ON ASSIGNMENT: Teaching martial law history in the province
THE DOWNBEAT - DLS Pineda (The Philippine Star) - December 3, 2016 - 12:00am

The youthful protests in Luneta, Mendiola and EDSA fill me with hope and pride. Without a doubt, those who were present for those mobilizations left the assemblies overcome with the same positive sentiments as the ones I felt watching the events unfold online. Perhaps they even felt vindicated by the massive turnouts and energized by the discovery/re-discovery of collective rage’s power. Protesting has that effect — it turns anger into an uplifting emotion — especially when the police do not fire water cannons, shoot rubber bullets, or bulldoze the crowd with their shields. In a world where meaning is on the decline, acting on our principles and fighting for what we believe in has again become liberating. And in that fight, to find that you are not alone is a gift.

But at the same time, I can’t help but feel a tinge of regret. I had moved out of the megalopolis to teach in Agusan del Norte almost three years ago and I only “joined” the Metro Manila mobilizations through live-stream videos, photo coverage and status posts. There was hardly a mobilization here in Butuan City or any noticeable, tangible reactions to the recent atrocities by the Duterte administration and the Supreme Court’s playing Pontius Pilate. Life here in Agusan went on as usual, in the same slow plow of carabao tending Caraga’s vast rice fields.

I see now where and how Marcos apologists’ arguments that “EDSA is a Manila-centric idea” and “martial law wasn’t felt in the provinces” find their sense and persuasive, deceiving qualities. While I have come to think that forgiving, forgetting and moving on from Marcos’ crimes and plunder are choices given to the privileged few, I have also come to realize that the ignorance that systemic poverty has bred is, in a sense, bliss.

In my four semesters teaching in universities here in Agusan, I have always made it a point to include the Marcos milieu in the syllabus. In my Philippine Literature and Creative Writing classes, we discuss Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War, Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada 70, or Pete Lacaba’s poems and reportage in our classes. In my Technical Writing classes, a class about tact and power play, we talk about the fatal idea of all the state’s power siphoned into the hands of one man. In my Technical Writing for Criminology class, we simply talk about Marcos because, as future cops, my students seem too fond of the late strongman. What drives me is, first of all, the need to remember and, secondly, the need to counter the misinformation spread online — something way more accessible to them than books or good, affordable education.

Pros and Antis

I am relieved to find that in most classes, it has been a fair 50:50 split with the debates between the pros and the antis often turning out to be healthy and peaceful discussions. But ever since the petition to transfer Marcos to the Libingan was resurrected, eventually leading to his burial, those who side with the dictator seem to be fiery in their opinions, while those who think otherwise seem arrested and on the defensive. The biggest surprise I’ve heard was not a plain misinformed opinion but one from a student whose own uncle got arrested and tortured during martial law. The student, who in the debate approved of the hero’s burial for Marcos, said, “It’s not that I approve of Marcos’ crimes — I don’t. But ever since we were in third grade, we’ve been taught how evil they were. Now that we hear their side of the story, it just feels right to side with them.”

At that moment, I felt powerless though I continued connecting their ideas together — both pros and antis while, aided by research I’ve done, debunking myths — and offering a more historical perspective, to depict for them a web or a system of relations, an incoherent society that “worked” towards our demise during Marcos’ years in power.

I would usually end the discussion by stating the irony of how a debate that would place Marcos in a critical light was not even possible during the dictatorship and I encourage them to read further as we had only tackled little of the 21 years in our 90-minute class time. They would usually have questions in the following meeting which I would try my best to answer, neither lionizing nor absolving any of our presidents since martial law of their own crimes but showing, instead, a pattern of impunity. Although, upon stepping out of the classroom, I start to wonder if my students would only take the activity as a continuation of the academe’s “default” condemnation of Marcos, or consider my arguments as colored by my Manila upbringing. I am prone to believing this simply because the world outside the classroom remains the same and people here were/are “okay” with martial law.

Individuals over ISMS

This thought brings me back to a curious characteristic of the recent rallies in the nation’s capital — the assortment of placards. Apart from being funny, there is a stark contrast between these placards and the placards raised in rallies of a different flavor (e.g. SONA demonstrations, mobilizations during demolitions, in the fight for agrarian reform or for Lumad rights, etc). Today, we see the individual take the fore, overtaking the big isms which these rallies usually represent. Perhaps, it is social media’s edict of individualism manifesting itself in the world outside: “Fuccbois against Marcos,” “Laban bago landi,” “I cancelled my Grindr date for this,” etc. etc.

Also noticeable is the greater presence of classes A and B in the rallies and this is not a bad thing — finally, they are moving just as Rizal hoped they would. But it makes me wonder, will this strengthening of individual assertion further alienate the ones in the province whose ideas of the self and of history are far different from those of the Manileños? It scares me to think that, along with this trend of placing the individual above all, a further divide is inevitable, even on issues that should unite us. Or will the ones standing up now make room for the ones who think differently?

Part of the dictatorship’s undesirable effects is the way it pitted us against one another, the pros and the antis, while the Marcos rule kept all sides in the dark; the lack of information, the void it created, was and continues to be used for divisive ends. Here in dominantly Catholic Agusan, far from Marcos’ massacre of Muslims in Western Mindanao, our martial law story is how Marcos granted logging concessions to his generals who plundered our forests, acquired riches and remain unaccountable. It is a story unknown to many in the country’s power center and, ironically, even less known at the peripheries that experienced these abuses for themselves. In this proliferation and coming together of individual anger over Marcos and the Duterte administration, the importance of an inclusive social movement cannot be greater emphasized, lest we lose sight of the grandness of the task at hand.

Unlike in Manila, it rained hard here in Agusan last Bonifacio Day; there was no chance to assemble. I was only able to join the mobilization last Nov. 23 on the seventh anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre. We were a good 20-25 persons, teachers, students and common folk, shading ourselves from the rain, chanting “Hukayin si Marcos! Si Marcos, hukayin!” But it gave me hope to see how we were able to protest the hero’s burial for Marcos and the despicable burial of the 58 Mindanaoans both in the same breath. Impunity prevails; the dictator’s specter looms far and wide.

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Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.

 

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