History teachers, activists teach the youth on the lessons of Martial Law

While many Filipinos are losing sense of the lessons of Martial Law and the Marcos dictatorship, activists and some history teachers are still keeping the light on the subject.


MANILA – How often do you hear that the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was the best president that the country ever had? That was the answer by three out of seven people that this writer asked. Those who held that opinion said Marcos did a lot for the Philippines and none of the succeeding presidents have surpassed what Marcos did.

“Martial law was not really bad. In fact, it was peaceful during Marcos’ time, unlike now,” said a retired teacher who happened to pass by the rally in commemoration of martial law last Monday, Sept. 22. In her opinion, during the Marcos era, the Philippines can compete with the First World countries. There were infrastructures that were built that beautified Metro Manila, like the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Some youth even think that the Philippines was at its best during martial law, and that Marcos shouldn’t have been ousted. “I wasn’t born yet during martial law, but through my relatives’ stories and research about martial law, I believe that Marcos could have done more for the Philippines and the people,” a netizen said in reaction to a Never Again post in the social media.

Louie Zabala, a history teacher at F.G. Calderon Integrated High School said some people view martial law as the best thing that happened to the Philippines because that is how it is being portrayed in some textbooks.

“It is only the positive side of Marcos that was written on textbooks,” Zabala said. “What infrastructures were built during his administration, how people were disciplined and that there were less crimes. But the books say nothing about the crimes committed by the state against the people.”

Gatekeepers of the past

Danilo Lumabas, also a history teacher at F.G. Calderon, said people have a tendency to easily forget, that is why their role as history teachers is crucial as gatekeepers of Philippine history.

“While it is a fact that Marcos has done many projects for the Philippines, but we must also count how many lives were sacrificed fighting a dictatorship. How many have disappeared because they expressed their opposition against the government? Let us not forget about that,” he told Bulatlat.com.

He said teaching students about the human rights violations committed by Marcos is part of history and that this too should be included in teaching about martial law. “When I was teaching in a private school, I included in my lesson the stories of those who were killed because they opposed the government.”

He said studying Philippine history is not for the sake of just memorizing events that took place and the people behind it, but to teach them the important lessons that could drawn from history. “History tells us that the mistakes that have been committed against the people should never happen again.

Forgetting the past

Before K to 12 was implemented, Zabala said, they used to discuss martial law as part of the old curriculum in basic education. However, Zabala said, there was no in-depth discussion on the context or the economic conditions of Philippine society that resulted in many protests, which the declaration of martial law wanted to suppress.

“If we are just going to base our teachings on the Department of Education’s curriculum, it will be all about Marcos’ achievements. While there is mention of martial law, the root cause (of why martial law was declared) is not described in textbooks,” he said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.

For his part as a history teacher, he goes beyond the textbooks. He said novels such as “Dekada ’70” by known Filipino writer Lualhati Bautista can help students visualize what transpired during the era. “I also show the students some video documentaries tackling the period. From there I ask students to do a summary and write about what they think.”
Under the K to 12 curriculum, Philippine history was removed as a subject in junior high school.

Zabala said that in his class, students have no knowledge of martial law. “Even in the sharing of current events in class, they do not know what martial law is or what has happened during that time. They should have discussed this when they were in grade seven (or first year high school).” Zabala is teaching World history in grade nine or third year high school students.

Zabala said under the K to 12 curriculum, Philippine history was removed as subject in grade seven and was replaced by Asian history. For grade eight, it is World history, for grade nine Economics and for grade 10 Contemporary Issues. Philippine history was moved to the elementary level.

Zabala said teaching Philippine history is important especially now in the digital age when everyone is busy with applications in their smart phones and younger ones are more familiar with K Pop (Korean Pop) and even more updated with the personal lives of the K Pop celebrities.

He said Philippine history should still be taught in high school so that they can intellectualize or encourage critical thinking among high school students. “There is a certain level of maturity in teaching these subjects to students so that they can appreciate it. Philippine history including martial law can be taught more intellectually in high school.”

“If they have knowledge of what kind of society there was during martial law, they would realize that the same kind of society still exists up to now. And from there they can draw lessons and inspirations.”

Ace Wenceslao, another history teacher said it is always a challenge to make students interested especially because they were not yet born during that period. “Primary references such as textbooks should be supplemented with secondary references such as stories of those who lived during that time so that the learning is interactive. So I also ask some resource persons, even those who did not experience brutality but have lived during that period to share their experience.”

