As the late dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Sr., infamous for his massive corruption and human rights abuses, regains control of the Philippines, historians, scholars, book publishers and authors have vowed to “protect the truth”.
When 31 million Filipinos elected Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as president in the May elections, they also voted for the powerful and influential Marcos family’s narrative surrounding the brutal and corrupt regime of Marcos senior.
Marcos and his wife, Imelda, whose name has become synonymous with extravagance, plunged the country into debt and deep misery while their family and cronies amassed billions of dollars in wealth.
The Marcos regime also saw the murder, arrest, torture and disappearance of thousands of victims, according to records of human rights organizations. But these facts matter little to supporters of the Marcos family.
Critics say the election victory for Marcos Jr., who is officially due to take office on June 30, is partly attributed to his family’s decades-long distortion efforts. Now that the family is back in power, they fear they will use their overwhelming mandate to erase historical truths about the period of martial law under Elder Marcos.
Martial law books sold out quickly in the weeks after Marcos Jr. was elected president, fearing they would be banned or purged. Some titles, including the popular “The Marital Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” by Primitivo Mijares, have been sold.
Journalist Raissa Robles, author of the 2016 book that examined events during martial law from the perspective of victims and military officials, worries that the government is already “red-flagging” or putting blacklisting books critical of the Marcos.
“It is possible that there is a purge. Will my book be banned? It’s possible,” Robles told VOA in an interview.
“In fact, Marcos supporters have already tried to ban my book. They claim online that my book is banned, that there was a court order made in 2016 banning my book. I wouldn’t be surprised,” she added.
Robles released his book titled “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” in 2016 and has since sold thousands of copies. Interest in his book increased after the election of Marcos Jr. and his publisher is planning a sixth edition of the book.
Robles said she delivered copies of her book to the offices of vice presidential candidates in 2016, including Marcos Jr. In a chance encounter with him during the campaign trail later that year, she asked him if he had received and read his book.
“Oh, yes, thank you very much. But you know, I couldn’t read it because I was very busy,” Marcos told her.
Labeled in red
During March’s stormy presidential campaign, independent bookstores with a rare selection of Filipino historical books were spray-painted red. The finger of blame was pointed at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a heavily funded government agency created by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 to respond to a communist rebellion.
The door to the People’s Bookstore, known as the Intellectuals’ Bookstore, was spray-painted with “NPA Terrorista,” a common phrase designating an individual or organization as a communist and terrorist.
“With previous incidents [in mind]after red-tagging violence follows,” Geraldine Po, managing director of Popular Bookstore, told VOA when asked what her reaction was when she saw the vandalism.
“It is important to know and preserve the truth because from history we have to learn our lessons,” Po said. “They say we should move on because Bongbong is now president. If we do that, we will only be going backwards instead of forwards. »
In May, the head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency tagged children’s book publisher Adarna House about books about the martial law era that were said to “subtly radicalize” children against the government.
preserve the truth
Michael Pante, a history professor at Ateneo de Manila University, believes the books will not be physically burned or banned, but he warned of a climate of fear that will prevent Filipinos from seeking the truth.
“I’m not thinking of actual book burning, or forcibly removing books from library shelves, but rather creating this atmosphere of fear – fearing for your life that just holding a copy of certain books would deserve your conviction,” Pante told VOA.
“It’s a more insidious form of quote book burning,” he added.
Last month, about 1,700 historians and scholars issued a manifesto calling for the defense of historical truth and academic freedom amid fears of increased historical distortion and misinformation now that the Marcos are back in power. .
Marcos Jr.’s choice of Education Secretary, incoming Vice President Sara Duterte, has also raised fears that the whitewashed version of the story will be legitimized in schools.
In 2020, Marcos Jr. called for the revision of history textbooks, saying they teach children “lies”. But historians like Pante believe history education has been inadequate since the country adopted the K-12 curriculum.
“We won’t revise anything, all we will do is also publicize, publicize what we know, our side of the story, which we may have missed telling just because we were afraid of the media. traditional, of all the insult, the diatribe, the insult”, declared the senator Imee Marcos, sister of the new president, in a televised interview.
A group of young people are working full-time to digitize documents and materials, including thousands of newspaper pages chronicling the abuses of the Marcos.
Ahead of another Marcos presidency, Pante stressed the need for historians and scholars like him to think of creative ways to seek out the truth and preserve it.
“We need to break out of this academic stereotype and engage with popular media, speak using the language of the ordinary Filipino so that we can bridge this gap, this very big gap that we see these days,” he said. .