On Bongbong Marcos and Martial Law Amnesia
Every time the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' children get a platform like Toni Gonzaga's recent vlog to define his rule as the Philippines' golden age, victims of his brutal regime like acclaimed writer Ricky Lee feel like he's slowly being erased from this world one falsehood at a time.
The screenwriter of "Himala", a Philippine cinema classic on fake miracles, cannot stand how the Marcoses are rewriting history, like many who suffered torture under Martial Law. He hopes Millennials and Gen Z won't take the bait.
“Feeling ko parang ako 'yung binubura, parang binubura ako,” Lee told journalist Howie Severino's podcast show, where he again revisited the trauma he experienced as a student activist.
“Maski papaano, I think may naibigay ako, may na-contribute ako sa kung anuman ang nangyayari sa atin ngayon.. So parang nabubura lahat 'yun. Siyempre you feel totally wiped out kapag may nababasa akong ganon. So it hurts," he said.
Lee's podcast appearance came two days after Gonzaga published her interview with former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr on her YouTube channel where she has four million subscribers.
If her getting called out for her YouTube interview with the late dictator's only son and namesake, who was her wedding ninong, is any indication, those who were born long after Martial Law know better. Filipinos, no matter the generation, have every right to get angry.
Why are the Millennials, Gen Z angry?
Because whether she intended to or not, Gonzaga was complicit in a now three-decade attempt of the Marcoses to return to political power after the fall of their father's regime thirty-five years ago in 1986.
After the Marcos patriarch's death, the remaining members of the family were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1992 from their exile in Hawaii, supposedly to face various corruption and tax fraud charges. But right on the same year, the disgraced family staged their political comeback, as led by matriarch Imelda who ran for president echoing their first big lie post-EDSA.
“Happy days are here again. If we are united, I am sure this nation will be great again,” she had said while facing corruption charges that are worth nearly $5 billion. But as the former first lady "failed", placing 5th out of a 7-person race that was won by Fidel Ramos, it was Marcos Jr who succeeded in marking their return to Philippine politics.
Since Bongbong became congressman, capitalizing on their stronghold, "Solid North" Ilocos region, several members of the Marcos family were elected public officials from local to national. His eldest son, Sandro, also named Ferdinand, is running for Congress next year.
All this, in the face of these three key facts that establish how Ferdinand Marcos was a murderer and a thief who had no "great lesson" to impart:
- $10 BILLION: Based on government estimates, Ferdinand Marcos stole up to $10 billion from the Filipino people, earning him Guinness World Record for the “greatest robbery of a government."
- THOUSANDS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. From 1975 to 1985, there were 3,257 known extrajudicial killings (77% were summarily executed), 77,000 political prisoners, 35,000 torture victims, and over 700 'disappeared', according to human rights monitoring groups led by Amnesty International.
- 39 YEARS OF SHOULDERED DEBT. Until 2025, 39 years since his ouster, Filipino taxpayers will pay for the foreign debts of Marcos which stood at $926.72 million or more than P48 billion, according to Ibon Foundation.
In the podcast, Rickly Lee recalled this one time in Fort Bonifacio, when he and his fellow detained activists watched then-President Marcos on television saying that "There [were] no political prisoners in this country".
"Nagtinginan kaming lahat, ‘So ano tayo?’", he said. This erasure, he witnessed happen again and again throughout the course of his life as generations passed.
Today, it's no longer just a Marcos parroting the same lie—there are trolls, everyday Filipinos, government officials, and yes, high profile celebrities, all submitting themselves to this sinister plot to revise history.
“Ang daming mga ebidensya at ang daming mga existing na mga documents, mga tao sa palibot na ang daling kausapin, napakadaling basahin para malaman 'yung totoong nangyari. In short, ang thinking ko, ang dali-daling makita 'yung totoo, bakit hindi nila nakikita 'yung totoo?," he said.
Why can the Marcoses get away with it?
There's more to the problem than a popular celebrity allowing a Marcos to get away with lies. The Philippines' collective memory itself, is hounded by structural problems particularly in the education system that has rendered many of us unable to think critically about the past.
It's also unhealed collective trauma at work, whereas a society, we haven't really come together properly to learn about the past, evident in how post-Martial Law era, we've witnessed the same breed of politicians commit the same mistakes again and again, our voters enabling them in every election.
Despite his frustrations, even Lee said he still could not bring himself to blame people from buying into the lies. “Ang daming mga puwersa sa palibot na hindi kasalanan ng mga hindi nakauunawa at nakakakita, e,” he said.
"Bilang writer, trabaho kong tumulong na makita. Pero, we should not blame people for being blind. It's not the blind people that we should blame, it's the people who blind them that we should blame," he added.