Martial Law

[OPINION] A different world? Walking around Batac and Laoag on the 50th anniversary of Martial Law

Aaron Mallari
[OPINION] A different world? Walking around Batac and Laoag on the 50th anniversary of Martial Law
'While other parts of the country, especially Manila, were already pushing campaigns about the 50th anniversary of Martial Law, Ilocos Norte was a different picture'

It was a humid morning when I arrived in Batac. Hungry, I hopped off the bus and started walking around in search of a quick meal. I checked my social media feed and saw a stream of posts about the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. Online friends were posting images of protest actions, changing profile pictures to say, “Never Again, Never Forget.” As I put my phone away and looked around me, I was struck by a poster about the celebration of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s 105th birth anniversary. In my head, I remarked in jest, “Ah what a different world.”

I had gone to Ilocos Norte for work. In the last few months, I had been engaged in research that aims to explore the experiences of young Filipinos — Gen Zs — in Ilocos, hoping to get a better sense of their political engagement especially amid and after the recently concluded, and highly polarizing, national elections. After our team’s conversations and focus group discussions with Ilocano youth, the insights we gained from these have made us reflect on our own assumptions about how the younger generation see themselves and the ways they navigate their contexts in light of the political affairs of the nation. 

One striking insight came from a notion repeated by many young Ilocano supporters of Bongbong Marcos. When we asked about how they saw their peers who did not support BBM — especially those who supported Leni Robredo — it had been a recurring theme to remark, quoting one answer, “Kasta laeng ti kapanunotan da ta nakaruar da ti Ilocos (They think like that because they left Ilocos).”

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I did not make much of this notion the first time, but when it was repeated by others, it made me think about the importance of really understanding their context — generational, social, cultural, and perhaps spatial — if we seek to really make better sense of their political participation. Not being an Ilocano myself, unlike my research collaborators, this made me ask: What is it about their lived experience in Ilocos that contributes to the reasoning that the different political convictions of their peers are also linked to leaving the province? Is it really a much different world?

Some answers came after spending a few days in Ilocos Norte. Although deliberate and already with expectations, choosing to go to Ilocos Norte on the week of September 21 proved enlightening. While other parts of the country, especially Manila, were already pushing campaigns about the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, Ilocos Norte was a different picture.

On my first stop, Batac, I did not see any streamers or graffiti exalting, “Never Again, Never Forget.” Instead, as I’d mentioned earlier, there were several posters and tarpaulins about the celebration of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s 105th birth anniversary the week prior. I had the same observation going to Laoag, and several other towns that I was able to pass through. Having lived in Quezon City and worked at the University of the Philippines for a long time, visiting Ilocos during the week of the Martial Law declaration commemoration made me reflect that it was, maybe, quite a different world. 

Walking around Batac and Laoag, I could not escape my training in history. The many monuments and murals dedicated to Ferdinand Marcos Sr. did not only remind me about Ilocos Norte being his hometown and their family’s political stronghold, it also reminded me of the relevance of public history. Thus, I decided to revisit the many museums in the province. It was after these visits that things made more sense. Within the galleries of these museums, especially those dedicated to Marcos Sr.’s life and legacy, I saw how it was possible to paint a different world. 

Within these exhibits’ narratives about Ferdinand Marcos’s life and political career, visitors were told a story of Marcos overcoming trials and being triumphant in every challenge he faced — from criminal persecution, to the Pacific War, to the complexities of building a political career. There were no mentions of economic collapse during the dictatorship, nor of human rights violations and the debilitating plunder and corruption. The story was built around the life of a man of conviction and vision. In a contest of narratives, when one is aware of the historical contestations and evidence refuting the idea of Martial Law as a “golden age,” walking through the galleries truly felt like seeing a different world.

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When I told my collaborators of my reflections, I was reminded of the fact that they had also grown up within this “different world.” They told me that, indeed, growing up in Ilocos Norte, you were constantly reminded of the Marcos legacy. You would have had the chance to visit the museums in one of your school trips. You would have constantly seen murals and monuments with Ferdinand Marcos Sr. presented side by side with the pantheon of heroes from the Philippine Revolution, and other heroes across the nation’s history. Thus, it is not surprising that the legacy building — if not myth-making — would have had an undeniable impact on the way history is reckoned and politics construed.

As I scribbled notes for this piece during the long bus ride back to Manila, I further realized that if we want to truly understand and engage with those with a different political conviction than ours, especially the youth, we need not only to listen to what they have to say, but we must also take time to really understand the nuances of the reasons that undergird what they have to say. And as we continue to live in a time when disinformation is a threat, creating echo chambers and silos that close minds and stifle engagement, my short visit to Ilocos Norte during the week of the Martial Law declaration anniversary also affirmed the power of storytelling. Sometimes, silencing some narratives in favor of others could really create a different world. Perhaps when we are more willing to step out of our own can we begin to sustain more meaningful conversations. – Rappler.com

Aaron Mallari currently studies at the University of Vienna. He holds a BA and MA in History from UP Diliman. Together with friends, he hosts and produces PODKAS, a podcast about Philippine history, politics, and society. The research mentioned in this piece is a project funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Philippines. 

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