History is not the judge

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose - The Philippine Star

As the Marcoses slither back to Malacañang, in this election season, they and their allies are revising history they claim the crimes of Ferdinand Marcos will be cleansed by time. Wrong! There may be centuries-old epochs and dynasties, but time – history – is a continuum without any hiatus. The judge is us. We are the victims, the brutalized, who have recorded our pain. The generations that follow us – they may know all these but have no personal experience of our agony. How in heaven’s name can they judge?

All through history, revisionists think they can undo history with their lies. We should be aware, particularly in these times of information glut, those with no sense of the past, who do not know the truth, will accept repeated lies as the truth.

Let us not forget that we are a very young nation compared to our neighbors who have a recorded history of more than a thousand years – four thousand for China – and the megalithic structures as symbols of achievement and worship. We are also a creation of Imperialism. Spain brought Christianity and gave us this core identity – although we are in Asia, we belong to the Western tradition. Being mostly Christians, we can divide our history into three distinct epochs, in the sense that these epochs were marked by intense social upheaval.

The first is the Revolution against Spain in 1896 which morphed into the Philippine-American war. This seismic event tested the generation of my grandfather who was in that uprising himself. Those 400 years of Spanish tutelage created a generation of Filipinos fluent in Spanish, educated in Europe. They were eager to prove themselves equal to the Spanish rulers. They wanted seats in the Spanish parliament.

It was only later when their cries for equality were denied that they realized it was not equality they wanted – it was freedom. The revolution began with the betrayal of the Revolutionary Katipunan as founded by Andres Bonifacio. We all know how he was killed, how Aguinaldo led the revolution, how that revolution was fatigued and how it ended with the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. With the thousands of pesos that Spaniards gave him, he went to Hong Kong where he was enticed by the Americans to continue the Revolution. Deceit again – the Americans occupied Manila and made war inevitable. Aguinaldo’s ragtag Army was no match to the well-armed, well-fed invaders. Aguinaldo fled to Palanan on the Pacific Coast across the Sierra Madre. There, he was betrayed and captured.

The succeeding 40 years of American Occupation was a period of “benevolent neglect,” but many reforms were made, the public school system, public health and the political institutions designed to make the Philippines in the American image.??The puny democratic institutions built by the Revolution were strengthened, only to be shattered when Japan invaded the country in pursuit of its imperial Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1941. Thus began the second important epoch of our history that tested my father’s generation. Those three traumatic years showed how many Filipinos collaborated willingly with the Japanese.

The liberation in 1945 by the Americans restored our fragile democratic institutions. Though ravaged by the war, we were soon the most modern country in Asia next to Japan.

Economic development was halted when Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972 – the third important epoch in our history, illustrating the fragility of our freedoms. Thus began our decay to be the “sick man” of Asia. The Marcos regime tested my generation. We failed. As a writer, I saw the immediate divide between us writers who did not succumb to either the seduction of the dictatorship or its tyranny. What does our troubled but protean history teach us?

The first is moral decay that is brought by crisis, wherein each man has to survive and moral standards are thrown out of the window. Civic decay starts. It is difficult to regain what was lost when that crisis is hurdled. Then another crisis emerges, eroding a people’s morality further until corruption is regarded as normal, although the people continue to rail against it. We are in this parlous condition today.

We have been hobbled by many internal contradictions, our geography for instance, but the water unites us, and the improved infrastructures in transportation and communication are bonding us, lessening the chasms caused by ethnicity. All through the Spanish regime, peasant rebellions erupted. Poverty and oppression are responsible for this. Peasant unrest continues to this day, affirming our revolutionary tradition. On another level, our nationhood was also threatened by the secessionist Moro groups.

For now, President Duterte has brought peace to the Moro region in Mindanao. It is a fragile peace because the Moros may yet be wooed successfully by ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Radical Islam is spreading all over the world, not fading. Most of us being Christians must look at this as a challenge and must know how to cope with it by understanding Islam and in our political and economic development include them, not just the Moros but all our non-Christian tribes, particularly the Aetas. I am so glad that we now have a Moro in the Supreme Court.

And finally, we have a Republican Army, a genuine Army of the people. Young – yes, but with a heroic tradition born of the Revolution of 1896, and tempered in the Spanish-American war and in the war with Japan. It has prevented the Communists from taking over this country and is, in fact, the only institution that keeps this country together. I’ll be writing more about our Army and its modernization program.

We are facing an election year. There are thousands of new voters who do not know our history, most of all, the Martial Law years. I bring to mind how shocked I was when years ago, when she was in high school, my daughter Jette asked me, “Papa, were the Japanese cruel during the Occupation?”

Those young voters who didn’t experience Martial Law will be asking similar questions if they have not yet made up their minds in the continued assault by the Marcoses and their allies on the truth. We are angry and fed up with our political system, with narcissistic leaders gorging on the people’s money. We distrust an arrogant media, of bloated TV personalities. Everywhere, we see the flaunting of wealth and also where there are Filipinos eating once a day. When will this misery end?

Marcos plundered billions of dollars – our money – and hid them in secret bank accounts only his family knows. They are using it now in their reach for power. Lest we forget, history’s detritus is not made by one tyrant alone or a gaggle of conspirators but by the people. We made Marcos.



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