyagraha (strength of spirit) and ahimsa (truth) of the immortal Mahatma Gandhi and civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and social change advocate Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, who championed the rights of the poor in Brazil’s Pernambuco.
Lakasdiwa aimed to nurture the Filipino spirit of courage under fire in the tradition of our heroes’ struggles to build a country where human rights are upheld, equality advanced, and the ills of impunity and exclusion addressed.
I still recall the first stirrings of the “First Quarter Storm” (FQS). As an involved seminarian, I had joined the student demonstration for a non-partisan constitutional convention on 26 January 1970 in front of Congress, which turned violent.
Blood spilled on the streets as police wielded their truncheons and hauled young people to jail, while then President Marcos delivered his “State of the Nation” address in Congress.
We again marched on 30 January, this time against police brutality at the gates of Malacañang and at the foot of Mendiola Bridge. I saw soldiers firing at students in the streets I knew so well, as I lived in the area during my childhood years.
I sought out reporters from DZRH atop a radio patrol car stationed on the Mendiola Bridge to appeal to the soldiers to stop the shooting.
Later, I testified at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Sen. Lorenzo Tañada to recount that night of rage when students tried to ram the gates of Malacañang and soldiers firing directly on fellow Filipinos – a memory seared in my mind.
“The view from Mendiola Bridge was a nightmare: burning lamp posts, a ruined bus used as a barricade, iron railings destroyed and cluttered in the streets.
Constabulary troopers charging in the dark with wicker shields or high-powered rifles….Young men who could have been their sons, brothers, and friends running away – some felled by bullets, others bloodied by merciless truncheons, others captured and hauled away in trucks while most just ran away from it all, hoping perhaps to come back another day…There is certainly student unrest.
There is disenchantment, dissatisfaction, disgust with the way things are…an insecurity about our laws and the men entrusted with implementing them.” (“Battle of Mendiola,” Free My People, 1972, pp. 48-49.)
Lakasdiwa was born in this setting. The experience provided the context for an alternative strategy of resistance, a militant non-violent campaign animated by a philosophy of civil disobedience against a regime that seemed to pursue a ruthless agenda.
I and fellow seminarians and students read and discussed the thoughts of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Camara, liberation theologians of Latin America, as well as the writings of our own Filipino heroes.
In a meeting at the former Loyola House of Studies (LHS), student leaders came up with ideas on what young people could do. We did not agree with the idea of armed revolution, which was the path espoused by Maoist ideologues.
I recall the vigorous exchange of ideas that took place that February afternoon at LHS. When evening came, militant non-violence was discussed. Silence ensued when the idea of designating a leader came up.
I recall suggesting Edjop (Edgar Jopson), then NUSP president, to lead the fledgling organization. A few others attended the gathering, including Dr. Archie Intengan, who at that time was practicing at the PGH.
The awkward silence grew into whispers until someone suggested a seminarian to lead the group aptly called Lakasdiwa. It was on 17 February 1970, I believe, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of three Filipino priests, and on the day of Lakasdiwa’s founding, when I became the “accidental leader” of an organization dedicated to the ideals of non-violent struggle.
Lakasdiwa’s first symbolic actions underscored the theme: “Ipagmalaki ang Pagka-Pilipino” – Buy Filipino, Boycott Luxury Goods, Share Profits, Land to the Tiller – on billboards writ large. These seminal demands became the organization’s opening salvo on the national stage.
Lakasdiwas chose the Tambuli as a symbol to call on people to act. In a sense, Lakasdiwa wanted to capture the space of a struggle that was essentially Filipino in character. These were our first steps to an unfolding and unforgettable journey.”