By Leila B. Salaverria
Everyone, from President Benigno Aquino III down to the most miserable of the victims of military rule, feels strongly that the teaching of the martial law period in the country’s history should be institutionalized.
But how to go about it is something that divides educators, historians, social activists, human rights advocates and lawmakers. For Education Secretary Armin Luistro, students should not be told straight out that martial law was good or bad, they must make that decision for themselves.
In fact, he said this was the new direction that the Department of Education (DepEd) is adopting in teaching about that 14-year period when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial rule, taking for himself all the powers of the state and arresting and jailing everyone who opposed him and even those who he only thought were opposing him. There was the dreaded Preventive Detention Authority.
According to Luistro, the DepEd is veering away from the current textbook-based approach where the students “imbibe the biases” of the historian that authored the book. In this new method, Filipinos will have to make their own conclusions about martial law based on what they have read and researched even beyond the textbooks, he said.
“If you already teach judgment or interpretation, I don’t think that’s education,” Luistro said.
At present, the students, especially those in high school, where there is wider discussion of martial law, base their knowledge on what is in the textbook, he said. In the new method he is espousing, students will be taught the facts about when, how and why Marcos proclaimed martial law. They will learn historical realities, what are the programs he implemented during the period, and the opposition to his rule.
But they will also be taught to look at other primary sources where they can dig up more information about what happened during that period, and which can include the disappearances or killings, Luistro said. They will be taught to reflect about how all those events have shaped their lives and communities, he said.
In so doing, they can come to their own judgment of how martial law went, Luistro said. He said not everyone would come to the same conclusion about martial law.
“History has a positive and negative aspect, and depending on where you stand, it will look positive or negative,” he said. “So if we want to ask, ‘Was Marcos a great President?’ we will let the child arrive at that conclusion.”
Historian Dr.Maria Serena Diokno (photo), chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), also believes that children should be taught about the experiences of everyone, so that they could make their own judgments about martial law.
In fact, in fulfilling the NHCP’s new task of collecting and imparting martial law stories, the pronouncements that Marcos made in the government-controlled television stations should also be included, she said.
“I want children to learn about what he said and make their own reactions,” she said. But Diokno said the textbooks in current use were inadequate for teaching martial law, which she said was partly the reason why there is a lack of understanding about it. The textbooks are lacking in facts, filled with errors, and have a biased perspective, she said.
Teaching of atrocities
Lawmakers from the Akbayan party-list group, however, want the government to use a more direct approach, by requiring the teaching of martial law “atrocities” in all school levels. Akbayan’s main argument is that the cruelty of this dark chapter in the country’s history under Marcos has eluded the collective memory of Filipinos.
Akbayan House member Walden Bello disagrees with Luistro’s value-free approach, saying that teaching martial law “must have a point of view.”
“Truth can’t be separate from ethics,” he said, adding that there are universal standards of human rights that have to be considered as well. Bello noted that in other countries, the teaching of fascism, the Nazi period and apartheid had a value judgment, and that these were considered dark periods.
Dictatorships are also regarded negatively in the world, he added. There must be an overall judgment in teaching martial law, especially the questions of dictatorship, corruption and economic development, he said. The positive aspects of that period could be included in the lesson as well, he said.
The teaching of history should be nuanced and not simplistic, he added. Academic freedom could still come into the picture because students should be free to dispute the teachings, Bello said.
For all school levels
Akbayan has filed a House resolution asking the NHCP, the DepEd, the Commission on Higher Education, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and the National Youth Commission to form a task force to draft the guidelines for the teaching in all school levels of the atrocities committed during martial rule under Marcos.
Without any official version of events, history may repeat itself, with dire consequences, it said. “Democracy will again be threatened should the people fail to recognize the malevolent elements on which the Marcos dictatorship was founded,” read the resolution, filed by Akbayan lawmakers Bello and Kaka Bag-ao. Accurately stressing the facts of martial law in all school levels was needed to inculcate the values of democracy among the youth, it said.
The CHR supports the Akbayan proposal. CHR Chair Loretta Rosales said this would help promote and protect human rights in the country. “The Marcos dictatorship was marked by unparalleled human rights violations.
No less than an institutional teaching of its history is needed to remind the people of the need to safeguard their rights against systemic abuses and to fend off attempts to curtail their rights in the future. Historical truth is a powerful weapon in this regard,” Rosales said.
