[OPINION] Reconstructing memories of Apo Lakay

Whether the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos is a hero or not still remains polarizing 3 years after he was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016. 

Up until now, some Ilocanos still believe folktales and myths meant to lionize the homegrown tyrant. These folktales and myths give way to a sanitized memory of the tyrant that is passed on from one generation to the next. Millennials, for example, are either too young to have or even to remember any significant personal experience during the Marcos era. Generation Z – my generation – was not even born yet. The stories passed on to me by older people who lived through the Marcos regime allowed me to craft my own imagination and internalize a collective memory about a supposed illustrious fellow.

Memories serve as robust political tools because they legitimize experiences as well as the interpretation of these experiences. But memories are not definite. The tension between those that we forget and those that we remember renders memories shaky. The case of the late dictator Marcos, for one, shows that the manner in which we remember a person matters as much as whether or not we remember that person at all. (READ: FALSE: Philippines was 'richest country in Asia' during Marcos years)

Ilocanos' pride?

One cannot deny that many Ilocanos read the life of Ferdinand Marcos in a hagiographic way. Older people, in particular, look back at the dictatorship of the '70s as a time of Ilocano cultural pride. It is no wonder, then, that the younger generation adopts the Marcos veneration because of the positive collective memory towards Marcos. (READ: Martial law 'peaceful'? Netizens debate severity of Marcos regime)

Those who resist this collective memory, meanwhile, are discredited. This is most stark towards the younger generation. Marcos loyalists say that the youth are too young to know anything, that they should shut up because they were not born yet during the Marcos regime, and that they are not Ilocano enough. These are problematic. 

First, while it is true that the youth today are too young to have experienced firsthand the events of the 1960s up to the 1980s, they are never too young to know anything. Resistance does not discriminate based on age. In fact, many Ilocano youths had opposed the Marcos administration. One example is UP Namnama, an organization of Ilocano students at the University of the Philippines, which was founded at the height of Martial Law in 1974. They rejected the Ilocano regionalist fervor even more critically than many learned professionals during that tumultuous period. (READ: Martial law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)

Second, there are always new ways of remembering and forgetting. Personal experience is not the sole source of memory, especially at a time when legitimate information is readily available. It is possible to remember Marcos against the stories of his supposed greatness. He can be remembered through records of his human rights violations and through the stories not only of Ilocano supporters, but of Ilocano victims, of tortured activists, of grieving families of the desaparecidos, and of people who resisted Marcos’ iron fist one way or another. 

Empathy is a tool for national truth, for it is only by looking beyond ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of other people can we understand national experiences in their entirety. (READ: The resurrection of Ferdinand Marcos)

Third, actual lived experience still trumps memory. In this respect, the youth voice decrying the Marcoses still ring valid because the youth have their own lived experiences that fuel their political opinions. While what the Ilocano youth remember about the Marcos period is a passed-on memory to which they can only experience through imagination, the repercussions of the Marcos regime are still materially, economically, and culturally felt until now.

The youth can remember Marcos not only by folktales and epics, but also by the contemporary realities. Marcos may not be the be-all and end-all of all the problems in the Philippines, but facts show that he aggravated the problems of his time, resulting in the state of the nation that we see and deal with today. (READ: Ferdinand Marcos's economic disaster)

Fourth, being Ilocano and criticizing the Marcoses are not contradictory. Collective memory plays a vital role in identity construction and cultural preservation, but this memory is malleable and can be reconstructed to favor national truth. UP Namnama, for one, enjoys to this day its status as the bastion of Ilocano culture in the country’s national university despite maintaining its stance for truth and social justice.

This article is not a call to altogether reject the Ilocano collective memory. This is a call, instead, to reevaluate the things we forget and things that we remember from our past.

Through a conscious reevaluation of historical facts, we protect ourselves from blind veneration and we critically reconstruct stories we inherit from the older generation. We recreate memories as much as we remember them, and may many youth critically participate in this endless construction and re-construction. – Rappler.com

Athena Charanne “Ash” R. Presto, 22, is a born and bred Ilocana. She graduated summa cum laude and currently teaches Sociology at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She tweets at @sosyolohija.