Never enough: ambiguities and silences in Martial Law education

The common argument from Marcos loyalists and sympathizers is there is no way for us to ascertain the events that transpired during Marcos’ Martial Law especially when we, the Filipino youth, were not even born nor alive during the 70’s and 80’s. 

I grew up in a political family – my lolo was a student activist during Martial Law, while my lola was engaged in political matters, she was present during EDSA People Power, and even EDSA Dos. Both of them shared their memories of survival during the dark regime of Marcos. I was fortunate enough to experience a glimpse of what happened during Marcos’ Martial Law through the first-hand narratives of my grandparents. Lolo recalls the times as a student activist from Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines), actively condemning Marcos’ imposition of Martial Law. While my lola, having difficulty recalling the dark times, subsumed the Marcos regime in a statement: “sobrang gulo [it was chaotic]”.

However, many of us encounter the narratives of the Marcos regime during our classes in Araling Panlipunan, mostly during 6th and 7th grade. 

During my years in elementary and junior high school, I remember how my teachers taught me about the “positive” aspects surrounding Marcos’ Martial Law. But they also taught us about torture, oppression, and the suppression of civil liberties. I remember how they pictured Martial Law as the darkest era in the fabric of Philippine history. Simultaneously, they told us of the “Marcos Legacy’, the infrastructure, and the supposed economic growth.

To further examine the pedagogy of Martial Law, I interviewed my cousins, Kurt, Kylo, Lucas and Noah, currently in Junior and Senior High School, to ask them about their learning experiences on Martial Law. I asked them how the lessons inside their classrooms taught them about the darkest era of Philippine history – the Marcos regime and his martial rule.

The dictator with “a lot of killings” and “some good things”

We started with the basic questions – who is Ferdinand Marcos? To which they gave me a straightforward answer: Marcos was a dictator. 

Kylo, now in his 8th Grade in Junior High school said, “For me Ferdinand Marcos was a very unique president because of his unique style,” and that Marcos was a “very strict” president. Noah, who is also in 8th grade, says Marcos was an “infamous” national leader because of his dictatorial ruling.

Though it was clear the term “dictator” was used to describe the ex-president, its meaning was left vague and inconsistent. I tried asking them what a dictatorship meant for them, but all of them were uncertain about the concept of a despotic leadership. When I asked them about the concept of Martial Law, my cousins spoke of ambiguities, both giving equally different points-of-view on the decade of 3,000 deaths. 

Kylo said Martial Law was imposed “for the Filipinos [to] be more disciplined”. For Kurt, “naglagay s’ya ng Martial Law para magkaroon ng kaunting kapayapaan (Marcos imposed Martial Law to implement peace and order)” further justifying the imposition of Martial Law because of turmoil allegedly brewing in Mindanao at that time. 

On the other hand, the concept of Martial Law is clear for Noah, he said “Nangyari doon ay nagbigay s’ya ng kapangyarihan, mga over na kapangyarihan sa mga militar na sila ‘yung umaksyon, magbigay ng kanilang justice or kanilang pananaw sa hatol sa mga tao (What happened then was [Marcos] gave power, exceeding powers to the military, to put justice with their own means or give their own judgement over the people)”.

What is missing from their narratives in classroom learning are the machinations that Marcos utilized in installing himself as dictator of the country. These students were not explicitly taught that Marcos had concentrated political and economic power into their own family, together with their allies and cronies that made up the executive department. To say the least, the absence of concrete explanations regarding the terms of martial law and dictatorship are worrisome. 

From their classroom encounters, I wanted to know their knowledge about what transpired during Marcos’ Martial Law. Kurt said “Parang dalawang side s’ya e. Sinasabi nung isa, parang mapayapa raw dati ganun, may curfew, sinusunod ‘yung curfew. Sa kabilang side naman, parang may nagaganap raw na torture parang ganon (It seems that there are two sides. It was said that on one side, [Martial law] was seemingly peaceful; there was a curfew, and people obeyed the curfew. On the other side, they said there were tortures, kind of like that)”.

Similar to Kurt’s statement, Kylo said there waere “a lot of killings” but also “some good things.” Noah also told me they were taught about the two sides of Martial Law, he said “noong Martial Law nga po, ‘yung kapangyarihan na binigay sa pulis at sa militar parang nawalan po ng freedom ‘yung mga tao sa kanilang [sariling] bansa. Tapos, umunlad ng kaunti po siguro sa imprastraktura ng bansa (During Martial Law, the power that was given to the police and military caused the loss of freedom of the people in their own country. Also, the country maybe improved a little bit from the infrastructures.)”

