Backlash over Marcos ‘revisionism’ in Philippines

Posted on September 13, 2016

THE Philippine government faced a backlash Monday over claims it was trying to whitewash the history of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Critics said a series of edits to the Facebook page of the country’s official government record, the Official Gazette, were an attempt to put a positive gloss on years of authoritarian rule.

Among changes that sparked fury over the weekend was the claim that Mr. Marcos imposed martial law in 1972 to deal with Muslim secessionists and a communist insurgency.

Opponents charge Mr. Marcos declared martial law to keep himself in power. They also say he threw opposition figures in jail and plundered state coffers.

The gazette also said he gave up his role in 1986 to “avoid bloodshed”; historians agree he reluctantly fled in the face of massive popular opposition.

The post quickly received negative comments from social media users saying the government seemed to be ignoring the human rights violations during Martial Law. Parody pages on Facebook and Twitter subsequently surfaced.

“The caption should have been ‘Ferdinand Marcos stole $10 billion dollars worth from Filipinos, had 34,000 Filipinos tortured, had 3,240 Filipinos murdered, and was so hungry for power he tried to stay dictator for life’,” one angry commentator posted on Facebook.

“We were informed of the comments on social media late (Sunday) night and we adjusted and edited the caption immediately. This is a learning lesson for us and we will improve accordingly, based on efforts to have a streamline national communications policy,” Assistant Secretary for Strategic Communications Ramon L. Cualoping III told the media yesterday.

The furore is the latest chapter in a struggle over the national narrative in a fiercely partisan country, where power has traditionally been passed among a small number of elite families.

Controversial President Rodrigo R. Duterte -- a Marcos ally -- has reignited squabbles over Marcos’ legacy with a plan to bury his embalmed body in the “Cemetery of Heroes”.

Mainstream historians agree that Marcos’s 21-year rule was a dark period for the Philippines; a time when extra-judicial killings, disappearances and corruption were the norm.

Most Filipinos lived in grinding poverty, even as the president and his family grew wealthy -- a gulf symbolised by the discovery of thousands of pairs of luxury shoes in the first lady’s living quarters.

“We are not in the business of revising history,” Mr. Cualoping III said in response to the outcry.

“The Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines is devoid of any political colour and affiliations,” he added.

The government later revised the entry to say only that Mr. Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and went into exile in the United States in 1986.

Mr. Marcos died in 1989 and his family was later allowed to return to the Philippines where they have made a remarkable political comeback, with several members getting elected to major positions.

Mr. Duterte, who styles himself as an anti-corruption crusader, is a close ally of the Marcos family and credits them for his election as president in May.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cualoping also said that they are now trying to report the parody pages on social media.

“We just e-mailed them (FB) that this is not official parody or what of the government,” he said.

“That one (Twitter parody accounts), we’re trying to take it down, to be quite honest. Because it really confuses people because it says Official Gazette of the Philippines,” he added. -- AFP and Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral