Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rewriting history

This is my column today, September 23, 2014.

The country marked last Sunday the 42nd anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’ Proclamation 1081, which placed the whole country under Martial Law from 1972 to 1981.  The whole period was known as the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship.  The Marcoses were thrown out of Malacanan Palace in 1986 and for about a decade thereafter were the most vilified Filipinos and were blamed for most of the country’s woes.  But thanks to our short collective memory and the Catholic guilt complex which compels us to be forgiving even to those who hurt us, the Marcoses were able to come back from exile, run for public office, and reclaim their wealth and status in society.  More importantly, they have embarked on a quest to rewrite history mainly by reframing the horrible events that happened during the dictatorship.
This is my column today, September 23, 2014.
The fruits of such efforts have started to become evident; proof perhaps that there is some semblance of truth to chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’s claim about how big lies can become the truth if repeated often enough. 
I started to notice last year the subtle feed to media and in various social networking sites suggesting that times were so much better during Martial Law and during the Marcos administration.  The feeds became more frequent this year and by some stroke of perfect synchronicity, coincided with parallel moves to enthrone Senator Ferdinand Marcos as an alternative presidentiable.
The really sad thing is that many fell for the propaganda.  I know quite a number of people who reposted in their social networking pages the sleek posters and clips extolling the supposed virtues of the Marcoses.  The logic around most of the propaganda materials was horrendously faulty and the facts and figures were clearly erroneous.  For example, one such clip made comparisons about crime rates during Martial Law and the present, without factoring in population figures and more importantly, the fact that thousands of deaths and disappearances were undocumented.  Yes, there was probably less criminal activity from ordinary thugs and citizens;  but there was no denying that government then was the biggest thief of the national treasury, was the principal kidnapper of suspected dissidents and militants, and the number one oppressor of the people. 
The attempts of the Marcoses and their lackeys is gaining traction because of many reasons.  First, the main mode of communication today—which is through the Internet —is largely dominated by people who were born after the Marcos dictatorship and have no experience of political persecution or oppression.  The propaganda messages are not being moderated by vigorous attempts to refute the lies, correct the misrepresentation, or stress the truth.  Second, the hyperbolic claims of those who demonized succeeding presidents who were also accused of wrongdoing.  In the heat of the campaigns to oust Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,  quite a number indulged in exaggerations such as those claims that Estrada and Arroyo each exceeded the profligacy and the level of corruption of the Marcoses.  As a result, it had become easy for Marcos propagandists to claim that Marcos was not the worst President this country ever had.
And of course, there is the very real issue of how economic growth has not trickled down to the masses.  The lives of many poor Filipinos have not really improved through the years.  It is a psychological fact that most people tend to remember the past with exaggerated fondness and consequently, see past events in a better and more positive light.  There’s also the fact that overall growth everywhere in the world was faster in the sixties and seventies than in the last two decades and thanks to runaway population and environmental degradation overall social conditions have not been as easy, convenient, or as simple as in the past.  Of course, roads were cleaner and better in the seventies —there were fewer people and vehicles who used them and natural calamities were not as destructive.  Of course food was easier to come by, people still had backyards where they could plant vegetables and our oceans and seas were still teeming with marine species.  Sadly, many are unable to think beyond their initial impressions.
I lived through the dark years of the dictatorship and like many other student activists directly and indirectly suffered from political repression.  The Marcoses can attempt to rewrite history but fortunately for the country, there remains so many living eyewitnesses to the horrors of Martial Law and the dictatorship.  Never again.

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