What you didn’t know: Pro-Marcos propaganda too hip for its own good

Lisandro E. Claudio

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To the pseudo-hipsters and contrarians, knowing bad history is not hip; it’s just stupid. Wanna be better than others? Read more and read right. Because, in the end, the truth is always sexier.

The original definition of hipster (prior to indie rock and beards) was someone “in the know.” Unlike plebs who fell for mainstream ideas about politics and culture, hipsters were said to know better. Pro-Marcos apologists thrive off a similar sense of privileged exclusivity. They are proud of having access to secret knowledge denied to them by “yellow” media and armchair academics.

I would have admired this nonconformity had it been grounded on credible information. Unfortunately, Marcos apologia is too hip for its own good.

A good example of this bloated sense of knowing is the contrarian website, Get Real Philippines. Run by an anonymous Sydnesider called Benign0, GRP claims to promote “hard to swallow observations about Philippine society” made by “smart people” who “clarify the muddled and challenge the traditional.”

The site is explicit about its intellectual elitism and often makes the claim that Filipinos are idiots. Amid this sea of stupidity, Benign0 believes that Marcos supporters are “young, educated, upwardly-mobile Filipinos.” The observation is false (Marcos’ support base is older and polls at top universities reveal, at best, divided support for BBM), but now is not the time to quibble. What is curious is Benign0’s insinuation of an aspiration: to be young, educated, and upwardly mobile is to be pro-Marcos.

Again, its warped sense of exclusivity makes people rally to the banners of Batac. You get a similar version of this arrogance on the website, flippinflips.org, which also claims that many Filipinos are “bobotantes (stupid voters),” while arguing that the bearers of truth are OFWs (particularly in America) who have found enlightenment.

Reality loop

I’m an open minded-guy and, despite doctoral research on the Marcos regime, I’m sure I missed out on some things. Moreover, like Benign0, I am not invested in the glorification of People Power and the Aquinos, having previously researched Cojuangco-Aquino skullduggery in Hacienda Luisita. So in the spirit of openness, I asked Benign0 for sources.

I first asked him if he could name a single university-published, peer-reviewed book that endorses the Marcos regime, and got a non sequitur for a reply. I prodded further, asking, “So, no book?” to which he simply replied, “Nope.” (READ: Librarian to Marcos supporters: ‘Read reliable sources’ on martial law)

Failing to spur dialogue, I asked him for his sources on Philippine politics during the Marcos period. He remained dismissive: “What I read in my own time is my business. What I publish via GetRealPhilippines.com is all u got.” As for bothering with academic sources, Benign0 believes that “Ph history academe is a tiny community of inbred minds.”

Herein lies the problem with Marcos apologists: Since they have rejected verifiable sources of information, they often place themselves in a reality loop.  The source of good information for Get Real Philippines is none other than Get Real Philippines.

Consistency of sources

But let us give the website the benefit of the doubt and trace their sources for them. One of Benign0’s most recent posts has the sensationalist title, “The TRUTH about Martial Law: Young Filipinos no longer believe that it was all bad!”

For an article claiming to spread the “truth,” it is odd that it only has two sources. The first is a rambling Facebook post from an academic that has primarily published on forestry and not martial history. The second more credible source is Manila Times columnist Bobi Tiglao. Benign0 is delighted that Tiglao, rather than holding Marcos accountable for torture and extra judicial killings, instead blames “Communist chief Jose Maria Sison…because he deployed” activists “who were barely out of their teens to foment unrest and revolt in the countryside.”

According to Benign0, we should trust Tiglao because he was actually there during martial law, unlike “has-been celebrities like Jim Paredes and Leah Navarro.” (Actually, they were there too.) Under Benign0’s logic, credibility is best established by one’s proximity to the event. Let us assume his logic once more.

