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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

entry arrow2:23 PM | Reckonings

As of this writing, 24,039 people so far have voted for Roy Señeres, a dead man, for President. (“That’s enough to almost fill Araneta Coliseum’s maximum seating capacity of 25,000,” observed writer Ed Geronia on Facebook.) And 1,590,792 have voted for Jovito Palparan, a high-profile murderer, for Senator—not enough to put him in the Top 12, but enough to make us pause at the consequence of that number.

Numbers are the most truthful things.

That said, apparently, to millions and millions of Filipinos, plagiarist Tito Sotto and pugilist Manny Pacquiao are way better legislators than Walden Bello or Neri Colmenares. (“Mawawala na si Miriam sa Senado. Kapalit niya si Pacquiao. Kaya mo yun?” reminded writer Ino Habana on Facebook.)

There is a disconnect somewhere in the make-up of the Philippine electorate that makes you wonder: what exactly explains our inability to pick conceivably qualified people to serve in public office—and by qualified, at least someone who has the sterling qualifications, or is at least alive?

To put it bluntly, what kind of voter are you that makes you think a dead man is suited to become President, or a incompetent congressman/boxer to become senator?

Elections are an exercise in existentialism. If not that, they have become an exercise in sheer bipolarism. I have never vacillated between sheer elation and angry incredulity in mere seconds in the past few months.

But you know what’s actually worse?


In particular, millennials who are supposedly smart but cannot think beyond the comforts of their burgis existence and are steadfastly blind to the context and consequence of history. Millennials like a certain Zappybands who tweeted “Mababait ang mga Marcos, some people don’t just see it because they focus on the Martial Law thingy.”

A thingy.

That flippancy is galling.

Hundreds dead. Thousands broken. A thingy.

It’s ironic: the political whining millennials enjoy posting about now in social media would have been suppressed if they were in fact living in the very darkness of the Martial Law they are nostalgic for.

This disconnection has many forms. It’s like seeing young gay men, living up their partying days, being horrendously ageist about the generations of LGBT that came before them—not knowing that these were the very same people who endured everything—incarceration, lobotomy, ostracism from family—just so their public gay landi-an could no longer be cause for them to be drowned inside a barrel of water by their macho fathers.

It’s like seeing young girls declaring they don’t understand or have sworn off feminism—yet are so accepting of the privilege that they can work, that they can vote, that they can determine their own future, that they can drive cars, etc.—vital things feminists of the older generations have fought, and even died, for.

It’s like young workers being needlessly scared of the word “socialism” or are disdainful of the word “activism”—yet they enjoy their weekend, their minimum wage, their non-child labor privilege, etc.—things that had to be fought for by activists and wrested away from old capitalists who thought of Saturday and Sunday as perfectly suitable days to continue working, who thought paying you next to nothing was justifiable, or who thought children as young as six were ready to work in factories. People fought for weekends, for just wages, for better working conditions—and many have died for these privileges to happen. And now they think activism is just being a pest to the system.

So when I get young people talking about how wonderful things were under Marcos, or how Bongbong should not be held accountable—the famous refrain being: “The sins of the father are not the sins of the son”—I get a headache. Because the following truism is indeed correct, although I’ve grown weary in pronouncing it again and again: we are a forgetful people.

It makes you want to shout: “Read books of consequence, Marcos-loving millennials! Read up about the Martial Law, and don’t get your ‘facts’ from dubious memes and even more dubious websites and YouTube videos! Don’t just suck on your cafe latte from Starbucks or just watch the anime you wanna cosplay, and think you’re all that and you know everything!”

I had two conversations with millennials over Facebook recently—one very frustrating and the other very enlightening. Let’s call the first one “Richard.” Richard, a college student, dropped in on one post I made, where I had written a diatribe against BBM in my pained excitement for Leni Robredo to win the Vice Presidency. At that time, BBM was in the lead, and I wrote: “We have betrayed our history.” He commented: “Have we? The fault of the father is not the fault of his son...” That started the ball rolling, which was later on joined in by three other people.

