Filipino movies

Clash of memories

Roderick G. Galam
The protests against Marcos’ burial in the Libingan and historical revisionism in favor of Marcos testify to the necessity of a continued struggle over history and memory

“No to Marcos historical revisionism!” has become one of the most urgent battle cries of anti-Marcos protests following the dictator’s surreptitious burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. This call rejects fundamentally the idea that Marcos could even be considered a hero. But for many Ilokanos, he is a hero. No question about it. Many are offended by the label “dictator” and many still consider his overthrow and exile in 1986 unjust. Paul Ricouer has rightly noted that “It is very important to remember that what is considered a founding event in our collective memory may be a wound in the memory of the other.”

On and off in the last couple of years during research fieldwork in the country and visits to Ilocos, I have talked to Ilokano writers about their personal position on Marcos and what they think of his military regime. For many years now, I have also been critically examining Ilokano literature over this issue. Let me here focus on two texts whose authors I also interviewed: Juan S.P. Hidalgo’s Saksi ti Kaunggan (Innermost Witness) a novel which began serialization in the Ilokano weekly magazine Bannawag (Dawn) two months after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution; and Severino Pablo’s biography, Ferdinand E. Marcos: Ti Silaw a Sinapsapul ti Kaaduan (Ferdinand E. Marcos: The light many are searching for, 2011), which devotes a few chapters to the issue of where Marcos should be buried.

As I have noted elsewhere, although these works represent an individual author’s remembering of Marcos, such a remembering is only possible in the presence of a mnemonic community that enables and sanctions it. Hence, though this remembering emanates from an individual author, it necessarily implicates an intersubjective construction. As pointed out by scholars of social and cultural memory, these literary texts point to the role of novels and biographies, and of cultural texts more generally, to the construction and dissemination of memory as socially and collectively shared rather than merely remaining as the preserve and prerogative of an individual.

Marcos as victim

We who consider the Martial Law regime as one of the darkest periods in our history see Marcos as the mastermind and perpetrator of the disappearance and torture of thousands of our countrymen and women. He’s a tyrant whose thirst for power is equaled only by his lust for wealth. He’s not just a thief; he’s a plunderer. A murderer who not only corrupted and destroyed our nation’s democratic institutions but also plunged it into bankruptcy and debt.

In contrast, Marcos loyalists hold on to a perverse version of Marcos and of his dictatorship. Indeed, the two texts provide a version of history and memory of Marcos that represents the dictator not only as a benevolent figure but more crucially, as a victim.

Marcos as a/the victim? Of whom or what?

Betrayed: Marcos as threat to US hegemony in the Philippines

The representation of Marcos as the victim of US interference in the Philippines depends on his simultaneous construction as a strong leader whose refusal to capitulate to US influence becomes his undoing. Rosales-born writer Juan S.P. Hidalgo Jr is the main exponent of this nationalist-Marcos-as-victim narrative.

In Hidalgo’s version of history, Marcos was becoming too independent, pursuing national self-determination that the US could not abide. The US wants the Philippines to remain politically and economically dependent on its colonial master so it could continue controlling and exploiting the Philippines. To maintain its hold over the Philippines, the US had to remove Marcos and put in power someone it could easily manipulate. Marcos’ removal from power is thus not only an act against Marcos but also the Filipino people. He is hence not only betrayed by his closest ally but also by his own people who allowed the US to interfere in the country’s affairs and even participated in ousting him.

This conviction, that the US instigated Marcos’ overthrow, is the source of Hidalgo’s reimagining of the Philippines’ past, present, and future that have been dominated by colonial, especially American, influence. Offered as a nationalist and an anti-colonial novel, Saksi, however, echoes Marcos’ appropriation of history in which Marcos inserts himself in the national narrative as a central figure.

Hidalgo’s view that the US orchestrated Marcos’s removal by instigating the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution conveniently disregards the fact that the US propped up Marcos’ dictatorship on account of its anti-communism.

Hidalgo’s revision of Philippine history involves the cleansing of the national body-spirit of all western “evil” spirits that have controlled the Filipino nation. In this novel, he liberates the Filipino nation, which he constructs as Marcos (that is, the Philippines is Marcos or Marcos as Fatherland): he sends away all foreigners who have enriched themselves through the resources of the country and asks all Filipinos – scattered all over the world as a result of the foreign exploitation of the nation – to come home and share in the good life that they had been deprived of and had to search for elsewhere.

Hidalgo’s view that the US orchestrated Marcos’s removal by instigating the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution conveniently disregards the fact that the US propped up Marcos’ dictatorship on account of its anti-communism. The then US vice president George H. Bush, in his 1981 presidential-inauguration toast to Ferdinand Marcos, declared, “We love your adherence to democratic principle and to the democratic processes.”

Hidalgo’s construction of foreigners as the cause of the dispersion of Filipinos and of Marcos as Fatherland asking all of his children to repatriate absolves Marcos of his role in turning the export of labor into government policy. It strategically forgets that the migration of Filipinos as overseas contract workers was part of propping up his dictatorship or his project of building the New Society through their remittances.

