The Manila Times : Fairness in history

28 September 2021

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

IT is not about rehabilitating tyrants. It is about fairness in revealing the many voices of the past, and not to hook, line and sinker the narration of events from the perspectives only of those who are allowed to speak, or those who have won.

It cannot be denied that the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., either through his sins of commission or omission, was responsible for the atrocities and corruption that attended his decades of rule.

However, while we cannot allow the good deeds of condemned leaders to whitewash the venality of their acts, we also owe it to future generations to reveal, if not their good side, then the stories and perspectives of those who saw events in the past differently. It is the duty of scholars and academics to properly represent them in the context of how these became meaningful to a significant number of Filipinos. After all, if there is one important lesson in the writing of history, which Fernand Braudel and his Annales school of historiography taught us, it is the understanding that history is not just about the stories of kings and of great transformations, but also about micro-studies of the mentalities of the ordinary and the everyday.

There is a need to inquire into the ordinary narratives of people who lived through the Marcos years other than those of its victims. The horrors of martial law have been the focus of academic and political discourse. Books and academic journal articles have been written and published, film documentaries have been produced, and symposiums and conferences have been convened, all to indict the Marcos rule.

And yet, despite all these, the Marcos brand appears to have endured. The Marcoses have been back in the political limelight since their return from exile, with their scions elected to national positions, as they are well-entrenched in their political bailiwicks which actually go beyond Ilocos Norte. They may not be in the majority, but the Marcos loyalists are well-positioned, if not to propel a Marcos return to Malacañang, at least to be material in ensuring an ally captures it in 2022, in the same way that they were instrumental in forging the 16 million votes that made Rodrigo Duterte president in 2016.

While some can see this as egregious forgetfulness on the part of the people in relation to the bad deeds of the Marcoses and their cronies, it is equally true that instead of forgetting, the Marcos brand endures due to ordinary people not forgetting the good things that they associate with the Marcos era. And remembering, holding on to, and later using these fond memories of the brighter side of an otherwise dark period in our history to influence current political discourse, are only made easier by the failures of post-Marcos leaders to bring the much-needed changes that would have been necessary to make people forget the Marcoses.

We need to understand the underbelly of this organically rooted sense of remembering and fondness in the face of compelling narratives of corruption and horror. This should involve researching and curating the lives of those who saw it as a period of progress. We have to go beyond sloganeering to understand why despite the incessant demonization of the Marcoses, and the fact that the anti-Marcos forces in academia took over the research, teaching and writing of history and of politics, that the Marcos brand is an enduring one, enough for it to become a significant minority in determining electoral outcomes.

It is not helpful for us to dismiss pro-Marcos sentiments as emanating only from the clueless, ignorant, or worse, complicit, without giving their stories a fair, objective chance of being told and heard. We cannot convince people to see the injustices committed during the Marcos tenure, if the manner by which we do it doesn't do justice to all sides.

We have revealed the corruption of Marcos and the horrors of martial law. But we have not interrogated with equal fervor, and inquired into allegations that Benigno Aquino Jr. struck a deal with communist totalitarian regimes in his desire to become president. We have not even inquired with a fair and serious eye into the allegations that Corazon Aquino wanted the US to bomb Filipinos rebelling against her rule. We have not fully taken her to task for exempting Hacienda Luisita from the land reform program of her government.

The hidden wealth of the Marcoses are already well-exposed. Yet, it appears there is no interest to investigate the veracity of claims about the connections between the Aquino-Cojuangco wealth and political power and the missing treasury vaults of the Philippine revolution. We have not even honestly and objectively looked into the Plaza Miranda bombing and the Aquino assassination.

It is easy to dismiss these once again as leading to historical revisionism, except that it behooves us to ask what truth is there to revise with lies when truth is not yet revealed. If historical revisionism could attach to those who seek to deodorize the Marcos brand, it is equally egregious to hide the truth, either by refusing to inquire, or dismissing the claims as outrightly preposterous, because truth may just be inconvenient to the preferred dominant narratives.

One of the strategies of propagandists is to control the production of narratives, and to label inconvenient voices as revisionism, gaslighting and whataboutism. But the efforts to cancel and silence notwithstanding, rehabilitating the image of Marcos as a dictator is as egregious as reifying Ninoy Aquino as a hero. Both should be resisted.