If proximity establishes credibility, surely the Bobi Tiglao writing in 1988 would be more credible than the Bobi Tiglao of today. That younger Bobi Tiglao was categorical in his essay, “The Consolidation of the Dictatorship,” in which he claimed, “Together, unhampered by any democratic process of accountability and fully aware of the climate of feat and intimidation that kept the Filipino people perpetually intimidated, Marcos and the military effectively maintained 14 years of plunder and terrorism.” Benign0 failed to examine the consistency of his sources.

Verification vs manipulation

Why are historians like myself obsessed with these sources anyway? Because the historical record is easily manipulated and we need means of verification.

No system of verification is perfect, but professional historians believe that peer-reviewed academic studies are the best vetted and, therefore, most verifiable sources of information.

Peer review is usually an anonymous process where experts in the field check and evaluate an academic text before it is published in either a professional journal or a university press. Those who have gone through it know that it is a grueling process, involving the scrutiny of the smallest facts.

I do not know of any peer-reviewed study – published here or abroad – that argues martial law was good for our country. If either Benign0 or the angry guy at FlippinFlips can refer me to one, I would be genuinely open to reading and engaging in dialogue. Surely they can find at least one. After all, Herr FlippinFlips loves to remind his followers that, as an American, he has access to more books than those of us back home.

While I await their sources, I will provide everyone with a partial list of my own. And to make sure I don’t get accused of forwarding the biases of local professors, I will only cite works published abroad by foreign authors (though I will insist that local academics are just as qualified).  

Here goes:

1. McCoy, Alfred W. Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. Madison and London: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.

In the middle chapters of this book, University of Wisconsin history Professor Al McCoy details how Marcos had a direct hand in corrupting our military and enabling the torture of civilians. In “brutalizing” the military and giving them unlimited power, Marcos made it difficult for successive presidents to reign in their violent tendencies. Previously McCoy also proved that Marcos’s record of war heroism was faked.

2. Thompson, Mark R. The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.

Professor Thompson is the acting head of Political Science at the City University of Hong Kong. This is the book version of his groundbreaking PhD thesis at Yale University, which argues that the Marcos regime was “sultanistic.” Instead of forming a professional political class, Marcos used corruption to strengthen his family and other oligarchs.

3. Anderson, Benedict. “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams.” New Left Review 169, No. 3 (1988): 3-31.

Cornell University’s Benedict Anderson is the fourth most cited social scientist in the world and was the leading commentator on Southeast Asian politics of his generation. This article proves that critics of Marcos are not all “yellowtards,” as Anderson is also very critical of Cory Aquino. In this polemic, Anderson argues that Marcos made himself the warlord of the entire Philippines, turning the military into his own private army.

4. Boyce, James K. The Political Economy of Growth and Impoverishment in the Marcos Era. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.

Boyce is a professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a leading expert in developmental economics. Anybody who claims the economy was better during Marcos’ time should read this book. Boyce argues that Marcos increased inequality and reduced the real wages of Filipino workers and farmers. The net effect: more poverty.

5. Caouette, Dominique. “Constructing and Controlling People’s Power from the Grassroots: Philippine Social Movement Activism in Historical Perspective.” Montreal: University of Montreal: Cerium, 2011.

University of Montreal Political Scientist Dominique Caouette wrote the most comprehensive history of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA. In this article, he shows how Marcos’ repressive policies led to the burgeoning of the NPA. It reminds me of an old joke from decades ago: Marcos was the Communist Party’s number one recruiter. Ngayon, kung maayos talaga nung panahon ni Marcos, bakit sobrang daming NPA noon? (If the situation was really good during the time of Marcos, how come there were so many NPA then?)

As I said, this is just a partial list. I can give you dozens more, because the evidence against Marcos propaganda is substantial and obvious. To the pseudo-hipsters and contrarians, knowing bad history is not hip; it’s just stupid. Wanna be better than others? Read more and read right. Because, in the end, the truth is always sexier. – Rappler.com

Lisandro Claudio is a Research Associate at the Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University. He is also an Affiliated Assistant Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University.

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