UniversityMartial law and historical revisionism: A holistic understanding
Martial law and historical revisionism: A holistic understanding

As the 2016 National Elections draw closer, more Filipinos have voiced out their concern regarding Vice Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and several of his statements regarding his late father’s administration. History professors from Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) and University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) have called out Marcos for his distortion of facts relating to the supposed “Golden Era” that occurred during Martial Law.


Darkest events of Martial Law and “Bagong Lipunan”

Despite Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s arguably good intentions for the Bagong Lipunan (New Society), which include uniting the poor and privileged, his era was tainted with a dark history involving crony capitalism, extrajudicial killings, graft, corruption, suppression of media, and many others.

“If you lived through those times and not aware of Martial Law, you would probably say that Bagong Lipunan was great, but if you look behind the façade, you will see its wrongdoings and corruption. It was a means to make Marcos maintain power,” shares history Professor Dr. Jose Victor Torres.

According to the official website of the Philippine government, 75,730 people filed cases as victims of human rights abuse under the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB). They also estimate that 70,000 people were detained as enemies of the state, 3,240 people became victims of extrajudicial killing, and 398 people were subjected to forced disappearances during the 20 years of Martial Law.

By the end of the Marcos regime, the national government debt was at P395.91 billion. The largest contributor to the debt was the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which was worth $2.3 billion and has, to this day, never been used.

Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reports that the poverty incidence rate in 1985 was 44 percent, but the latest statistics show that this rate decreased to 26.3 percent in the first semester of 2015. Employment was also at an all-time low in 1985 at 87.4 percent. In contrast, in January 2015, PSA recorded the employment rate to be 93.4 percent.

Emmanuel S. de Dios, an Economics professor at UPD, stated that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth from 1972 to 1985 was 3.4 percent per annum in comparison to the 5.4 percent per annum growth rate experienced from 2003 to 2014. The main factor for the low GDP growth rate during Martial Law was the large debt that had accumulated under the Marcos regime.

However, Dr. Torres mentions that President Marcos was able to save the economy of the Philippines during his first term as president. He notes how the economy was in a bad condition by the end of Diosdado Macapagal’s administration and noted that during Marcos’ tenure as president, he was unable to save the country’s economy.


Developmental milestones

Dr. Torres adds that despite many human rights violations during Martial Law, the Marcos Regime also has some notable achievements that have benefitted the country. Among these is Marcos’ five-year developmental plan for the Philippines, which included the construction of the Light Rail Transit, the first in Southeast Asia.

Infrastructure development was one of the major achievements of the Marcos administration. Structures built during his regime include the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Philippine International Convention Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, and the Folk Arts Theater, which were built within the periphery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex. Today, these structures are still being used for various events and gatherings.

In terms of public health and road networks, the Marcos administration saw the construction of the Philippine Heart Center, the Lung Center, the Kidney Institute, the Philippine Children’s Hospital, the Manila North Diversion Road, the Marcos Highway, and the San Juanico Bridge. Since the construction of these hospitals three decades ago, no other specialized hospitals have been built.

During his time, Marcos had written many laws that are still in effect today. From September 21, 1972 to February 26, 1986, he was able to formulate a total of 7,883 presidential decrees and some legal issuances. Out of thousands of presidential decrees, only 67 were modified or repealed.

Lastly, it was also during the time of Marcos when the Philippines became a leading exporter of rice in Southeast Asia. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was established mainly to enhance rice technology in the country. Through the IRRI, varieties of rice developed made a big impact in several rice-producing countries in the world.


Historical revisionism

Members of the history community have raised their concerns regarding the issue of politicians altering history for their personal agenda or benefit. Dr. Torres comments on how the Filipinos are well aware of what transpired in the past, yet fail to look at it critically. He says that we must see the historical context and look at these events at a better perspective.

In light of his vice-presidential bid, Marcos Jr. has been hounded by numerous groups for an apology for the crimes committed during his father’s term as president under Martial Law. Among these are a group of professors coming from different universities, including DLSU. Professors from the History Department, Filipino Department, Political Science Department, Literature Department, and others have been vocal against various forms of historical revisionism.

However, Marcos Jr. refuses to apologise for any of his father’s transgressions. The entire family of the former president refuses to make an apology, claiming that they did not violate any rights or committed any form of violence.


Marcos’ comeback

In 1995, Imelda Marcos was elected into office as congresswoman of Leyte. Since then, the members of the Marcos family have successfully made a political comeback as they found themselves in various government positions thanks to the backing of loyal supporters.

When Senator Marcos Jr. filed his Certificate of Candidacy in 2015 for his vice presidential bid, many Filipinos reacted violently, fearing a comeback of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. Rallies and protests expressing disdain with the idea of a Marcos once again holding an executive position were conducted in public places such as the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, where the 1986 peace revolution to oust Marcos Sr. was held, and Cebu City Hall.

However, Dr. Torres believes that this is not the comeback of the Marcos family. “If Bongbong goes back to position, we have the previous administration to blame. I don’t think [there will be a comeback] but I think it is progressing.” Dr. Torres is of the opinion that while the older Marcos is a political genius, his son is not.