“Chard,” I wrote back, thinking of easier ways to explain the moral complexity of what he is claiming. “Let’s say a man murdered your entire family and stole your bike, and gave it to his son. And the man was caught and was found guilty. His son keeps saying, ‘My pappy didn’t do it!’ and keeps riding your bike. How would you feel?” Then I added: “I would forgive Bongbong Marcos if there was atonement. There has been no atonement.”

He replied: “I would still have his father get imprisoned and take care of the child and hope for the child to grow up unlike his father...”

“He still has your bike though!”

He didn’t reply to that, so I continued: “But no, I don’t want to argue with you. It’s a moral dilemma, and I guess we just have different sense of what is right and what is wrong. I just hope that one day you could look at somebody who had suffered through Martial Law in the eye, and say to them, ‘Your suffering was shit.’”

He writes back: “Let’s just pray for a better future. Keep moving forward.”

Which is an echo of what BBM used to say: “Let’s move on.” Which is an invitation to forgetfulness. Which is an attempt to pull down the curtains on the atrocities the Marcoses have committed.

I had to fire some volleys. “Well, guess who wanted to convince Marcos Sr. to fire at the people at EDSA? General Ver and your blameless BBM—who was wearing military fatigue the day they left Malacañang like the Rambo he thought he was.”

He replies: “I concede in this conversation or argument...hahahaha. But hopefully the future of Philippines will be better in their administration.”

By then, the writer Sandra Nicole Roldan piped in: “Richard, go on, tell me that my family’s suffering during Martial Law means nothing. Tell me it’s okay that my dad was tortured and imprisoned. Tell me you’re okay that our country is in this hellhole because Apo Makoy stole 10 billion US dollars from us. Tell me it’s okay that your cute baby’s children will still be paying the foreign loans stolen by Marcos and inherited by Bongbong, Imee, Irene, and their children. Tell me you’re okay that we’re voting for a family of thieves who want to rewrite history. Come on, I dare you to tell me we should all just move forward.”

Richard replied: “Yes, your family suffered during Marcos’ Martial Law—and so did my family.” I don’t believe this at all. He continues: “But I did not blame it on Bongbong Marcos... Why should I? He was just a nobody that time and so was I... His father’s mistake was not his... But if you insist on such an argument, then argue to whoever [sic] wants to argue with you.”

Sandra replied: “He was no innocent. Hindi siya batang musmos. He was in his twenties. He was Vice Governor of Ilocos. He was made the head of Philcomsat. He drew a salary in the hundred thousands without reporting for work even once. We are not talking about history. Right now he represents the Marcos estate in court cases in the US, Switzerland, and Singapore where they refuse to turn over the money they stole from us. He inherited the stolen billions. They’re using our money to rewrite history. Stop being so ignorant please. Go read a real history book, don’t just get your ideas from Facebook and blogs. Read the many investigations about Bongbong’s role in legit news sources like The Guardian UK and the New York Times.”

My friend, Maru Rodriguez, butted in: “Sandra, [I’m] so sorry for what your family went through. And I’m so sorry that my generation has failed at educating this generation of voters. I was among those who went from classroom to classroom in UP Diliman to shout ‘Sumama na kayo!’ as we went out to the streets to oppose the dictatorship. And now… Now we are the new opposition.”

Richard finally ended the thread with this disclaimer: “I do apologize if I offended anybody...”

It was frustrating. But it was also illustrative of the blinders of people who do not know anything but are so convinced about the rightness of their chilling convictions. If only I heeded Proverbs 26:4: “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.”

Later, I chatted with another millennial, this one also college student we will call “Daniel,” who wrote me out of the blue: “Sir, I’ve been following your posts closely since campaign period, [and] I just have to say I wish I took one of your classes.”

I typed a smiley. “Because I rant a lot?”

“You make sense,” Daniel replied. “Kids are naïve, we disregard what we had never experienced. Personalities tend to attract us more, [and] the more blood there is, the better.”

“Thanks. But it’s a battle.”

Then Daniel asked: “Have you ever asked yourself though why there is a disconnect?”

