On Marcos’ myth-making, and how it has resonated via our increasing collective denial of what occurred during his Martial Law. First of three parts.

Source: Nik de Ynchausti | Esquiremag.ph

Ferdinand Marcos grasped the power of history.

He understood, perhaps instinctively, the power of a compelling, mythologizing historical narrative [1]. One of his key efforts was to re-craft Philippine history, not in his image, but in support of his authoritarian rule [2]. History became a tool of internally focused statecraft and myth-making propaganda: A coordinated effort to inculcate the idea that Marcos’s rule was pre-ordained, that the wheels of Philippine history had been inexorably turning towards his reign. The insidious of his efforts to subvert Philippine history to support his rule are still being felt today.

There was entire generation inculcated in the propaganda of the strongman, of the need for a guiding hand to ensure our prosperity [3]. The ultimate redemption of this Marcosian historical worldview and narrative is what underpins the return of Imelda Marcos and the Marcos family to the center of political and social life in the Philippines. This was a dominant theme in Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s attempt to regain a portion of Malacañang during his run at the vice-presidency. By their reckoning, as they ascend the political ladder in the Philippines, they get closer to redemption, to redeeming the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos and reclaiming the historical glory of their family [4].

By their reckoning, as [the Marcoses] ascend the political ladder in the Philippines, they get closer to redemption, to redeeming the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos and reclaiming the historical glory of their family.

Even with his loss, Marcos Jr.’s run helped move them closer to this goal. A quick review of the discourse around the current controversy concerning the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani speaks to their current (albeit partial) success; chief among them the rhetoric of Solicitor-General Jose Calida. One of the pillars of Calida’s pro-burial arguments before the Supreme Court were the approximately 14,000,000 votes that Marcos Jr. received in May 2016. Those votes were spun as legitimizing: To them they represented not a nation that has forgotten its past, but a people who are ready to re-embrace the Marcos family. Marcos Jr. may have lost the election, but those votes have provided their version of history a mandate. (Editor’s note: In our interview with Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, he adheres to the same spin and points to the election results as Marcos-absolving mandate.)

Those votes were spun as legitimizing: To them they represented not a nation that has forgotten its past, but a people who are ready to re-embrace the Marcos family. Marcos Jr. may have lost the election, but those votes have provided their version of history a mandate.

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* * *

The Philippines’ relationship with history is problematic, to say the least. Whether because of revisionism, willful denialism, or the insidiousness of historical narratives handed to us by conquerors, we seem to lack a deep and abiding relationship with our past. This leads to a nation, and a people, practically unmoored. This is self-evident in our understanding of Martial Law and our increasing collective denial of what occurred during that period.

A rich historical sense [5] is critical in the formation and maintenance of a national self-identity. Within the multiplicity of historical inquiry, understanding the past in all of its complexities and contextual elements impacts our view of the present and the world in which we inhabit. The obverse of that, the concerted attempt to suppress and flatten the rich depth and complexity of our history, is denialism. In our search for a strong, encompassing self-identity, it will be an enlightening historical sense that illuminates the path [6].

Historical denialism is insidious, it worms its way into our national consciousness. Denial and suppression attempts to separate us from our past, our history. Denial creates doubt. In those seeds of doubt, denial offers opportunity for demagogues and provocateurs to exert control.

Historical denialism is insidious, it worms its way into our national consciousness. Denial and suppression attempts to separate us from our past, our history. Denial creates doubt. In those seeds of doubt, denial offers opportunity for demagogues and provocateurs to exert control. A people, or a nation, are informed and formed by their past. Their histories tell the story of who they are, how they came into being, and the narrative of their formation. Historical denialism, or the act of purposefully excising and suppressing moments, events, or even eras of monumental importance, tries to rearrange and take command of that narrative.

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History is powerful and power. The person who holds the keys to our past, who can define who we are, holds sway over who we are in the present, and can guide what we become in the future [7]. Convincing a people to accept those denials as fact cleaves them from their past. It is an undertaking being attempted today by elements in the Philippine political and social sphere. It was one of the prevailing themes during the elections of May 2016.

Convincing a people to accept those denials as fact cleaves them from their past. It is an undertaking being attempted today by elements in the Philippine political and social sphere.

Granted, history is multiplicity. We are not asserting that history is singular or only valid from one perspective, far from it. Historical inquiry embraces the multiplicity of perspectives and views [8]. There is a rightful tension between national narrative histories, or really any narrative history, and those of interrogative cultural and social histories. In truth, they inform and enhance each other. A rich and active historical space is a necessity, a requirement, for the formation of national identity. Those who have a well-developed and enriched sense of historical self are not easily subverted, nor easily controlled. The same holds true for nations and imagined communities. Yet, it is in our historical relationship with Martial Law that we uncover the seeds of our unraveling as a collective historical self, precisely because historical inquiry has given way to the insidiousness of denialism and something even more problematic.

Even more damaging than historical denialism is forgetting. Denialism can be counter-acted. Events of the past can be resurrected, the sacrifices and suffering of our forbearers consecrated. Forgetting is something else entirely—it is the absence of history. It eats away at our national self. It undermines our social fabric. When we forget what has happened and where we came from: We do not exist as a people in that state. We are unmoored and unanchored in the modern world, rudderless and adrift. Without the centering strength of knowledge of self, a person, much less a people, can be subverted by honeyed words and silken promises of shining tomorrows, or even a glorious return to a false Golden Age of the past promised by would-be tyrants.

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When we forget what has happened and where we came from: We do not exist as a people in that state. We are unmoored and unanchored in the modern world, rudderless and adrift.

Our rejection of that unmooring, the repudiation of denialism and forgetting, is embodied in two simple words: Never Again.

However, to give body, depth, and heft to those words requires a full, complex, and even balanced understanding of the Marcos regime, how it came into being, and the deleterious effects of Martial Law. Never Again needs to be imbued with a rich historical sense and consciousness to truly be what we need it to be: A talisman against impunity and a warning against willingly surrendering control democratic spaces to a dictator. To truly be resonant, Never Again has to embody a historical sense of what occurred and transcend the limitations of being just what was in the past [9][10].