Politics

Why has Marcos' propaganda lived on?

On Marcos' myth-making, and how it has resonated via our increasing collective denial of what occurred during his Martial Law. First of three parts.
IMAGE National Library of the Philippines
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Ferdinand Marcos grasped the power of history.

He understood, perhaps instinctively, the power of a compelling, mythologizing historical narrative [1]. One of his key efforts was to re-craft Philippine history, not in his image, but in support of his authoritarian rule [2]. History became a tool of internally focused statecraft and myth-making propaganda: A coordinated effort to inculcate the idea that Marcos’s rule was pre-ordained, that the wheels of Philippine history had been inexorably turning towards his reign. The insidious of his efforts to subvert Philippine history to support his rule are still being felt today.

There was entire generation inculcated in the propaganda of the strongman, of the need for a guiding hand to ensure our prosperity [3]. The ultimate redemption of this Marcosian historical worldview and narrative is what underpins the return of Imelda Marcos and the Marcos family to the center of political and social life in the Philippines. This was a dominant theme in Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s attempt to regain a portion of Malacañang during his run at the vice-presidency. By their reckoning, as they ascend the political ladder in the Philippines, they get closer to redemption, to redeeming the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos and reclaiming the historical glory of their family [4].

By their reckoning, as [the Marcoses] ascend the political ladder in the Philippines, they get closer to redemption, to redeeming the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos and reclaiming the historical glory of their family.

Even with his loss, Marcos Jr.’s run helped move them closer to this goal. A quick review of the discourse around the current controversy concerning the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani speaks to their current (albeit partial) success; chief among them the rhetoric of Solicitor-General Jose Calida. One of the pillars of Calida’s pro-burial arguments before the Supreme Court were the approximately 14,000,000 votes that Marcos Jr. received in May 2016. Those votes were spun as legitimizing: To them they represented not a nation that has forgotten its past, but a people who are ready to re-embrace the Marcos family. Marcos Jr. may have lost the election, but those votes have provided their version of history a mandate. (Editor's note: In our interview with Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, he adheres to the same spin and points to the election results as Marcos-absolving mandate.)

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Those votes were spun as legitimizing: To them they represented not a nation that has forgotten its past, but a people who are ready to re-embrace the Marcos family. Marcos Jr. may have lost the election, but those votes have provided their version of history a mandate.

* * *

The Philippines’ relationship with history is problematic, to say the least. Whether because of revisionism, willful denialism, or the insidiousness of historical narratives handed to us by conquerors, we seem to lack a deep and abiding relationship with our past. This leads to a nation, and a people, practically unmoored. This is self-evident in our understanding of Martial Law and our increasing collective denial of what occurred during that period.

A rich historical sense [5] is critical in the formation and maintenance of a national self-identity. Within the multiplicity of historical inquiry, understanding the past in all of its complexities and contextual elements impacts our view of the present and the world in which we inhabit. The obverse of that, the concerted attempt to suppress and flatten the rich depth and complexity of our history, is denialism. In our search for a strong, encompassing self-identity, it will be an enlightening historical sense that illuminates the path [6].

Historical denialism is insidious, it worms its way into our national consciousness. Denial and suppression attempts to separate us from our past, our history. Denial creates doubt. In those seeds of doubt, denial offers opportunity for demagogues and provocateurs to exert control.

Historical denialism is insidious, it worms its way into our national consciousness. Denial and suppression attempts to separate us from our past, our history. Denial creates doubt. In those seeds of doubt, denial offers opportunity for demagogues and provocateurs to exert control. A people, or a nation, are informed and formed by their past. Their histories tell the story of who they are, how they came into being, and the narrative of their formation. Historical denialism, or the act of purposefully excising and suppressing moments, events, or even eras of monumental importance, tries to rearrange and take command of that narrative.

History is powerful and power. The person who holds the keys to our past, who can define who we are, holds sway over who we are in the present, and can guide what we become in the future [7]. Convincing a people to accept those denials as fact cleaves them from their past. It is an undertaking being attempted today by elements in the Philippine political and social sphere. It was one of the prevailing themes during the elections of May 2016.

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Convincing a people to accept those denials as fact cleaves them from their past. It is an undertaking being attempted today by elements in the Philippine political and social sphere.

Granted, history is multiplicity. We are not asserting that history is singular or only valid from one perspective, far from it. Historical inquiry embraces the multiplicity of perspectives and views [8]. There is a rightful tension between national narrative histories, or really any narrative history, and those of interrogative cultural and social histories. In truth, they inform and enhance each other. A rich and active historical space is a necessity, a requirement, for the formation of national identity. Those who have a well-developed and enriched sense of historical self are not easily subverted, nor easily controlled. The same holds true for nations and imagined communities. Yet, it is in our historical relationship with Martial Law that we uncover the seeds of our unraveling as a collective historical self, precisely because historical inquiry has given way to the insidiousness of denialism and something even more problematic.

Even more damaging than historical denialism is forgetting. Denialism can be counter-acted. Events of the past can be resurrected, the sacrifices and suffering of our forbearers consecrated. Forgetting is something else entirely—it is the absence of history. It eats away at our national self. It undermines our social fabric. When we forget what has happened and where we came from: We do not exist as a people in that state. We are unmoored and unanchored in the modern world, rudderless and adrift. Without the centering strength of knowledge of self, a person, much less a people, can be subverted by honeyed words and silken promises of shining tomorrows, or even a glorious return to a false Golden Age of the past promised by would-be tyrants.

When we forget what has happened and where we came from: We do not exist as a people in that state. We are unmoored and unanchored in the modern world, rudderless and adrift.