Marcos as a victim of ‘dark and evil forces’

Severino Pablo’s biography (or hagiography) presents Marcos as “light,” a source of direction and inspiration. It is a representation that resonates with how “liwanag” has been used not only as a metaphor but as also as conceptual basis for a social justice discourse in various social movements in Tagalog Philippines. Such a framing of Marcos as “light” is possible only in a context in which his abuses and crimes, if there were any, can be justified, or indeed, are justifiable.

Pablo begins with an acknowledgement that the light of Marcos, or the light-as-Marcos, was one that various dark and evil forces wanted to extinguish or banish. Because these forces are filled with anger and hatred, they could only misrecognize Marcos and his accomplishments. Vindictiveness, partisanship, and historical blindness have caused Filipinos, specifically non-Ilokanos, to view Marcos negatively.

Pablo argues that Marcos aimed to destroy oligarchy in the Philippines and bring about social justice especially through land reform. He claims that Martial Law brought peace and order as well as development and economic progress to the entire country, that the many presidential decrees that issued forth from his pen benefitted no one else but all Filipinos, and that the Philippines would not have seen any progress had Martial Law not been declared. Through the help of Imelda Marcos and Imee Marcos (as chairperson of Kabataang Baranggay), the country experienced cultural and political renaissance. None of this however, was acknowledged by anti-Marcos forces. Pablo laments how they instead focused on how the military regime trampled on democracy (pannakapukaw ken pannakailuges ti demokrasia).

Pablo’s short account of presidential corruption from Elpidio Quirino to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo makes clear that for him, Marcos was the only one who was not corrupt. He claims that there were no reports of corruption committed by Corazon Aquino because Fidel Ramos, who owes his presidency to Cory, controlled the media in order not to expose Aquino’s corruption. He writes that although there were reports of corruption during Marcos’ first term as president, he did not know this was going on and that his reelection proved his innocence. For Pablo, Marcos is someone who could do no wrong. Indeed, for him, Marcos never did anything wrong.

Pablo’s short account of presidential corruption from Elpidio Quirino to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo makes clear that for him, Marcos was the only one who was not corrupt.

What has always guided Marcos then, and his family now, is a tradition and heritage of public service. Pablo conjures up the Marcoses as occupying positions of power because this heritage of public service runs in their blood. And that Filipinos have failed to recognize or acknowledge this. Such failure obtains in a culture of envy and anger (kultura ti apal ken rurod). Yet, however much Pablo sanitizes his account of Marcos and his family, there are irruptions in his narrative that he fails to contain. He unwittingly acknowledges that Marcos trampled on democracy.

Forgetting as memory

Both these Ilokano narratives of Marcos turn memory and remembering into a form and means of forgetting. Indeed, in them we see how forgetting, as Alfred McCoy has noted, becomes a form of memory. Pablo can argue that Marcos has not been given the proper historical recognition by the Filipino people (except the Ilokanos); in other words, the gratitude that he deserves from his people, only through a non-recognition, if not denial, of what Marcos actually did. Hidalgo can conceive of Marcos as the embodiment of the Filipino nation, as benevolent Fatherland, and as Freedom itself only through a thorough and systematic exclusion, if not erasure, of the atrocities Marcos and his allies committed during the dictatorship from our narratives of the Marcos regime.

Memories are not simply of the past. The current protests against the burial of Marcos at the Libingan, and the support of many old and young Ilokanos for the Marcoses, reveal the intergenerational transmission of memories. They can be drawn upon to guide present and future action. The protests, participated in by many who did not experience the Martial Law period, might be said to show that memories, like life, can be inhabited. That memories can be kept alive, can be shared, and hence can be lived. They can be lived through collective action and movement that draw on and derive their impetus precisely from a sense that a violation is being committed against our sense of what is just and right. That what others fought and paid dearly for is willfully and blatantly disregarded for the benefit of precisely those they fought so hard to bring to justice, if not the judgment of history.

'WE WON'T FORGET.' Protesters at the November 30, 2016, rally at the People Power Monument against the hero's burial for dictator Ferdinand Marcos
We have often been lamented as a people who easily forget, too quick to forgive. The two texts I have analyzed here clearly show how Ferdinand Marcos is deified by and among Ilokanos, as well as the abiding fondness for his family. There are most certainly texts that provide counter-memories of Marcos as well as stories of Ilokanos who suffered from or died fighting his regime. Certainly, there are expressions of Ilokano memories of Marcos as a tyrant. Ilokano activists who were imprisoned and tortured during the Martial Law years have become more vocal and visible. They have used the space provided by the legal fight to obtain compensation for human rights abuses to have their experiences of the dictatorship heard and recorded for posterity.

One survivor took a leading role in listening to and recording the stories of many other survivors, which became the basis of their claim for compensation. As an Ilokano who grew up hearing only of the greatness of Marcos, I am heartened to personally meet and talk to a number of these survivors who belie the myth that the North was and is solidly behind the Marcoses.

The protests against Marcos’ burial in the Libingan and historical revisionism in favor of Marcos testify to the necessity of a continued struggle over history and memory, and over which versions of our narratives of the past must, in the end, inform our collective memory, and hence our sense of history. –

Roderick G. Galam is a Research Associate at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Free University of Berlin.