Studies on Philippine history
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - October 4, 2020 - 12:00am

A few decades ago, the study of history was purely the realm of academicians and a few interested individuals. In fact, the term “study of history” was never used. In my schooldays, history was a subject that most students found dull and uninteresting because it was mostly remembering names, dates, events and places. History was then about the study of the past.

It was assumed that, unlike novelists or filmmakers, historians did not invent things that did not happen. Historians were supposed to deal only with facts and not fiction.

Contemporary history now has a different path. History is now described as a study of the past in order to find out the truth about it. One motivation is the fact that there have been serious attempts at historical revisionism in the Philippines and other places in the world. In this country, the most serious attempts at revisionism is the coordinated, seemingly well-funded attempts to change the truth about the Marcos years. Fortunately, there have been serious and more well-written rebuttals about the Marcos years that have exposed the real history of that period.

Recently, on social media, a well-organized group wrote 43 real life experiences during martial law. Each story centered on a personal experience of being jailed and tortured during the Marcos martial law. Dates and places were named and even the names of torturers were included in some stories. If you read  the stories, you will not just sympathize but also empathize with the horrible tortures they experienced. I may not personally agree with the ideology of some of those who suffered, but I am left with the conviction that no one deserved to be treated with such inhumanity. The other feeling I  had, while reading the stories, was a certain degree of disbelief and horror that there are so many persons who could be so cruel and inhuman to perpetrate such horrors on their fellow human beings.

I hope that some group decides to collect those 43 stories and publish them as a single book.

Though their stories came out on different dates on social media, they are really one complete collection. This reminds me of a book which everyone who wants to know about martial law should read. This book is Not On Our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened. We Were There. This book is a collection of 13 stories from individuals who were members of college papers and youth activists who shared their life experiences under martial law. The book was edited by Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon with a foreword by Conrad de Quiros.

The 13 individuals who wrote their personal stories for the book were Jaime FlorCruz, Jay Valencia Glorioso, Manuel M. Dayrit, Vic A. Wenceslao, Diwa C. Guinigundo, Victor H. Manarang, Calixto V. Chikiamco, Sol F. Juvida, Angie Castillo, Roberto Verzola, Jack Teotico, Al S. Mendoza, Jose Dalisay Jr. Illustrations were by Ed Aragon.

Wenceslao and Elso Cabangon, two of the writers, explained that the book originated from an idea that had its roots in the 40th  year reunion of the alumni of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). It was also an answer to the lament of a member who said that her children were surprised when they found out she had been the editor-in-chief of her college paper. Because of their backgrounds in writing and journalism, the stories are well written and very readable.

One of the most memorable stories is that of Verzola, whom we lost a few months ago. Here is the description by De Quiros: “Verzola’s description of the interrogation methods his captors used on him after he was caught is all the more frightening for its almost clinical detachment. He compares his reaction to the application of electric shock to the way a pig reacts when it is about to be slaughtered, something he remembers from childhood. Realizing something bad was going to happen to it, the pig would issue wild shrieks. It was a grating shriek of helplessness, desperation and terror... It was the kind of scream that issued from my throat every time my torturers spun the wheel around.”

In his foreword, De Quiros has this poignant ending: “These are their stories, these are our stories. They make us see a time in their lives that defined them, they make us see a time in our lives that shaped us. They make us see the hollow years and the full years. They make us see what one was and could be again.”

Is there a moral purpose to a study of history? One of the oldest history books is the Bible. It is full of dates, places, events and names. But it is not always a factual recitation of history. For example, there was no Adam and Eve.

In our studies of revisionism in Philippine history, the Philippine Revolution has become hotly debated. Was Aguinaldo a hero for establishing the first Philippine Republic, or was he a villain for ordering the killing of Andres Bonifacio and General Antonio Luna? I think these are legitimate issues in our history. I wish Ambeth Ocampo will find time to write a book, not just essays, on this era. He is the most readable of our historians and it is time he writes a scholarly history book that is readable.

History can provide us with a democratic civic education that can help us build a better world for the future.

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An invitation for online classes for writers of all ages: Adult series on writing family histories, Oct. 17, 2-3:30 p.m.

Young Writers’ Hangout, Oct. 10 & 24, 2-3 p.m. Contact 0945.2273216


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