OPINION: First, Marcos; then, Duterte
Nearly 40 years after Ferdinand Marcos ended Martial Law, Marcos loyalists continue to argue in favor of the effectiveness and success of Martial Law. A debate that many of us consider completely baseless, a classic act of historical revisionism. How could a period resulting in tens of thousands tortured and killed possibly be a time of peace and prosperity?
Though the debate itself may seem pointless, the cause of it is much more meaningful.
You see, the Philippines was, and continues to be, a territorial nation, brought together not by common cultural ideas, traditions, or even a single unifying language. We were classified as one country, one indios simply as a result of European racism, their inability to see any difference among the brown-skinned peoples.
They grouped us all together for ease of colonization, yet treated us as a group of islands, utilizing the strategy of divide and conquer, using Filipinos from one side of the Philippines to quell uprisings in opposite sides. During the time of the Spaniards, we weren’t a single unified nation; instead, we were a group of islands.
This is where it started. However, it is not where it ended.
We Filipinos continue to see ourselves as a divided country. We have so little empathy for each other we would justify thousands murdered in our cities to keep drug rates down. For some it is much more than that; drug use has become synonymous with the cancer of society, and many are associating and blaming it for a multitude of problems. This is a product of Duterte’s campaign, to take a marginalized group, and place all the blame on them. It’s us versus them he says, and if you’re against us, then you’re with them. Duterte’s message is simple, easy to understand, and it creates a false dichotomy between good and evil.
We saw this tactic employed in the time of Marcos when very little empathy arose for his victims during most of the early years. After all, the basis of Martial Law in 1972 was the communist threat. Marcos framed the communists as behind a growing insurgency, an imminent threat. He drew a distinct line between the orderly society — made of up of elite, the middle class, the poor, the Catholics — and the terrible threat of the communists, who were in actuality a few thousand during that time. He painted his administration as a New Society, a fresh beginning for the country that would now be characterized by discipline and progress.
So the country patiently waited, for 14 years. Eventually, critical events — the defection of Defense Minister Enrile, a stolen presidential election and people power called upon by the Church leaders, pushed the people for change. But despite that, no single person or event could claim responsibility for triggering the collective outcry that is People Power; rather, it was the accumulated anger of every man and woman fueled by years of injustices that led to the EDSA Revolution; it is people power after all.
A takeaway from the Martial Law era could be that change is only a matter of time; that eventually we will see through the sham of communist threats, the heavy burden of cronyism, and debt on our economic progress. Fourteen years, however, is a long time. This is 14 years of lack of freedom, halted development, economic suffering, and failed opportunities to lift people from poverty.
It is true that we moved forward and we revolted and we forced Marcos from his throne, but it took too long, the damage was done. In the 1960s, the Philippines was considered one of the most progressive countries in Southeast Asia, but by the end of Martial Law that dream would be over, replaced by billions of dollars of debt to be shouldered by future generations to come.
There’s no changing the past. It’s over. But we are in the present and we do change the future. However, “we” is no longer you or me; it is not a group people, a city or a region. “We” is the nation, no longer a collection of islands colonized by the Spaniards in the 16th century, but a democratic country that has the ability to elect the president we deserve, and exile the president that doesn’t deserve us.
There is a problem though: the Philippine masses is undereducated. How many schools teach the martial law years? How many schools teach the martial law years critically? What questions do teachers ask students or are they only required to memorize names and dates? Perhaps one question we should ask ourselves is: is there another Marcos losing support right now, and if there is… will it take another 14 years? Or do we have the power to do it sooner?