It is evident that until today, the pedagogy of Basic Education in terms of the history of Marcos’ Martial rule is still framed in between the dichotomy of the “good” (if there are even any good things the Marcos regime produced) and bad sides of the story. Oftentimes, human rights violations, among other atrocities of the Marcos regime are juxtaposed with the distorted nuances of “economic growth” and ambitious infrastructure projects.

Based on the interviews, some of them were not even taught about the corruption that lies behind the brutal facades of the Marcos regime. 

After the imposition of Martial Law in 1972 until Marcos’ ouster in 1986, Amnesty International recorded over 100,000 victims of Human Right violations: 70,000 were arrested, 34,000 were tortured, 3,240 extrajudicial killings in the hands of the military and the police, and 783 enforced disapperances or “desaparasidos”

These young students may not even have heard of the name Macli-ing Dulag, a tribal leader in Kalinga who fought for their right to ancestral land, opposed Marcos’ Chico River Dam project and asserted “Ti daga ket biag [Land is life]”. On April 24, 1980, state forces surrounded his house and sprayed it with bullets. Macli-ing Dulag is among the 65 names honored and enshrined in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani because of their martyrdom during the Marcos regime.

Aside from it, the pedagogy has given no space on debunking economic myths on the Marcos regime. The so-called “economic growth” under Marcos was only brought about by debt-driven growth, leaving an outstanding debt of $28.3 Billion by 1986. According to the data of Martial Law Museum, 6 out of 10 Filipino families were poor by the end of Marcos regime, agriculture productivity receded, daily wage of skilled and unskilled workers dipped down, and at the last decade of Martial Law inflation had tripled. Not to mention, the Marcos regime experienced the worst economic recession in our country’s history. These economic indicators ultimately disprove Marcos years as “golden age”. 

These young students were not taught about Marcos’ crony-capitalist system. In “Some Are Smarter than Others”, Ricardo Manapat argued that crony capitalism is the central characteristic of the Marcos regime. Marcos appointed his cronies and allies in key private and public sectors, not to provide public services but because it was an opportunity for kick-backs that came from looting huge amounts of money from the Filipino people. 

The ambiguities of the pedagogy resonate in their narratives. My cousins told me that they were not even taught about the rationale behind the imposition of Martial Law in the first place. Primitivo Mijares, Marcos’ right-hand aide, revealed that Marcos’ grand scheme behind the imposition of Martial Law was to extend his second presidential term that should have expired in December 1973. Marcos also hijacked the 1971 session of a constitutional convention called to revise the 1935 Philippine Constitution. Eduardo Quintero, one of the constitutional convention delegates, exposed that Marcos bribed and intimidated delegates in order to concur to his political will. In 1973, Marcos bended the rule of law and ratified a constitution that would legitimize his authoritarian rule, historians called it “constitutional authoritarianism”.

On pedagogy & ambiguities

This pedagogy of ambiguities, leave the lessons from Marcos’ Martial Law inconclusive and even ambivalent to some extent. In 2016, a study conducted by Corpuz-Uminga on their critical analysis on Philippine History modules produced by the Department of Education (DepEd) under Project Effective and Alternative Secondary Education (Project EASE) for Secondary Education learners, it was found that the third chapter from the module “describes the changes wrought by martial law on social, political and economic landscape.” This chapter includes Marcos’ ‘New Society’ program. Moreover, the module has an activity where students are asked to “identify economic, political and community changes” under the period of Martial Law, and then tag those changes as either maganda (beneficial) or di mabuti (disadvantageous). The most concerning is the silence of the said module on human rights violations during Marcos’ Martial Law.

The history of Martial Law is ambiguously taught to these young students, leaving them with confusion and gaps that they need to fill to make informed decisions. I asked my cousins whether they believed in the lectures that were taught to them about Martial Law. Kylo told me his reservations, “It’s fifty-fifty, because some of them are a little bit biased on what they believed,  some of my teachers don’t like Marcos and some of my other teachers also like Marcos”.

Similar to Kylo’s indecisiveness, Noah said “Para sa akin po yes and no (For me, my answers are both yes and no)”, he further explained that sometimes the instructions are sugarcoated, while sometimes his teacher adds their personal insights regarding Marcos’ Martial Law. 

