YOU PROBABLY HEARD actor Epy Quizon wonder aloud on Facebook about what the kids are learning today. Asked by some college students why he (as Apolinario Mabini in the film Heneral Luna) was always seated, Quizon incredulously replied, “Hindi nyo kilala si Mabini?” (You don’t know who Mabini is?)
I’m not that surprised. I once asked my students if they knew who Doy Laurel was and they looked blankly at each other then quickly at the floor. These were college kids born in the late ’90s, about a decade after EDSA 1, and who came of age way after EDSA 2 and 3. If they didn’t know Cory Aquino’s Vice President, how can they be expected to know the brains of the Philippine Revolution who was born over 150 years ago?
I would suggest they take a look at a 10-peso bill, except that, like their knowledge of Mabini, it no longer exists.
I share Quizon’s concern. I am very worried that many of our youth are steeping in Aldub, Pastillas girl, K-Pop and various telenovelas but do not even have a basic knowledge of history. The irony is that we do not have a very long history, and yet it is mostly unknown or forgotten.
I use the term “youth” loosely because I have heard folks in their late thirties and early forties, those who had no practical experience of martial law, say with incredible conviction that “the martial law years were the golden era of the Philippines.” They assert that the economy was never better than when it was managed by Marcos, peace and order reigned, and infrastructure arose in admirable quantity.
Where they got this hogwash, I do not know. Clearly it is hearsay, but from whom did they hear it? More disturbing is what they most likely did not hear – the truth – which should have properly been delivered to them by their parents and teachers.
The truth is, the economy plummeted on Marcos’s watch. According to the consulting firm Our Knowledge Asia, the Philippine peso plunged by a significant 40% between 1970 and 1972.
The Philippines also hit its highest debt-GDP ratio then (more than 90% – “extremely bad”), and the currency exchange dove by nearly 80% (“really bad”).
I remember keeping tabs on our foreign debt as a high school student. The propaganda was that Marcos and Imelda were borrowing hugely for infrastructure projects that would not only spur the economy but also “put the Philippines on the map.”
I monitored the debt level because I was fortunate enough to have parents and teachers who cared to interpret the faux-rosy headlines for me. They explained that the Marcos debt would be paid for by my generation and the generations that followed. The catchphrase then was “pati apo ninyo babayaran ang utang ng mga Marcos” (even your grandchildren will be paying for the Marcoses’ foreign debt).
At 15, I felt weighted down by this tremendous obligation. There were not many job options then, and the idea that most of what I would eventually earn would go back as taxes for debt service was severely depressing. This is the reality I experienced.
Another truth: the Marcoses plundered a great portion of that debt. In 2004, $658 million in Marcos’s Swiss bank accounts was turned over to the Philippines. The transferred monies did not include $22 million held in a German bank in Singapore or about $35 million discovered in Hawaii in 1998. The Philippine government is still searching for $5 to $10 billion that Marcos is suspected of plundering during his regime.
I recall feeling acutely fearful of the police and armed forces throughout my youth. I still feel wary in their presence today.
There were dubious legal instruments that empowered the armed services then, such as the infamous Arrest Search and Seizure Order (ASSO), the Presidential Commitment Order (PCO), and the Preventive Detention Action (PDA), all crafted by Marcos by virtue of his legislative powers under martial law.
These resulted in numerous human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, many of which remain unresolved today. These atrocities were redressed by Republic Act 10368 (2012) which provides for the reparation and recognition of human rights victims of the Marcos regime.
The equally notorious Amendment No. 6, which gave Marcos the power to enact laws beyond the reach of the Assembly or the judiciary, effectively empowered him to maintain martial law for as long as he desired. This is one reason why it required the EDSA People Power action to evict the dictator from his seat of unholy power.
These are the truths I lived through. These are the truths that should be told.
Perhaps it is their teachers’ lack of method that keeps our students ignorant today, or perhaps it is a lack of conviction on the part of their elders that injects into them this lackadaisical approach to history. Whatever it is, it is lamentable. It seems that the youth are not so much obtuse as untaught.
Their horrible indifference to our recent and distant past portends our future. This believing without verifying, accepting without discerning will have them careen into tomorrow with nary a look back. Perhaps this will be the very reason we might again see a dictator, a murderer, a liar, or a thief in office, elected simply because he or she has an attractive spouse or the gutsiness to bowl the crowds over.
We might as well believe in leprechauns.
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.