Our rejection of that unmooring, the repudiation of denialism and forgetting, is embodied in two simple words: Never Again.

However, to give body, depth, and heft to those words requires a full, complex, and even balanced understanding of the Marcos regime, how it came into being, and the deleterious effects of Martial Law. Never Again needs to be imbued with a rich historical sense and consciousness to truly be what we need it to be: A talisman against impunity and a warning against willingly surrendering control democratic spaces to a dictator. To truly be resonant, Never Again has to embody a historical sense of what occurred and transcend the limitations of being just what was in the past [9][10].

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The second installment of this piece appears tomorrow. A version of this piece originally appeared in the author's website.

 

____________________ 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] This sense is not unique to Marcos, but reminiscent of every dictatorial government, most ‘comically’ seen today in North Korea. As Margaret MacMillan noted: “Dictators, perhaps because they know their own lies so well, have usually realized the power of history. Consequently, they have tried to rewrite, deny, or destroy the past.” pg. 22 “The Uses and Abused of History” by Margaret MacMillan.

[2] Vicente Rafael, in his essay Patronage and Pornography: Ideology and Spectatorship in the Early Marcos Years, touched precisely on this: “As Malakas and Maganda, Ferdinand and Imelda imaged themselves not only as the “Father and Mother” of an extended Filipino family; they could also conceive of their privileged position as allowing them to cross and redraw all boundaries, social, political, and cultural. As such, they likewise thought of themselves as being at the origin of all that was ‘new’ in the Philippines – for example, the ‘New Society’ (1972-1981) and the ‘New Republic’ (1981-1986). To the extent that they were able to mythologize the progress of history, the First Couple could posit themselves not simply as an instance, albeit privileged one, in the circulation of political and economic power; they could also conceive of themselves as the origin of circulation itself in the country.”

[3] While I may quibble with Reynaldo Ileto a bit concerning his structuring of ilustrado, within the context of Marcos and the rewriting of history, his observation in his work “Outlines of a nonlinear emplotment of Philippine History” rings true, and pointed: “The sacred character of the state is evidenced in Marcos’ self-consciously Hegelian argument that the state was the ‘self realization of the Absolute’ and that the form of constitutional authoritarianism his regime practiced – in which through him as ‘world historical’ Leader the guiding hand of History/Progress operated – was the only way that the ilustrado dream could be realized.” If we link Ileto’s observation to what the Marcos family and their loyalists are undertaking today, the pointed denial and obfuscation of Martial Law, through their ‘redemptive’ or ‘triumphant’ return to Philippine politics and Malacañang, we can see how steeped they are in the grand and mythologizing historical narrative Marcos constructed for himself. In other words, they are seeking the redemption of Marcos through their ‘history-making’ return to the forefront of Philippine politics and society. This is the insidiousness of denial and forgetfulness of which we speak.

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[4] Imelda Marcos specifically said this was the intent of the family in an interview in 2010: “Marcos made it clear she wanted to achieve redemption for her husband, who is accused of stealing billions of dollars from state coffers during his 20-year rule, which ended with a “people power” revolution in 1986. “I did this to ensure and uphold political integrity and the truth,” Marcos said when asked why she had decided to run for congress.” She won. As did her children, Imee for governor and Bongbong for Senate. Those wins have only further emboldened them and their followers.

[5] I will use the Gordon S. Wood’s concluding definition of ‘historical sense’ for this essay: “What we need more than anything is a deeper and fuller sense of the historical process, a sense of where we have come from and how we have become what we are. This kind of historical sense will give us the best guide we’ll ever have for groping our way into an unpredictable future.” pg. 16, “The Purpose of the Past” by Gordon S. Wood.

[6] The point, rather labored here, is that a firm understanding of history in all of its complexities offers a widening of our intellectual horizons. “History adds another dimension to our view of the world and enriches our experience. Someone with a historical sense sees reality differently: in four dimensions. If it is self-identity that we want, then history deepens and complicates that identity by showing us how it has developed through time. It tells us how we got to be the way we are. And that historically developed being is not something easily manipulated or transformed.” pg. 11-12, “The Purpose of the Past” by Gordon S. Wood.

[7] “Political and other leaders too often get away with misusing or abusing history for their own ends because the rest of us do not know enough to challenge them.” – Margaret MacMillan, The Uses and Abuses of History

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[8] It is critical to note though, that historical inquiry follows very specific standards and processes: the interrogation of primary sources, the utilization of all available evidence at hand, and a defense of why certain pieces of evidence were given precedence over another. Evidence and documents are never discarded out of hand, thus it is the job of the historian to explain why s/he minimized one piece of evidence in favor of another. That is part of the historical process. Purposeful suppression is either denialism or propaganda.

[9] A full contextualization and discussion of the multi-faceted roots and effects of the Marcos regime and Martial Law is well beyond the scope of this essay. However, through various footnotes and brief discussions, I hope to offer a somewhat fuller understanding of what occurred during that period, while helping explain why it should not be forgotten, rejected, or whitewashed. This is not a historical essay, but it is a discussion of the past and the present. Consider it more a cultural and social critique, than a traditional historical work resting on a survey and interpretation of primary and secondary sources.

[10] At the same time, this is not a call for us to be held hostage by our past, far from it. There is something about the “pastness of the past” that always must be remembered; however, our past informs who we are today. There is a critical difference between wallowing in the depredations of the past, purposefully denying the scope of those depredations, and utilizing the past to help broaden and deepen our understanding of the present, and discovering the course of our collective future.

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About The Author
Nik de Ynchausti
Nik Skalomenos de Ynchausti splits his time between the business world and the non-profit world. When he has the opportunity to write, he focuses on the intersection between Philippine politics, culture, history, and identity.
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