Why the Philippines can never move on?

Words by—Jonathan Ray Merez

The recent election has caused quite a stir in the country; dividing families, destroying relationships, and completely rewriting history to portray a certain someone as the son of an amazing dictator who was unjustly kicked out of the country almost four decades ago. Throughout the campaigning period, we’ve heard and read the phrase “move on” multiple times whether it’s from strangers or friends on social media. This call for a revolutionizing of history— disguised as a collective moving on—comes from the supporters and camps of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. in an attempt to further cleanse the name of the Marcoses and ultimately change the course of their legacy. 

This rhetoric of moving forward and completely turning our backs on history is not new to us. The Marcoses have been calling for it ever since they returned to the Philippines. Back in 2018, Senator Imee Marcos said, “the millennials have moved on, and I think people at my age should also move on as well.” She continues this by saying that she is not an apologist and that her father’s work can speak for themselves.

Amidst the protests about not letting another Marcos rule the country, the family’s supporters call for the protesters to move on. This is the result of years and years of historical revisionism by the Marcoses.

The glorified martial law

Most people who preach “move on” have this certain image of the Marcos regime they hold on to, that it was a utopia of sorts, the “golden age.” An era of peace, discipline, and abundance when the Philippines was at its peak. During this, some of the dictator’s supporters claim that there was no traffic, no crimes, and the country was the leader of Asia. They said they heard how comfortable life was during the Marcos regime and the Philippines had no debt. To them, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was the hero that put the country on top and was deposed from his ‘throne’ through the People Power Revolution as a coup orchestrated by Corazon Aquino. 

People who follow this narrative believe that the Philippines Marcos Sr. built was on track to become one of the most powerful and advanced countries but was aborted after the Filipinos fell for the Aquinos’ propaganda. They claim that the “dilawans” are the ones who are responsible for the Philippines’ lack of success and ability to catch up with other countries for the past decades. One of the things they believe are opportunities wasted by the Aquinos is Marcos Sr.’s nuclear power plant project that was canceled by the late Cory Aquino after she took office.  

Marcos supporters also see Martial Law as a necessary measure to what they believe the  Philippines was facing in those days: a growing rebellion against the government who sought to overthrow it. They see it as a transformation of the country, citing the low crime rates, the ‘peaceful’ streets, and the disappearance of the activists whose main objective is to “paint a bad image” of the government. Amnesty International documented a huge number of human rights violations by the government showing multiple numbers of arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, tortures, and killings. In fact, President Marcos Sr. himself told the organization in 1975 that over 50,000 people were arrested and detained under martial law which included church workers, human rights defenders, legal aid lawyers, labor leaders, and journalists. Many justify these abuses as being done only to criminals and that “life was good for those who did not try to fight the government.”

The Marcoses also contribute to this narrative and have been using it to their advantage as they continue their return to politics. Marcos Jr. has described his father’s regime as a historical era when the country was an exporter of rice, had the highest literacy rates in Asia, and thousands of roads were built. They continue to exploit this narrative to introduce a sort of nostalgia— “authoritarian nostalgia.”

The authoritarian nostalgia is the longing for a “strongman rule and sympathy for military intervention”, failing to recognize the horrors the country faced during the Marcos dictatorship and even the past Duterte administration. An attempt to appeal to this nostalgia is the distribution of ‘Nutribun’ in Cebu with Sen. Imee’s name on it and how she claimed that no child succumbed to hunger because of it. A bread that was initially developed to fight hunger in the Philippines is then used as another propaganda by the Marcoses. This nostalgia helped them successfully put themselves back on the political map, setting Marcos Jr. to be the next president as most Filipinos believe he can bring back the time they believe is the greatest time of the Philippines.

The efforts to distort history

Fake news and propaganda are adamant on the different platforms of social media. The narrative of “golden age” and glorified martial law are only some of them. There were Facebook posts claiming that the exchange rate of dollar to Philippine peso is extremely low; that the Philippines was the richest country in Asia; and that BBM has a bachelor’s degree from Oxford. These fake contents are disseminated through Facebook pages and groups dedicated to the revival of the Marcos legacy, which seem to have hydra-like qualities in the sense when one head is cut off and more will grow. These are often labeled as “shocking news,” something that was hidden by those in power and the biased media. With the upcoming film of pro-Marcos content creator Darryl Yap, this huge problem of mis/disinformation will only get worse. Yap said that the movie “Maid in Malacañang” will show the last 72 hours of the Marcoses inside the Palace “through the eyes of one reliable source.” His works are known for being part of the negative campaign against Leni Robredo, the strongest opponent of BBM during the presidential elections. According to Pauline Macaraeg, these “Marcos Network,” have been present as early as 2014 and have since then planted disinformation and reshaped narratives surrounding the Marcos family on Facebook to build “an entire fortress of Marcos supporters.”