Lucas even stated that “parang mabuti pa rin s’ya [si Marcos] kahit sabi ng iba na masama (It seems that Marcos was still a good [leader] despite the fact that people say he is evil).” While Kurt said “marami naman s’yang nagawang maganda, marami s’yang napatayong building ([Marcos] had done many things, he established many buildings)”. 

This poses a danger in the learning of young students, especially now that historical negation is prevalent in social media, where a lot of misinformation and disinformation about Marcos’ Martial Law and the Marcos family are perpetuated to distort history. The ambiguity in the pedagogy of Philippine History, particularly in the accounts of Martial Law, make students vulnerable to misinformation, and may lead them to engage in the ecosystem of historical distortion.

“I think what my teachers taught [us] were not enough”

Back in 2012, then-DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro stated that “DepEd would be veering away from the current textbook-based approach where the students ‘imbibe the biases’ of the historian that authored the book” [italic added]. DepEd then started its “New Approach” on teaching Philippine History, Luistro justified such measures by stating “History has a positive and negative aspect, and depending on where you stand, it will look positive or negative”. 

Luistro added “if we want to ask ‘was Marcos a great president?’, we will let the child arrive at that conclusion.” In years to come, the education secretary’s statement had manifested in the ambiguity of Philippine History curriculum in basic education. The aforementioned Philippine History modules under Project EASE implied that it “will guide you as you decide whether or not it was appropriate to declare martial law”. The Department of Education had left students to “decide”, but lacked in the provision of facts and rationality that would allow them critical discernment about Marcos’ Martial Law. Dictatorship should have been an indisputable discussion. 

It is then no longer surprising that when I asked whether the lessons from their modules and in their classrooms were sufficient in learning the history of Marcos’ Martial rule, all of them gave a straightforward answer: “no”. 

Kylo told me that “I think what my teachers taught [us] were not enough, I think there are some missing facts on what they taught us about Martial Law”.

Based on the most recent codification of DepEd, with its Department Order no. 20 series of 2014, Philippine History is no longer included in secondary education, it was retracted to primary education, particularly in Grade 5 and Grade 6. Resulting in a 7-year gap between primary school and higher educational institutions for young students to have discussions on Philippine History. Rather than strengthening its Philippine History curriculum, DepEd with its new curriculum K-12, caters to an “outward appreciation of history”.

According to Luis Domingo, a Lecturer of History in UP Baguio, the removal of Philippine History in secondary education that teaches essential topics like Martial Law may cause young Filipino students to be vulnerable to disinformation, misinformation, propaganda and fake news that are prevalent on social media. They argued that this removal may cause the domination of disinformation and “denigration of critical thinking”.

The conversations I had with my cousins showed us that the pedagogy of Martial Law history is instructed in a way of a two-sided scenario, which eventually led these young students to have a divided, ambiguous and inconsistent standpoint on what had really transpired during the Martial Law years.

It is axiomatic that the history of the Marcos regime and his martial rule is being taught inconclusively and incompletely in basic education. It fails to place late-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the Filipino people in their proper places in Philippine History. This kind of pedagogy leaves no room for critical thinking, reflection, and crucial analysis. These young students were not given an avenue to ask the right questions. This pedagogy will only teach young students to passively accept what is prescribed without questioning its rationale and purpose.

Moreover, in the case of my cousins’ answers, it can also imply the lack of Human Rights education in our basic education curriculum. In the same analysis as cited above, Corpuz-Uminga pointed out that Human Right education does not merely create awareness of the rights and liberties of Filipinos, but it can hone the students’ sense of respect to human rights and human dignity. Human Rights Education can serve as an avenue to hone the critical thinking of students and adopt social values. 

Teaching Filipino students the atrocities, tortures, oppression, human displacements, enforced disappearances, and killings that happened during Marcos’ Martial law should lead students to realize the important commitment of “Never Again” and “Never Forget”. An effective pedagogy on Martial Law History, and Human Right Education would teach the students not to let those atrocities of the past happen again. Encouraging students to play safely in between yes-and-no about Marcos and his Martial Law as good or bad is not a decision, it is silence – and students should never stay silent. [P]

*The names of the interviewees were changed

Author’s Note: This case study was originally submitted to Prof. Laurence Marvin Castillo in PS 21 – Wika, Panitikan, at Kultura sa Ilalim ng Batas Militar sa Pilipinas, a course dedicated to analyze the narratives and social context of Marcos’ Martial Law. Revisions were made for this publication. 

3 comments on “Never enough: ambiguities and silences in Martial Law education

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