According to Bello, the younger generation has not fully grasped the scope of the martial law period. Worse, some of them are even beginning to think that Marcos’ strongman rule may be what the country needs, he said.
“I must say that’s worrisome because young people don’t really know what happened and their sense is, there was this person who has a strong personality, and they sense this is the way to go instead of being tied up in what they consider to be the intricacies and difficulties of the democratic process,”
Marcoses are back
Another cause for worry is the short memories of Filipinos, he said. He noted that the Marcoses are back and in power, a fact that puzzles even people from the international community. In its resolution, Akbayan pointed out that during martial law, records show that there were 3,257 murders, 35,000 torture incidents and 70,000 incarcerations.
“[Marcos] practically destroyed all institutions of democracy and clamped [down on] people’s rights in order to install a new societal order founded on fear, repression and tyranny,” it said. These events are in danger of being forgotten so that the government must do its part in perpetuating the truth through the mandatory teaching of martial law atrocities, Bello said.
“You have to organize the passing down of knowledge from one generation to another, and you cannot leave that to tradition, to the private sector or the individual. Since it was such a traumatic period in our history, it’s very important that it be transmitted in an organized fashion,” he said. People are free to dissent with the official version of events, but what is important is that the subject be taught in school, Bello said.
Appreciation of freedoms
The NHCP said it supported the Akbayan resolution. “I don’t see any problem with including it in the curriculum. The idea is to have a deeper discussion so that we will have an appreciation of our freedoms,” said Ferdinand Llanes, NHCP commissioner and University of the Philippines history professor.
“We need that because 40 years after the declaration of martial law, our youth are not aware of the human rights violations committed during that dark period of our history. There were 70,000 jailed, tortured and killed. How do you account for it?” Llanes said. He said highlighting the martial law regime would teach the youth “to appreciate our civil liberties like freedom of speech and assembly without fear that you will be arrested and tortured.”
Llanes said martial law gave birth to social ills that the government is still trying to resolve such as the high foreign debt and the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family.
Max de Mesa of the Philippine Association of Human Rights Advocates (Pahra) said the need to teach the youth about martial law was all the more necessary because in the vast, free worldwide web, videos are circulating disputing certain events during the Marcos regime and downplaying the first Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986.
De Mesa said videos on YouTube, uploaded by users named PangulongMarcos and Pinoy Monkey Pride, glorified the Marcoses and contended that the 1986 Edsa revolution was just a myth. The video from Pangulong Marcos also listed Marcos’ economic accomplishments, and also implied that Marcos had no reason to order the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
It said the Edsa revolt was filled with “hakot (bused-in) crowds,” communists and just curious civilians, and the 2 million to 3 million Filipinos that attended it were just 2 percent of the population. It further claimed that the revolt was peaceful only because Marcos himself ordered the Marines not to attack, and that the media just mythified the revolution and demonized everything to do with Marcos.
The video from PinoyMonkeyPride also said the media, owned by oligarchs, just propagated the myth of people power and Cory magic so that the rich could stay in power. The video also criticized the supposedly poor work habits of President Aquino.
De Mesa noted that the videos were well-produced and looked professionally made, with sleek graphics. He said Pahra showed one of the videos to a group of students, presenting it without any context or commentary. It then sought the students’ comments. The general reaction from the latter was that Marcos appeared to be a good President based on the video, and the students even asked what all the fuss was about.
“That is what we saw as dangerous. That was rewriting history. Those students were post-martial law babies,” he said. He said his group later told the students about the other things that happened during martial law, particularly the human rights violations.
Forgetting the horrors
De Mesa said Filipinos’ historical sense might not be as sharp or substantial yet, hence the tendency to forget the horrors of martial law. At the same time, there are people whose main concern is survival and this may be why they fail to see the dark side of martial law that had a profound effect on the lives of many others, he added. Others remember martial rule for the limited street crime, or the seemingly quiet surroundings.
De Mesa said what Pahra wanted was for the schools to teach a human rights subject, and include in the discussions the horrors that took place during the dictatorship. He said this would not necessarily constitute bias against one administration, but would just be imparting to students a piece of Philippine history.
“If Marcos would say no one was tortured, and we’re able to produce evidence that it happened, this has to be looked into by the youth. They must find out what happened. Otherwise, they might be unwittingly be glossing over or contributing to the culture of impunity,” he said.