It was a smart question. It made me pause. It made me dig deep into what I know for sure, and then I tentatively replied, starting with my own experience as a teacher: “We never really taught about Martial Law, and it’s largely absent from our popular culture.”

Which is true. If the young are best captured by the popular narratives they are surrounded by, where are the movies, the television shows, the stories about Martial Law? In truth, there is a wealth of literature on Martial Law out there—novels like Killing Time in a Warm Place by Butch Dalisay, and The Jupiter Effect by Katrina Tuvera, Dekada ‘70 by Lualhati Bautista, and Eating Fire and Drinking Water by Arlene J. Chai, or even children’s books like Si Jhun-Jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara ang Batas Militar by Augie Rivera—but I doubt these books are being read widely. Or even taught in most Philippine literature classes. And on television? There was one powerful documentary titled Batas Militar, which has since become an obscure title, a rarity, largely unseen.

And the movies? Almost nothing—but say what you will about the many inanities Star Cinema has produced, but at least it has made two movies about the Martial Law, all directed by Chito Roño, who adapted Lualhati Bautista’s novel as a vehicle for Vilma Santos and Piolo Pascual, and turned the escape from Martial Law prison by Serge Osmeña and Eugenio Lopez into a political thriller in Eskapo. True, the film probably served corporate interests—but one cannot take away the fact that it was a commercial film that dared venture into a storyline no local film producer would ever dare to produce.

But I sought other answers to give Daniel.

“Perhaps it is also a backlash against the Aquinos,” I said.

Which is true. One of the mistakes the Aquinos have made—and has turned the tides against them of late—is to remake the EDSA story as a revolution circling around one family. That denied what was in fact true: it was the story of millions of Filipino families, thousands of them descending on EDSA on those fateful days in February 1986, and gave us the term “people power.” But in the further deepening of the color yellow over the years, the narrative of the collective has been gradually erased, to be replaced by an Aquino-centric narrative. And Kris, with all her insipid noise and unbelievable self-absorption, does not help exactly with preserving the dignity of the Aquino name. I continued: “And the Marcoses are smart: if you deny something a lot of times, the denial somehow always becomes the truth. Plus there’s our forgiving culture: the Marcoses were convicted in foreign courts for corruption and for plundering the nation, but the slowness and the compromises of our flawed justice system guaranteed they would never be convicted here. I think the young see that, and they tell themselves: ‘See? They got away with it. Hence they must be innocent.’”

And then I ended it with this: “Plus there are the recent unfortunate affirmations made by Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Rodrigo Duterte regarding the Marcos name. These two carry an influence bigger than anything now, especially on the impressionable young. And if they say the Marcoses are innocent—it must be true.”

Daniel replied: “To tell you honestly, Marcos to me seemed so inviting.”

“I know,” I replied. “But that’s also psychologically understandable. The psychologist Erich Fromm has written about that allure, that invitation. Fromm once theorized that the removal of a dictatorship actually is soon followed by a nostalgia for it. The saddest truth, according to him, is that people like dictatorship. People don’t actually like freedom—because freedom is scary.”

“Like when Soviet Russia wanted a Putin again after the economic failure of Gorbachev’s Peteroiska?” Daniel asked. “I see a lot of mirrors happening now, but I excuse it as, well, they were socialists.”

“Unfortunately, yes. It’s happening elsewhere—many young Germans now pining for their country’s Nazi past. Or conservative Americans currently idolizing Donald Trump.”

Daniel replied: “I’ll have you know I supported Duterte, sir. I’ve been exhausted with this capitalist democracy, so I’m looking for someone who’s out to reform. Well, like Gorbachev’s fall of Soviet Russia. But then history repeats itself. Always will…”

“It’s fine. I didn’t support Duterte but I understand the fascination for him. Still, I’m going to give him the benefit of a doubt because at least he’s honest about his iron-clad ‘rule.’ Marcos, on the other hand, insist on his denials.”

“Well, after six years, will you still forgive this generation?”