Aside from Facebook, YouTube is another platform that many people use as one, if not the only, means to earn money for a living. Some of them have one thing in common: using the Marcoses as their primary source of content. They may not be half of the Filipino content creators on the platform, but it is enough to create a chain of lies that is now too long to cut off. May it be intentional or not, the spread of disinformation on YouTube is one of the many ways the Marcoses maintained their false narrative in most Filipinos’ minds. With the now dwindling trust in the media and the rumored Malacañang access for vloggers, truth is now at its most vulnerable state.  

His supporters also took to TikTok to spread misinformation by using the application’s algorithm to push different narratives that paint the family gold (pun intended). Users were exposed to materials that are often false, spliced, or taken out of context. An example of this is the myth of the Tallano Gold, a fake explanation as to where the Marcoses got their vast wealth, rejecting the idea that it was stolen from the country but instead was from the late dictator’s career earnings during his time as a lawyer. In a December 2021 Social Weather Stations survey, more than half of Filipinos surveyed found it difficult to identify disinformation claims on social media. This means that short videos on TikTok are enough to put a dent in Philippine history and create a false picture of safety and stability during the Marcos regime, something many Filipino voters are expecting from BBM.

The Philippine education system also took part in the Marcoses’ return to power. Schools fail to teach the ‘full picture’ of the Marcos regime and his martial rule. Filipino students are not properly taught about the military atrocities and human rights violations that occurred during martial law. This puts Filipino students in a vulnerable position, having no in-depth knowledge of the Marcos regime. Its effects are evident in surveys conducted before the election where Marcos Jr. was the leading candidate for Generation Z, those who were yet to be born during his father’s ruling. This is worsened by the recent victory of the Marcos-Duterte tandem. As Ramon Guillermo, a professor at the University of the Philippines said, “If the Marcoses come back to power and (the) Dutertes are supporting them, we could even have a more difficult situation in teaching what really happened.” 

Another part of the scheme to build a false image during the Marcos regime is the infrastructure projects such as The Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine Heart Center. These projects are Marcos’ “edifice complex” or the use of huge complexes of infrastructure to show national prosperity. Through this facade, the Marcoses aim to gain the public’s trust and support as well as assert their power in the country. The truth is, these were built on a foundation of debt, a debt that is still being paid for today by Filipinos who were not even born yet during that time. These infrastructures are far from being signs of the golden age as most Filipinos thought. Rather, these were mostly over budgeted and were surrounded by a lot of corruption. This “golden age” may be true, but only for Marcos’ crony capitalism, compradors, and landlords.

If moving on is an option
During the time of Martial Law, people were tortured, raped, and murdered because of being critical of the government. Human rights were just words that held no bearing. People disappeared and were never seen again. People who only wanted to be heard, became martyrs because of an abusive and corrupt government. Liliosa Hilao, a writer for her school paper in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila who had a strong sense for justice, was unwarrantedly taken by drunk soldiers from the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit and was tortured, raped, and murdered. She was the first woman and student activist who died in detention during Martial Law. Sadly, Hilao was only one name of the thousands who suffered during Martial Law. She, along with Archimedes Trajano, Edgar Jopson, Juan Escandor, Emmanuel Lacaba, Ishmael Quimpo Jr., and Maria Lorena Barros, are only a few of those who were murdered during the Martial Law era that will now forever be associated with one of the most terrible decade in Philippine history.

According to the Official Gazette website, 75,730 filed claims to the Human Rights Victims Claims Board as victims of human rights violations during Martial Law, about 70,000 people were forcefully imprisoned for being “enemies of the state,” about 34,000 people were tortured, about 3,240 victims of extrajudicial killings, and about 398 enforced disappearances between 1965 to 1986. Under the Marcos regime, “discipline” was done through violence. The survivors of Martial Law continue to teach what really happened during this dark era. One of them is Maria Cristina Bawagan who recalled the many forms of tortures victims suffered from including electrick shock, water cure, dunking their heads in a toilet bowl full of excrement, “Russian roulette,” being buried alive, being stripped naked, being hung upside down, and being sexually abused. In the docufilm “The Kingmaker,” victims spoke about how they were subjected to physical and mental torture for being critical of the government. These experiences left a mark on the victims’ lives, having them face such inhumane acts from their fellow Filipinos just so that they would remain silent and stop standing against the dictatorship.

Moving on from such a historical event would mean giving Marcos Jr. the power to follow suit with what his father has done. It does not put the ghosts of those who faced injustices during that time to rest; it only erases their courage, sacrifices, and unjustifiable disappearances and deaths from history. When the time comes that the Filipinos fully move on, then that is the most solid implication of historical revisionism. That’s when we know that history is successfully distorted. [P]

1 comment on “Why the Philippines can never move on?

  1. Thankyou for writing this thoughtful and reasoned article. As an expat in the Philippines the depth of missed opportunities, corruption and media thought control in the Philippines is becoming clear. There are so many good and smart young people here that there is hope in this generation.

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