Wenceslao himself believes that Marcos was blameless about the rampant corruption during his time, saying the fault belonged to his cronies.

Continuing impunity

More than the exclusion of martial law in school lessons, there is a deeper reason why the youth and the Filipino people are losing sense of one of the darkest times in Philippine history, according to activists.

“There has been no punishment. There has been no end to the human rights violations, because the succeeding Aquino regime did not make Marcos pay,” Orly Marcellana, spokesperson of the peasant group KASAMA-TK.

Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, but his wife Imelda and their children were able to return to the country and get elected to government positions. Meanwhile, surviving Martial Law victims are still struggling to get indemnification under the Martial Law Victims Reparation and Indemnification Act.

Marcos was not even implicated in the 1983 assassination of his biggest political enemy, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr whose wife Cory succeeded Marcos, and whose son Benigno Simeon or “Noynoy” is now president.

“Those who think that Martial Law was good have no right to say that because they did not see its real face. If what happened to us happened to them, they wouldn’t be able to forgive Marcos, too,” Marcellana said.

Marcellana still has a stark memory of growing up as a child under martial law in Ragay, Camarines Sur: “Soldiers passed us by in the fields, and they saw my father and me, as I was bringing the cow to pasture. They already had my two cousins in tow.”

Marcellana, his father and two cousins were brought to a military detachment where they were interrogated. They were later released, but his two cousins never made it home.

“They were tortured, hung upside down and their bodies were chopped up,” he said, in his usual, rapid-fire voice. One was reportedly dumped at sea and was never recovered. He said that another relative, an uncle, was also taken by soldiers and later found dead, with a hand and other body parts missing.

“During martial law in Bicol, I was with my father and other men who had to sleep under coconut trees,” he recounted. If soldiers found any male in the house, he was automatically taken for a rebel and arrested.

“We had a hard life during martial law. For us who were victims, we don’t want a repeat of Martial law,” Marcellana said. For Marcellana, the gruesome martial law killings were repeated in later years. In 2003, his wife Eden, secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, was abducted and killed by soldiers in Mindoro under Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr.

“Even (Senator Juan Ponce) Enrile, who was one of the brains of Martial Law, was never punished. Just like during Gloria Arroyo’s time, Palparan was not punished but was instead promoted. Now under Aquino, Palparan is being babied in military detention instead of a regular jail,” Marcellana said.

Youth participation

Lumabas, meanwhile, stressed that the youth also have their part in history when youth and students were front liners in the series of demonstrations that came to be known as the First Quarter Storm. He said severe poverty of the majority amidst corruption in government led to the demonstrations against Marcos, which is not far from what is also happening now.

Sarah Jane Elago, national president of the progressive student organization the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) said by knowing the history of martial law, the youth of today can be vigilant to not let those dark days be repeated.

“Up to now there is still campus suppression not only in public universities but also in private ones. It’s the same situation during martial law,” Elago said in an interview during the Sept. 22 rally.

The NUSP has been a part of the struggle against the dictatorship and past leaders like Edgar Jopson was killed during Marcos regime, she said.

Elago said that because there is no genuine change after the 1986 People Power, the youth should emulate the veterans of martial law and the First Quarter Storm and join the protests. “It is not enough to say never again, the youth should also participate and become a part of a movement that pushes for genuine change.”

Mariano Giner Jr., 66, a student activist during martial law and a veteran of the First Quarter Storm, was also present at the Martial Law commemoration. He said that the youth should continue the struggle for genuine change.

Giner became an activist when he was a student at the University of Visayas in Cebu City and joined protests on school-based issues like inadequate supplies in laboratories. When he was identified as an activist, he was blacklisted from all universities in the Visayas and had to leave Cebu. He went to Baguio to continue his studies, but after one semester, he decided to become a full-time activist under Kabataang Makabayan.

During that period, government banned even the gathering of more than two people. But Giner said activists were still able to find ways to express the people’s disgust, to distribute leaflets and to arouse the people to fight martial law.

He said the youth should continue to study history so they can propagate and mobilize and lead the call for genuine change. “As long as genuine freedom has not yet been achieved, the struggle should always continue.”

Marcos maybe gone, but the task remains, Marcellana said: “We must always remember and study the past, so we can confront the present, keep strengthening the movement and be able to oust Aquino.” (With reports from Dee Ayroso) (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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