“It’s not my place to forgive. But it’s your future,” I said. “You’re the ones who are going to live the consequences of your decisions. I hope it will be a good future. If it isn’t, well, all I can say is, I tried to fight it. My conscience may be troubled, but at least it’s clear. And if I’m proven wrong, congrats to everyone!”

Daniel replied: “How I wish you are wrong. That my doubts will be reversed. That I chose selflessly.”

“Me, too,” I said—and then I pushed the envelope: “But if I am right, will you promise to fight?”

“Until then,” Daniel finally said, “I promise I won’t be a defender. Call out the hypocrisy but that’s my only truth. Thank you for the talk sir, didn’t know you were approachable. See you in school.”

Later, I was quickly reminded by two former students—Jonathan Andro Tan and Jean Utzurrum—that according to analysts on CNN, the majority of BBM’s votes were surprisingly not from Millennials. “A lot of old[er] people here in Metro Manila are in favor of BBM. I see it as a protest vote against the ‘yellow’ administration,” Jonathan said.

I replied: “I know but—pardon the metaphor—these are old dogs, and you can’t do anything with old dogs. The Marcos-loving Millennials, meanwhile, are the most vocal ones—and it is their soul we are actually fighting for.”

Another friend, Stefan Garcia, quickly reminded me that much of this clamor among an older generation could actually be traced to a cultural phenomenon called “declinism.”

Journalist Jemima Lewis once wrote about this phenomenon: “If you’ve been feeling anxious about the times we live in, I bring glad tidings,” she wrote in the UK’s The Telegraph. “Turns out … civilization isn’t doomed after all. It’s just a trick of the mind. According to a survey conducted for The Human Zoo, Radio 4’s psychology program, 70%of the British population suffers from the belief that ‘things are worse than they used to be.’ This despite that fact that we are, overall, richer, healthier and longer-living than ever before. This irrational conviction is … caused, according to the experts, by the fact that our strongest memories are laid down between the ages of 15 and 25. The vibrancy of youth, and the thrill of experiencing things for the first time, creates a ‘memory bump’ compared with which later life does seem a bit drab.”

It perfectly fits the profile for the contemporary Filipino: the present—yellow-tinged as it is—is drab; the Marcos years—the ostentation of which were designed to cover up its evils—were better. BBM is nostalgia. And like how Jonathan perfectly summed it up, a vote for BBM is a protest vote against the ‘yellow’ status quo.

I cannot make myself care for the delusions of older people, however. For me, given the fact that they actually had a taste of the Marcos years, they are complicit of the evil. They are traitors to history and common decency.

At least, the nostalgia for Martial Law by millennials, even if misplaced, is mitigated by the fact that it is an impression of the past made almost entirely of ignorance. I am reminded of that viral video that came out days before May 9, where a bunch of millennials were interviewed about what they thought of Martial Law. All of them were unsurprisingly in favor of it, and had only the nicest words to say about the Marcoses. Their interviewers soon revealed themselves to be actual victims of Martial Law—all wrinkled now, and wizened—and as they retold, in graphic detail, their personal stories of the torture and abuse they endured, you could see the faces of the millennials before them slowly breaking down, all of them on the verge of tears. In the end, they apologized for their naivete and their ignorance. It made me ask: do you have to actually face a Martial Law victim pa to be convinced of their story?

I guess it does.

It did for another former student of mine, Kathleen Wiseman, who wrote to tell me: “When I was a naïve high school girl, I made the same assumption [about the Marcoses]. I said out loud to my parents that it was a better time during the Marcos era, and I enumerated all the accomplishments of Marcos. My mother promptly said that I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what I was talking about. And then she kinda schooled me then. I was singing a different tune after that conversation. She was in college when the Martial Law happened.”

I guess we have to be like Kathleen’s mother now. There is a prevailing call now by many Martial Law Babies like me to begin a reeducation. Perhaps we made a mistake by not talking about it earnestly for three decades now. It’s time to change the conversation. This is where a reckoning of dark past will begin.

RELATED: Take Rappler's quiz to determine whether you would have survived Martial Law.

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