Martial Law and Marcos, according to four history professors

A few weeks ago, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. commented on President Benigno Aquino III’s criticism of his late father’s presidency. The senator was quoted as saying “Ipaubaya natin ang kasaysayan sa mga propesor, sa mga nag-aaral tungkol sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas. Kami hindi namin trabaho yun. Ang trabaho namin ay tingnan kung ano ba ang pangangailangan ng taong bayan ngayon.” (Let us leave history to the professors, the ones who studied the history of the Philippines. This is not our job. Our work is to find out what the people need.)

As a response, Young STAR asked some history professors from different universities how they would judge martial law or Ferdinand Marcos’ presidency. Here are their answers in full.

Michael Charleston B. Chua

Assistant professor, Department of History, De La Salle University

As a historian, I respect the memory of people who say that the Marcos years were good for them, life was not so hard, we were only 48 million at that time. There were good aspects — massive infrastructure projects, electrification of the provinces, a clear family planning program and, my favorite, a focus on culture and heritage. With Imelda Marcos, they were able to have a good concept of coordinated metropolitan governance. Yet I imagine what better years (they would have been) if the human rights violations were not committed. If they did not put their ill-gotten wealth abroad, and if, in the last half decade of his regime, they were able to manage the economy and the debts better. We should learn from the mistakes of the regime. The good side can be repeated over and over again. But lives lost and destroyed are irreparable. So, for those losses we say “Never again.” And this is not about one family. Tyranny is a concept that can be carried on by any politician.

Jose K. Tirol, PhD

Assistant professor, Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University

Marcos apologists like to boast of an infrastructure boom during their idol’s rule. They also love to talk about the restoration of peace and order, of ending crime and combating communism. Martial law, apparently, was a golden age in Philippine history. Well, if the incurring of massive foreign debt, which present and future generations are still paying for, the creating of an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that allowed rampant military abuse and financial theft, and going against an insurgency where, ironically, through his own authoritarian rule Marcos became the best recruiter for people without any alternative, then yes, martial law was indeed a golden age. Martial law deprived us of our own most basic civil rights, including freedom of speech and organization. Rampant and shameless corruption nurtured a culture of impunity that we still struggle with today. It is ironic that many of the problems the young Marcos speaks of are actually the legacies of his father’s two decades of misrule. Finally, the mere fact that we are still seeking justice and restitution against the architects and benefactors of martial law shows that we are still trying to recover our lost dignity as a people and nation.

Jose “Butch” Dalisay Jr., PhD

Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines Diliman

Ferdinand Marcos probably meant well at the beginning of his presidential campaign in 1965 when he vowed to “make this nation great again.” At that time the Philippines seemed poised to become Asia’s next economic powerhouse, if it confronted the many challenges facing Philippine society. Unfortunately, that glowing promise turned into a dark nightmare, as cronyism, corruption, and the Marcoses’ insatiable hunger for power led to martial law and the sacrifice of a people’s rights for the interests of a family and their cohorts. Marcos had the brightest cabinet ever assembled to that point, but under martial law even the intellect was corrupted and compromised. Because only a relatively few citizens were ever arrested or tortured, most of us simply played along, or thought that things were going right. Only later did the true political and economic costs of martial law emerge, and we woke up. But by then we had missed more than a decade of vital opportunities, and sadly, despite EDSA, we never fully learned our lessons.

Dabuimar Burgos

History professor, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila

Ang reaksyon ko doon sa komento ni Bongbong Marcos na “Let history professors judge” ay… No — as history professors, dapat hindi kami mag-judge. As history professors, we should at least try to be objective kung kaya naming maging objective, maging patas. And we present — of course, martial law ay ang sinasabi nilang “dark age of Philippine history” pero sino ‘yung nagbigay ng label na ‘iyon?Propaganda na ‘iyon kapag nagbigay ka ng label.

Hindi naman sinasabi ko na pabayaan ko ‘yung mga human rights abuses or i-highlight natin ng todo todo ‘yung mga abuses. Wag ganoon. May abuso, pero hindi ‘iyan ‘yung kompletong kasaysayan. I-present mo ‘yung kabilang side ng Marcos era. I-present moyung good things, and then let the students decide. Sabi ko nga na kapag ikaw ay history teacher, magju-judge at magbibigay ka ng komento, paano ba magiging history ang kinukuwento mo? Kasi gusto mong buoin ‘yung buong kasaysayan if possible. Gusto mong gawing buo yung picture ng kasaysayan. So magju-judge ka na at sasabihin mo ‘yung isangside lang sa Marcos period, saan pa kukuha ‘yung mga estudyante ng kompleto? At least kung kompleto ’yung side na ipre-present mo, diyan sila makakabuo ng tamang judgment. Ng tamang paghuhusga sa isang particular event. Kasi makikita nila ‘yung both sides. Kapag isa lang, walang kuwenta. Kapag ginawa mo ‘yan bilang history professor, kanino pa sila idedepende para sa kasaysayan na medyo makakatotohanan at medyo at least kumpleto dun sa talagang nangyari?

Brian Paul A. Giron

Professor, Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University

I think a proper attempt to assess the Marcos era will benefit from an evaluation of the state of the country in 1983. Marcos apologists, including Senator Marcos Jr. himself, like to fantasize about what would have happened had EDSA 1986 not happened but the economic and the social conditions were already deplorable throughout President Marcos’ tenure and had come to a terrible climax as early as 1983.

By then the Philippine economy was almost $25B in debt, of which Marcos was responsible for $24B. This is debt that the Marcos government borrowed and invested in plans that did not produce revenue, as well as projects that were raided by Marcos and his cronies for personal gain.

Ninoy Aquino was also assassinated that same year; but Ninoy was neither the first nor the last in a long list of political detainees, torture victims, and those that were disappeared or murdered during Marcos’ reign.

In 1983 the Philippine government declared a moratorium on payment of debt because it could no longer pay. In 1983 the Filipino people were coming to a point where enough was enough.

The above-mentioned facts are neither opinions nor taken out of context. The Marcos era was catastrophe for our democratic institutions, our civil rights, our economy, and our people.

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