[OPINION] Is it really time to move on from Martial Law?

Matthew Ordoñez

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[OPINION] Is it really time to move on from Martial Law?
Certain words and stories lose their power when told too many times. People can’t respond to horror stories and torture porn forever. Is there a better way of remembering Martial Law?

As I write this, the Philippines remembers the 46th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law under former President Ferdinand Marcos. Throughout these 46 years, there have been countless commemorative campaigns, fora, publications, art pieces and hashtags urging us to remember the atrocities of the period. In spite of all this commemoration, these campaigners now frame President Duterte as the new incarnation of Marcos. Indeed, both Marcos and Duterte share authoritarian methods such as disdain towards human rights and any form of opposition.

Many may ask: How could we have let this happen again?  (#NeverAgain: Martial Law stories young people need to hear)

Since the deposition of Marcos the dictator in 1986, the EDSA narrative has been prominent in our education system and public discourse. Yet, the purveyors of this same narratives still think Philippine society needs reminding again with the rise of “alternative” history favoring Marcos and martial law.

Has the so-called historical revisionism been that influential? (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history

How do we remember

For every pro-Marcos post or account, there is still an anti-Marcos response, whether in traditional or social media. In the realm of culture, the most popular films in this year’s Cinemalaya film festival were ML and Liway, both critical of Martial Law atrocities. Is this not enough remembering?

The anti-Martial Law discourse has weakened enough for Imee Marcos, daughter of the late Ferdinand Marcos, to dare tell the public to “move on” from martial law. Victims, human rights advocates and opposition politicians were rightly appalled by this statement. There is definitely no shortage of efforts in remembering and reminding yet the problems of the country remain. Even President Duterte regularly mocks the opposition by threatening similar Marcosian actions such as nationwide martial law and abolishing Congress. (READ: Opposition tells Imee Marcos: Move on? You’re remorseless

Has our memory of Martial Law held us back from progressing as a country? (READ: Marcos years marked ‘golden age’ of PH economy? Look at the data)

I believe it has. We need to “move on.”

I do not mean to imply we stop seeking justice from the victims of the Marcos or stop “correcting” historical revisionism. Genuine forms of “moving on” never necessarily involved forgetting and sometimes does not necessarily involve forgiving. By moving on, I mean remembering it in a way that properly allows us to face the present and future without pathologically seeing the past. We should judge the present for what it is and not “cry wolf” with slight similarities of the past.

Though many are now aware of Martial Law, this awareness has only caused more divisions in society. Virtue signaling on the internet has also turned remembering Martial Law into a toxic activity. For instance, netizens criticized professional singer, Moira dela Torre, for performing at the so-called “Marcosfest” last September 11. Though she claims she was deceived by the event organizers, is there anything to be gain by persecuting her further?

‘History often rhymes’

Certain words and stories lose their power when told too many times. People can’t respond to horror stories and torture porn forever. Is there a better way of remembering Martial Law?

Here are a few ways we can properly incorporate Martial Law into contemporary politics:

First, we must accept that Duterte is not Marcos. He is his own animal. Yes, they have authoritarian tendencies and outwardly employ violence. However, the similarities stop there. Marcos thrived on limiting information and communication while Duterte thrives in the saturation of information and chatter. Marcos built a technocracy of elite and highly educated allies while Duterte builds a club of loyalty, regardless of expertise or lack thereof.  Marcos crafted an image of dignity and affluence while Duterte continuously deploys a pedestrian and vulgar persona. By properly distinguishing Duterte from Marcos, we may be able to properly respond to whatever problems we have with our current President rather than comparing him to a past one.

Second, though we must not stop educating the public with the facts of Martial Law, we can’t always expect everyone to be emotionally affected the same way. As we may know, some people accepted Martial Law since they claim to have experienced actual peace, security, and economic mobility. The victory of EDSA was mostly an urban Manila phenomenon. There are many places across the country where Martial Law was either trivial or non-existent. Though discussion may be helpful, what can we gain from forcing them to change their minds? This battle should continue in the realm of education of the young. Otherwise, over-moralizing the memory of Martial Law online or in everyday conversations with hard-headed adults may bring adverse effects in building the nation.

Third, we must search for solutions beyond old stories. The current #NeverAgain campaign has an underlying assumption where Martial Law is the problem, EDSA is the solution.  Clearly, the multiple iterations of EDSA since 1986 proved that it hasn’t solved much. Many have excused President Corazon Aquino’s mediocre presidency for being a necessary symbol. In 2010, Noynoy Aquino was elected from the same well of symbolic power. Though his administration curbed corruption and improved the country’s economy to a point, he was unable to foster and pass on virtue for the next administration. The resentment from his failures also allowed for portions of the electorate to elect Duterte in the first place.

We must not forget Martial Law but over-remembering it may spoil an important part of our history. We must honor the victims of Martial Law without using their names as political weapons dulled with every blow. Though vigilance of familiar evils is important, flexibility to respond to the unfamiliar is also crucial.

To quote Mark Twain: History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes. – Rappler.com 

Matthew Ordoñez is taking his doctoral studies in Public Administration at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He is a former lecturer at De La Salle University-Manila and taught courses in Citizenship and Governance and Political Science.


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