THERE is no doubt. President Ferdinand Marcos was very much into myth-making. In fact, the entire backbone of his ideology embodied the installation of symbols and metaphors of nation-building. We can debate on how truthful or accurate these were, but one needs to realize that truthfulness and accuracy are not what you expect to be upheld when one weaves myths.
His declaration of martial law, while cast in realpolitik and was seen as the state flexing its muscles and expressing its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence, necessitated the entrenchment of mythologies, from songs to symbols, to art and rituals, and even architectural designs. His wife Imelda lent a hand, albeit extravagantly according to her critics, in this weaving of the symbols and mythology of nation-building. The whole arts and culture infrastructure of the regime, which endure even to this day, were integral parts of this mythology of nation-building. It was also a way of lending legitimacy to an otherwise authoritarian state. To their critics, it was an attempt to use beauty to hide the horror.
And here, the whole educational infrastructure of the state was appropriated to embed the mythology in the minds of the young. Textbooks and classroom instruction were redirected to provide the mythology a base from where to launch a colonization of the consciousness of the students.
But myth-making is not the monopoly of Ferdinand Marcos.
After his fall, Corazon Aquino’s reign lost no time in launching its own myth-making project, except that hers was not solely on building her own political mythology based on her vision of what a Filipino nation should become. Corazon Aquino’s political project was instead hell bent in dismantling the Marcos narrative by propagating a discourse written in hatred.
And the discursive violence inflicted on our narratives was as symbolically disruptive of truth, even to the point of creating historical fictions, and in twisting not only facts, but even concepts that have already had their technical meanings in the academic language.
It immediately started by insisting that what happened at EDSA was a revolution, even if an objective analysis of such is that it was a military coup that was popularly supported by a significant portion of the urban population of Manila, but later was appropriated by anti-Marcos elites with support from the United States.
And like Marcos, the broadening and the deepening of the post-Marcos mythology were effectively facilitated by scholars and intellectuals, and found expression in textbooks and classroom instruction. There was a concerted attempt to exorcise the national narrative of any positive representation of Marcos. Martial Law was painted as pure evil, even as the Aquino political dynasty was celebrated, with Ninoy Aquino being hailed as a hero, and Cory Aquino deified as a saintly icon of democracy.
This kind of mythology was presented as truth, and any attempt to deviate from it was derisively labeled as a form of historical revisionism serving the interest of the much-hated dictator. The mythology was so hegemonic for a significant period that people lost the ability to discern that much of the narratives were in fact socially constructed, or were in fact revisionist too.
Thus, what was propagated in classrooms were partisan forms of education, masquerading as new forms of truth. There was very little attempt to inquire into the complexity of the Marcos era, including that of Martial Law. Any attempt to give it a fair treatment was treated as a taboo, if not an intellectual or scholarly crime.
Education is supposed to be a tool to enlighten, instead of obfuscating. Educators are people who bear knowledge as a tool to seek for truth, even the inconvenient ones. Failing to do so would render education as mere propaganda, and teachers as propagandists.
It cannot be denied that Martial Law attempted to turn propagandists out of educators. But the burden for truth-seeking is heavier on post-Marcos educators who lived no longer in an era of dictatorship. There was no more reason to continue using the classroom as a venue to propagate myths and lies at a time when the nation was supposed to be free. Teachers were no longer supposed to be bearers of propaganda.
Yet, this is exactly what reigned for the most part of the post-Marcos era. Textbooks and teachers continued the myth of a black-and-white opposition between the evil villain Marcoses and the saintly heroic Aquinos. This simplistic dualism has denied our youth the opportunity to be exposed to the realities that attended our past.
They missed understanding the real forces that led to the declaration of martial law, simply because partisan education painted it more as an attempt by Marcos to prolong his rule, thereby denying the fact that the threat of communism also played an important part. The economic collapse of the country during the Marcos era was heavily blamed on him, thereby denying students the opportunity to look into the larger geopolitical context of a global economic crisis.
The strategy was simply to blame everything on Marcos, for that is what was convenient.
But convenience also led to ignorance. The younger generations hated Marcos not because of what they independently know, but because of what they were told.
Eventually, partisan education unraveled with the onset of the Internet, where production of knowledge has escaped the monopoly of partisan scholars. The failures of post-Marcos administrations further provided the context that fed people’s hunger to search for alternative explanations and representations of history.
The age of the Internet has turned the logic of revisionism from a transgression, to one which is now functional to real education. Revisionism is needed to teach students the skill to look at the complexity of the Marcos era, to examine both sides, and to independently form their own conclusions.
After all, when mythologies reign and lies are abundant, it is only through a revisionist project that one can seek for the truth.
By: Antonio Contreras, TMT