Ironies: Those who fought the dictatorship now demonized

Patricio N. Abinales
Ironies: Those who fought the dictatorship now demonized
'Look at the names now praised by many for supposedly defending the national patrimony: Marcos, Escudero, Cayetano, and Ejercito'

The irony these days is that those who fought the dictatorship, who resisted brutal efforts by a grotesque Marcosian state to impose its rule on the people – revolutionaries like Mohagher Iqbal – are the ones being demonized. 

Leading the inquisition are the children of the props and marionettes of the dictatorship – the heirs who, when asked, can only see good in what happened over 40 years ago. Just look at the roads, the peace and order, the pomp and glory, the fame the country had under Marcos! 

When confronted with sordid facts – like the thousands killed, imprisoned, or displaced – by their fathers (and mothers), they insist that these are all lies. The country was hale and prosperous under their elders’ reign and all these statistics and testimonies of the depravities of the dictatorship are fabrications concocted by the enemies of progress. 

Look at the names now praised by many for supposedly defending the national patrimony against those who wanted it destroyed: Marcos, Escudero, Cayetano, and Ejercito. Now Google their parents’ names and you will be led to personal and family histories that show how privileged their beginnings had been so that their rise to power was seamless.

Those who defend them and their families insist that their elders helped man the ramparts of the dictatorship as professionals, not cronies, and that their records of service were purportedly quite remarkable.

Marcos Jr’s defense is overarching (my father was on his way to transforming the country into the next Singapore), while Chiz and Alan Peter claim that their dads were just being true professionals – working hard to make the agencies they were running work purportedly for the people.

(This historical revisionism is widespread among the servants of the dictatorship. The senior planners of the authoritarian political economy – Cesar Virata, Vicente Paterno, Geronimo Velasco – all brag about their contributions but tip toe around the profligacy and plunder of their bosses. Trabaho lang ito, pare, walang pulitika, is what they and their ghostwriters are trying to impress on today’s millenials.)

Now consider the background of these people’s targets. As noted in the past, we really know nothing much about Mohagher Iqbal other than he is the MILF’s chief negotiator and ideologue.

Most likely, however, he has a tatterdemalion of a background (something similar to his rival Nur Misuari). A child of poor peasant parents who managed to get him through elementary and high school, Iqbal was most likely smart enough to earn a scholarship to the Middle East and study as a scholastic. He joins the MNLF (along with Hashim Salamat, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, and the now-renegade Eid Kabalu) and – again most likely – fought in the brutal wars of the 1970s. 

The lives of Iqbal and comrades were surely not a bed of roses when compared to the heirs of Marcos and his cronies. The irony, however, is that they are today the object of many a Filipino Catholic’s derision, the targets of the bile of such armchair Makati Golden Ghetto warriors as Rafael Alunan III and the legislative counter-attacks of the likes of Representative Celso Lobregat.

The Marcos cronies have become the “defenders of the nation,” while the activitsts have been turned into the national threat. And no amount of reminding by historians of Mindanao and citizens concerned with peace would sway a fairly large percentage of Filipinos to change their views.

Why? There is, as some pundits have moaned about, the gradual forgetting of what happened in the past. But much of it is also the fault of those teaching the younger generation: practically nothing about Muslim separatism and the oppressions by Christian majorities and the national government. Of the war, we lack the kind of haunting accounts that war scholars like the English historian Antony Beevor has written about. We have the statistics on the numbers of killed, wounded, and displaced, as well as of the costs of war, but we have very little of how the conflict was experienced at the ground level.

It is this lack of information to share that has enabled the heirs of the dictatorship to wrest the initiative against those who fought their elders, and to portray themselves as honorable men and women, when in fact they are not. It is this absence of detailed history that has also transformed the heroes of the struggle against Marcos into the dryads out to destroy the nation. 

But we also cannot ignore the power of money. The biographies and autobiographies of the guardians of the dictatorship are backed with the wealth that they had accumulated (or have been accumulated in their behalf) during those dark days. A couple of these writings are produced by vanity presses, while their “social standing” among the elite and the intelligentsia have many a university and commercial press scrambling to get the publishing rights on their stories.  At the other end, Mohagher Iqbal has to content on a small-unknown Malaysian press to get his books out. 

If you have the money and popular prejudice is behind you, it is a walk in the park to control the narrative. – 


Patricio N. Abinales is professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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