Ad Lib -- By Greg B. Macabenta

Revisiting or revising history?

Posted on March 02, 2011

Twenty-five years after the EDSA Revolution, 39 years after the declaration of martial law, and nine months after another People Power movement elected Benigno Aquino III president, we are seeing confusing signals from the government.

The President has asked Vice-President Jejomar Binay "to study the issue of whether the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos may be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani."

Yet, a few days earlier, Aquino graced the opening of "Revolution Revisited," a photo exhibit at the Ayala Museum showing a collection of 60 photographs by Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist Kim Komenich. The exhibit, to quote a Malacañang press release, "provide[s] a poignant glimpse of People Power, one of the most significant periods in Philippine contemporary history."

Frankly, an exhibit of 60 photographs hardly does justice to that heroic event that has inspired many similar uprisings around the world, even to this day. Neither can it fully depict a period in our history that we must vow never, ever to undergo again.

In September 2007, a Martial Law Memorial Wall was installed in an obscure location in Quezon City by Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, a group of anti-Marcos activists who survived detention during the martial law years (many did not). Its inauguration was described, almost apologetically, as "a solemn and quiet event" -- meaning no fanfare and no public attention.

A year before, then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza unveiled a Memorial Wall for Martial Law Victims at the Bonifacio Shrine near City Hall. It is described as "four large blocks of black marble, where the names of martial law victims are etched."

According to Atienza, he intended the wall to "remind the generation of today and tomorrow of the Filipino’s struggle against the injustice and oppression brought about by martial rule."

Yet, that epic struggle only merited "four large blocks of marble"?

In September 1999, I received a mailer urging me to contribute to the maintenance of the Holocaust Memorial, a structure in Washington DC built to keep alive the nightmare of Hitler’s reign of horror and to thwart efforts of revisionists to distort history.

Prompted by the piece about the Holocaust Memorial, I asked, in a newspaper column in the US, why a similar Memorial to Martial Law had not been proposed by people who fancy themselves activists and fighters for freedom and democracy.

That question remains unanswered up to now. I don’t think the photo exhibit, the Martial Law Memorial Wall, and Lito Atienza’s Memorial Wall to Martial Law Victims, for all their good intentions, are enough.

As we, once again, commemorate the People Power Revolution, I am constrained to exhume that column. While the piece was intended for Filipino readers in America, I think it serves as a reminder that we are selling our legacy short. Worse yet, we may even be on the verge of seeing history not simply revisited but revised.


In the months preceding and following the suspension of civil rights and the imposition of a dictatorship on September 21, 1972, America saw an exodus of desperate Filipinos seeking a safe haven.

Young activists mercifully dispatched by anxious parents before the boom fell. Student leaders who managed to squeeze out of incarceration and found their way to America through the Mindanao backdoor. Heads of the political opposition who somehow eluded the Marcos military even while Ninoy Aquino and others were being locked up. Businessmen who saw their enterprises forcibly taken over by the new warlords and who found it more prudent to leave. And members of media who had lost their jobs or who faced an even worse fate for their criticism of the regime.

Today, many of the martial law émigrés -- or, more appropriately, refugees -- are already close to or well past their 50s. Years of a relatively good life in America may have somehow dimmed their memory. Their offspring, most of whom may have been born in America, may feel no attachment to that part of the history of their parents’ native land.

Not surprisingly, there are many who wonder "what the fuss is all about," referring to the noise barrage and the demonstrations in connection with the 27th anniversary of martial law. To them, the cry, "Never again!" rings hollow and meaningless.

Worse yet, revisionists appear to be succeeding in presenting a cosmeticized version of that ignominious period. Proof of that is the fact that many of the administrators of martial law have completely reinvented themselves. Among them, former Philippine Constabulary chief Gen. Fidel Ramos who became President, after emerging a hero of the People Power revolution. Former Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile who was also hailed as an anti-Marcos hero and has since continued to serve in the Philippine legislature. And former Press Secretary Francisco Tatad, mouthpiece of martial law, who has been serving in the Senate, albeit, with distinction.

In the classic style of the chameleon, many of the Marcos brain trusts and torpedoes succeeded in changing their political colors and finding profitable niches in the Aquino and then the Ramos and, finally, the Estrada administrations. In the process, the Filipino people have found themselves less and less able to define them as either villains or heroes.

This is not to say that some of them do not deserve their refurbished image. Credit must surely be given to Ramos and Ponce Enrile for translating their desperation into genuine courage and heroism. That made People Power possible.

But for the children of the martial law generation to understand and appreciate the travails of their parents, it is necessary to preserve the unexpurgated chronicle of that harrowing period.

Nothing less than a Martial Law Memorial -- similar in concept to the Holocaust Memorial of the Jews -- can achieve this end.

It is not enough to have books and other literature stashed away in some dark, unvisited library or even in cyberspace. To keep the memory of that period alive and obvious, even to the casual passerby, there must be a physical structure that displays photographs and mementos of the martial law years, with facilities to show films and play back audio tapes at the touch of a button. A place where the names of those killed or missing, throughout the dark decades, are engraved. A repository of tools of torture and even of fashionable shoes (perhaps a selection from the storied 3,000 or so pairs).

And then, as a centerpiece, a monument as imposing as the one honoring Bonifacio and the Katipunan in Caloocan. And from the mouths of the figures of bronze, one must be able to lip-read the cry: "Never again!"

It won’t be easy building a Martial Law Memorial. The most difficult part is ensuring that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is told. Too many heroes may be portrayed as having feet of clay. And too many people who had no choice but to work with the Marcos government to survive, may feel pangs of guilt for having been unwitting "collaborators."

But I think that, for those who have the moral fortitude to face up to their mistakes and whose subsequent acts redeemed them, the fears are unfounded. The fact that he had been a vicious tormentor of Christians did not take away St. Paul’s glory as the Apostle of the Gentiles. Ramos and Enrile have little to hide about their martial law years and enough to be proud of for their People Power days.

Of course, today’s "saviors of democracy" who were yesterday’s storm troopers, executioners, kleptomaniacs, bootlickers, profiteers and spineless dogs deserve whatever trash bin history has reserved for them.