It is an era that is vividly remembered as a wound that hasn’t completely healed. A memory that refuses to dissolve into faded decades and a turbulent part of Philippine history, the mention of martial law sparks an outcry of different contradictions. It was a grim era smeared with shades of scarlet insurgence—a period of extremes, occasionally obscured underneath the shimmer of lavish parties and the teasing wink of expensive jewelry.
Admired and criticized, hated and loved—the contradiction of Ferdinand Marcos’ own reputation taps into the division of two sides. Words have become weapons and, in the same vein, discord is not merely a footnote in the pages of history. Conflicts resurface, predators are exposed—after several years, a question is handed down from one generation to the next, waiting for an answer. Decades later, an unsettling question still haunts and divides: Is Marcos truly a Filipino hero?
The support that never fails
Who qualifies as a hero, anyway? It’s a distinction reserved for a noble few, a label reserved for deserving men. But fast forward decades later since martial law, the question of whether or not Ferdinand Marcos is a hero lingers longer than his lifetime. It’s a political question, but also an ethical one. Heroism is a word too often used in different contexts to commend, but place it in a sentence beside the name Ferdinand Marcos and it suddenly becomes a loaded word.
Julio Valente, a supporter of Former President Marcos shares his experience that takes us way back to the 70s—the time when farmers were much loved by the President. Masagana 99 was the program that provided farmers’ seeds for palay, and abono, fertilizer for numerous rice crops, buffalos, and farming tools. Because of this, and other projects, the presidency of Marcos was one defined by beneficial and progressive steps for the country. He stresses that in order to progress, one needs discipline, and he believes the reign of Marcos brought that in the archipelago, a hero with an iron fist of justice.
“A lot of people always focus on the bad side, it makes them miss seeing the good one,” puts in Jean* a Senior High School student of the STEM track. “Sana they also see it both ways. I do not agree with the killings. Being pro-Marcos doesn’t mean we condone all of his actions. Hindi kasali ang mga EJKs that took place in his time, pero sana we’d admit na marami siyang nagawa.” (Notwithstanding the EJKs that took place in his time, I hope that we admit that he actually did a lot of good.)
The projects that propelled the country forward
Not all heroes wear capes, so they say. But do heroes prompt the title of a dictator?
The storyline of martial law is refracted through a variety of versions: the narrative of those who reaped the benefits and those who have suffered. A tangled history of both sides—one never truly existing without the other—the sentiments of the pros and antis simultaneously coexist in online forums, dining table conversations, and debates. It’s a score never truly settled, but requires a single answer, only a yes or a no.
A lot of people still scratch their heads and turn a blind eye on the numerous reasons why Former President Ferdinand Marcos is still being supported till now, and Divine Dayao shares why she stands behind this president, “Siya lang ang naging presidente ng Pilipinas kung saan umangat ang economy ng ating bansa at naging developing country tayo at naging number two pa sa Asia na isa sa pinakamaunlad na bansa.” (He was the only president of the Philippines where our economy registered a high growth, became a developing country and ranked second in Asia as the most progressive.) The status of the country long ago has allured numerous Filipinos to raise their fist, backing their Former President. President Marcos’ supporters believed in him and his ability to raise the nation from the depths of the glittering Pacific Ocean, to the surface.
There are similar dynamics behind the reason why, even in spite of the realities that paint him as undeserving of the title, the faith of Marcos’ supporters persist. He is regarded as a hero by some because he represented a sharp shift, represented a kind of leadership that showed results. In the eyes of those who support him, Marcos was the country’s rescue from poverty.
Teddy Alvaro, another Marcos supporter, shares similar insights with Divine Dayao. He says, “During Marcos’ time, number two tayo sa pinakamayaman na bansa.” For them, Former President Marcos was their hero that raised the Filipino name amongst countries that looked down upon us and deemed us unworthwhile.
Believed by his supporters to be justified by his contributions to the overall advancement of the country—amidst controversies of human rights abuses and cruelty—they stand on common ground that the cons outnumber the pros, even though it came with a price, however steep. “We’re not overlooking the people who died,” Jean defends. “But we must also recognize that he did a lot for our country.”
They were there
All a citizen asks for is a government that would protect them, and Raquel Oserin, a Marcos supporter, has shared her experience during Martial Law, “Buong pamilya po namin loyalista maraming naitulong at nagawang mabuti sa bansa si President Marcos. Naabutan ko ang Martial Law, intact ang aming pamilya, walang nasaktan, walang pinatay, dahil kami ay sumusunod sa batas, hindi kami lumaban sa gobyerno ni President Marcos.” (We’re all loyalists in our family. President Marcos has helped a lot and done good things for the country. I experienced Martial Law and we weren’t harmed nor did any of us get killed and that is because we only followed the law. We also didn’t go against the government.) She further admits that life then is better than the standard of living now, and that the government has provided jobs for those who have not even finished schooling; an act that is recognized and praised by Raquel.
The counterarguments against the pro-Marcos groups abound and the chasm between opposing beliefs is not one that is easy to bridge. “Marcos isn’t a hero because the money he used to fund those infrastructures weren’t his!” “What about the martial law victims?” “How could you support someone who built his leadership on corruption and disregarded many people’s rights and democracy?” But whether it’s an attack made through name-calling or a contest of whose historical facts are more valid, it’s a competition nobody really wins. When all is said and done and all the insults are thrown, who decides between who’s the champion and who’s the victim? In any ongoing cycle of hate, what is it that truly wins?
From martial law to marshal hero. It is neither secret nor rocket science why a number of Filipinos would rather choose anything over proclaiming Former President Ferdinand Marcos as their hero. But we cannot bury our heads in the sand filled with superficial problems and experiences from the obvious; there are still people who support our Former President. All the communication classes in the world cannot prepare us for confronting someone who believes differently from us, and that is why even though they are out there, amongst us, working with us, eating with us, and living with us, we do not entirely acknowledge them. We cannot say it is a crime that they believe what they believe, and they cannot say our beliefs are an atrocity. But maybe, through the bridge of communication, just maybe—we may see their reality of their hero, Macoy.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.