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Records Sealed

Written by Marco Pantaleon

The Official Gazette of the Philippines (OGP) decided last week to commemorate late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ 99th birthday on September 11 via Facebook. It was riddled with vague euphemisms such as “In 1972, he declared Martial Law to suppress a communist insurgency” and worse, “Marcos stepped down from the presidency to avoid bloodshed during the uprising that came to be known as ‘People Power’”. The tribute also featured a quote from one of Ferdinand Marcos’ inaugural addresses. The post has since been thoroughly edited after outrage from Facebook netizens. The statements came and passed but ultimately brought along with it the credibility of the official journal of the Republic of the Philippines.

Atty. Jesus Falcis, Asian debate champion and professor at the Far Eastern University, penned an open letter to editor of the page. He invoked conflict of interest, exposing on his Facebook post that Marco Angelo Cabrera, who was presumed responsible, had previously worked for the late strongman’s son, Bongbong Marcos. Netizens expressed outrage and dismay by responding that the OGP should not be beholden to any political party, class or family and that it should adhere to the principle objectivity. Many others dismissed the Facebook page as a mere tool for political propaganda. The protests came in many different forms; All filled with concern, and even more common, disdain.

But the issue pierced a more elemental vein; it is not one that can be reduced to mere Facebook slurs or insults on one’s newsfeed neither can it be swayed by the fickle nature of public opinion. This issue looms larger. It represents the long standing monument of the Filipino dilemma: Historical Revisionism.

My view on the topic isn’t a novelty: The era of Martial Law is inseparable to the Filipino identity. Our sentiment towards the era of Martial Law is rooted in the shared experience that our countrymen faced during those wicked times. These feelings encapsulate one of the cornerstones of what being a Filipino is. It was the very suffering that significantly defined the living consciousness of the Filipino people and its repugnance towards tyrants for the many years after. It affects so greatly the prism with which the current generation’s view and value the free society through the lens of the past. Its revision in history, in any amount or degree, however faint or flagrant, and for any purpose, disrespects the Filipino identity and robs us of one of the cardinal things that comprises our very humanity — our past and its lessons. The post contained three main lies the blurred the line between fact and fiction. First, Ferdinand Marcos was not the longest serving president as stipulated in the post with a tone of endearment, as it read: “He was the longest serving president for 21 years,”. In fact, he was the Philippine president for only two democratically elected terms, then became a dictator under a legally dubious and insidious authoritarian regime for the rest of his presidency. He deserves no such honour for holding the title. Secondly, the declaration of martial law was less of preventing a “communist insurgency” than it was seeding his own power as political opposition grew. As staunch critics such as Ninoy Aquino gained political thrust and gravity, Marcos suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus to detain and persecute them without due trial or reasonable cause. Lastly, Ferdinand Marcos did not “step down to avoid bloodshed”, he was thrown out of power through the EDSA People Power Revolution. He did not vacate the presidency on his own volition, the Filipino citizenry flooded the streets of Manila in peaceful protest creating enough political pressure to evict the dictator from his seat of power. Ferdinand Marcos was ousted because the Filipino people willed it to be done. These differences, however subtle or blatant, mean the world.

Is it fair to automatically assume malice from the OGP and charge them with negating history? It isn’t. But at the same time, it’s hard not to. This post comes at a critical juncture where the late dictator’s son is plotting his way back to power and the ever-forgiving Filipino brood continues to forgive. Moreover, it operates against the backdrop of the information age, where propaganda is spread at the speed of light, and social media users who wield this power have been slow to learn its responsible use. While institutions of education or otherwise stubbornly and obdurately present the horrors of Martial Law and the gluttony of its enabler, it is utterly baffling how the truth remains contested.  But as always, we must be vigilant of the return of tyrants — lest we succumb to this Orwellian fate which is an atrocity a thousand times over.