I recently read Raïssa Robles’ blog about the return of the Marcoses to power (http://raissarobles.com/2014/02/09/stopping-the-marcoses-from-erasing-their-crimes-from-history/) and how certain of our cultural norms are enabling and helping them obliterate their crimes from the history of our country. It’s an interesting and a provocative piece of writing although I don’t fully subscribe to the author’s argument that our culture is partly responsible for the restoration of the Marcos political dynasty, and its recent resurgence because of persistent talks about the possibility of the former dictator’s son and namesake running for the presidency.
|Former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda Romualdez-
Marcos, as the country's Marahas and Mapurot (ugly and undesirable).
What completely surprised me after reading Ms. Robles’ blog is the sorry state of history as a major field of study in university, which she rightly wrote is vital for a nation in documenting lessons from the past. Ms. Robles wrote: “to this day, The History of the Filipino People written by UP historians Teodoro Agoncillo and Milagros Guerrero – which a lot of schools continue to use as their history textbooks – has not been updated to include the Marcos years and the years afterward.”
I still have the 1974 edition of Agoncillo’s Introduction to Filipino History which we brought with us when we moved to Canada in 1987, a copy to remind us and our then- still-young children of our roots. The last chapter of the book was about the New Society, a phrase Agoncillo used only once in the book, perhaps revealing his great discomfort in using it, although the short chapter encapsulated the early crisis that Marcos alluded to from 1966 until he declared martial law in 1972 and changed the Constitution in 1973 to provide legitimacy to his dictatorship.
But Ms. Robles is on the correct side of history when she decried the lack of updating in Agoncillo’s book, or other history textbooks, to include the Marcos years and the years after his fall from disgrace. A saying from the philosopher George Santayana aptly reminds us why this is important: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
It is not that there has been a great failure in documenting the events of the Marcos dictatorship which prevents their scholarly publication for use in the teaching of history and as a guide for us in remembering the past. There are plenty of written accounts in newspapers, magazines, local and foreign journals, archival reports, congressional and government records, and other influential books that can be used in accumulating the information needed to update our history. In addition, many survivors of the Marcos era are still alive and they can offer oral histories or personal accounts of what transpired during those repressive and cruel years of dictatorship.
In every transition from repression to freedom, many governments such as those in Argentina, Chile, and South Africa have established Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, not only for the purpose of documenting the repression the people have suffered under the old regime, but also to identify remedial measures which may be necessary. Unfortunately, the current president’s mother, former President Cory Aquino, put a brake on past efforts to create a similar commission after Marcos was driven to exile because of pressure from the military. The invisible hand of the United States’ government could also be partly responsible for this obvious ploy to expunge the memory of the Marcos dictatorship which it nurtured and supported.
Ms. Robles mentioned that Berlin has established a documentation centre of Nazi crimes during the war, as noted by her husband, journalist Alan Robles. Schoolchildren in Berlin are being taught of Hitler’s crimes to remind them of the horrors of the Nazi regime. Similarly, we also need to educate our children of the crimes of the Marcos’ martial law years and the rise of crony capitalism which continues to survive. My wife, who is also a writer and a classmate of Ms. Robles’ husband at the International Institute of Journalism in Berlin, was equally disturbed that Agoncillo’s book and other Philippine history books have not undergone an updating after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship considering we have so much archival information that can be used.
There are four cultural norms that Ms. Robles mentioned in her blog which she argued are being exploited by the Marcos’ political clan and their supporters in propagating their twisted version of reality. These are: respect your elders, do not speak ill of the dead, forgive your enemies, and do not bring the sins of the father on his children. All these so-called social practices are shallow and superficial and they only make light of the crimes committed by the Marcos dictatorship by reducing their culpability. We do not invoke such norms when confronted with the serious gravity of crimes committed against our people. We have long learned and appreciated the clear distinction between right and wrong, and these cultural norms that Ms. Robles mentioned do not by any means mitigate the crimes committed by a dictator against his own people.
Noam Chomsky wrote that memory and consciousness of what’s happening right in front of you must be repressed, because once the public comes to understand what’s being done in its name, they would resist and disallow it. This is what exactly was done during the martial law period, and Ms. Robles mentioned it in her blog. Marcos shepherded all the young intellectuals during that time and transformed them into propagandists and mouthpieces of the New Society. The Marcos propaganda machine took care and rewarded them well to crank out glowing and flattering accounts and achievements of the New Society. In other words, they were co-opted by the dictatorship. As soon as the Marcos regime had fallen, these intellectuals would cross the divide to become spokespersons and members of the government think-tank. Now they are either writing and regurgitating daily opinion columns for prestigious local newspapers or serving in the high echelons of government, and for whoever is elected president of the country. Loyalty seems so fungible that ethics or morality doesn’t even matter at all.
Erasing memory and consciousness is the main reason for propaganda. Otherwise, there’s no point to it. Those in systems of control and power never tell the truth, if they can get away with it.
The only alternative in bridging this gap between the Marcos years and the present is in scholarship and the academe. Not that academia is totally resilient or immune to government influence, but there is hardly any place left to start this odyssey of reconnecting the past and the present but in the halls of the university. There is a need to fund such scholarship, perhaps through a foundation composed of the survivors of the martial law era and those who do not wish to repeat the past.
Ms. Robles’ blog must stir at least the consciousness of those who still yearn for a society that treasures freedom and dignity more than any materialistic achievement. Perhaps, it’s also time to create a new breed of intellectuals to replace the old generation who has betrayed the public.
In his book, Necessary Illusions, Chomsky wrote that citizens of democratic societies should “undertake a course of intellectual self-defence to protect themselves from manipulation and control.” In other words, we need to train ourselves to ask the obvious questions, and learn how to be skeptical. For example, if all political commentators are all in agreement with President Noynoy Aquino’s crusade against corruption but differ only on the means of achieving this noble goal, we should instinctively take a few minutes of our reflection to see that this can’t possibly be true. If everyone takes for granted something that cannot possibly be true, what does that make of our value systems and culture as a whole?
Any government is founded on opinion, and this extends to the most despotic and most militaristic governments, as well as to the most free and most popular. Rulers rely on consent, whether a state is democratic or totalitarian. The state must ensure that the people do not understand that they actually have the power. To Chomsky, this is the fundamental principle of government.
There are many ways by which the government can control the governed. We don’t need special skills to figure what these are.