How many monuments to People Power and memorials to Martial Law do we have?
One, there’s the People Power monument in EDSA corner White Plains. Two, there’s Bantayog ng mga Bayani, the Martial Law memorial in Diliman. Three, there’s a smaller Martial Law memorial in Mehan Garden, in Ermita. Four, there’s also the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City. Five, the renamed Manila International Airport — Ninoy Aquino International Airport — counts as it memorializes a national hero. Six, I suppose the EDSA shrine also counts, the one with the giant Mama Mary in Ortigas, blessing the commuters and consumers of Robinson’s Galleria.
Of course, all six of these are concentrated in the highly urbanized north of Metro Manila, and apart from people in transit in and out of the country, only a portion of the population will be able to come into contact with any of these memorials. Which makes one wonder — how many monuments to People Power, and memorials to Martial Law do we have in total, all over the Philippines? And what does this say about how we remember as a nation? Do we even remember as one nation?
In Batac, Ilocos Norte, stands the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in the family’s ancestral home. It’s a mythmaking monument to the greatness of the late dictator, detailing the story of his life from childhood to his murder trial as a student in UP, to the beginnings of his political career, and even to his 11-day romancing of Imelda. The visit concludes at the mausoleum, where one can see the preserved body of Marcos, who died at age 72 in Hawaii because of lupus.
Of course, it is this same body, supposedly, that was transferred to the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016. This was our reckoning with the violence of the Marcos’ historical revisionism, the revelation of the slow but steady success of their rise to power. Yes, they were stalled by the victory of Leni Robredo over Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., but you can’t discount the 13.5 million who voted for a Marcos. That same election, strongman Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the mayor from Davao, won over his competitors by an undeniable margin. Only a year since and we find ourselves moving closer and closer to a fascist regime, rife with corruption and human rights violations, not quite unlike the time of Marcos’s Martial Law.
There is a complacency to monuments and memorials, silently erect as they are. They can barely be expected to save us from remembering the painful parts of our history. History is always being made, and is unfortunately privy to being re-made, depending on who’s in power. I wish this weren’t the case, but we’re seeing it happen right now, as we speak.
This is why the Marcoses are fanatical about celebrations, they do not take events for granted. They see them as opportunities to recreate history, to recalibrate culture to open up the seat of power once more for their family. That’s why the September 11 holiday declaration in Ilocos Norte by President Duterte is a cause for alarm. This is why Imee Marcos has a lecture series project to “rehabilitate” her father’s legacy. These are tiny signifiers, active monuments, of where the winds of history are blowing, and I’m not certain how much we have before we can stop them.
What we needed in 1986 and onwards, what we urgently need now, are monuments and memorials that are alive by design. Valiant efforts, belated they may be, are now being made. There’s the Martial Law Chronicles Facebook page that actively battles historical revisionism. And last September 16, the virtual Martial Law Museum was launched, in time for the memorial of the 45th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law on September 21. It’s a website where people can learn, and learn to teach, about Martial Law. But this won’t be of much use unless it’s actively promoted and contributed to by the people so it grows and becomes, in the language of our times, viral.
Monuments and memorials are passive ways of memorializing, and they need to be activated by us, the people who value the radically peaceful overthrowing of the dictator, the people who value fairness, equality, justice, human rights. Perhaps what it means is that we all need to be living monuments to the pain, anguish, and struggle that was the Marcos dictatorship, that is the Duterte presidency.