“We should forgive…but we should never forget.”
In a matter of hours, this statement, which was delivered by a Legislative Assembly Representative candidate running under the banner of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) in the Miting de Avance for the 2019 Special Elections, reverberated across social media, drawing flak even beyond the University.
The context is important: during an open forum at the end of the event, candidates were asked if they believe the Marcos family should be forgiven for the atrocities they committed during Martial Law. The now vilified quote was his chosen response.
The candidate was met with a flurry of criticism both inside and outside the University, screenshots and memes circulating almost instantaneously after the statement was made, with different social media platforms condemning and ridiculing him for his belief.
Santugon eventually issued a statement to clarify that they have neither forgiven nor forgotten the atrocities of the Marcoses, despite the fact that the candidate’s answer was a near-verbatim echo of a previous statement made by the party during a Martial Law commemoration rally last September 20. Neither his statement acknowledging his error, nor Santugon’s statement denouncing the candidate’s initial stance gained favorable responses from the public.
The party, their president, and the candidate have all since apologized and retracted their original stance. This, however, does not erase the fact that their initial belief was deeply problematic and misguided—one that even runs counter to the party’s initial principles and beliefs when they were founded.
It was rooted in a naive and narrow perspective that failed to account for the historical context of the issue and the current political climate in which they operate. The atrocities committed by the Marcoses should neither be forgiven nor forgotten, and though they acknowledge this now, they only did so after heavy backlash, which is problematic for a party who hopes to represent the interests of the student body. Student leaders must contextualize their stances and beliefs to the sociopolitical reality outside the walls of their institutions as the student body and these issues do not exist in a vacuum.
On the other hand, while their viewpoint was misguided and misinformed, an unfounded trial by fire is not and never will be the appropriate response—criticism should be rooted in the genuine intent to educate and inform.
One is justified to their own opinion, but only to the extent that their opinion is justified. One deserves to be corrected and led to understand what makes their opinions and principles invalid; however, the process of educating should not invite denigration.
Being critical does not warrant cruelty. Being critical entails not taking anything at face value but instead involves going beyond the initial veneer to understand the matter on a deeper and more comprehensive level. One must objectively look at the facts to discern right from wrong.
The prominence of social media has made the spread of information more efficient, reaching a wider scope at a faster rate. However, this speed also means that it becomes harder to fully grasp the issue at hand as it escalates in real time. Thus, the increasing responsibility falls upon the individual who browses online; each reaction or share contributes to the perpetuation of an interpretation, allowing abhorrent remarks to circulate and become the accepted response.
Distasteful memes and personal attacks do not contribute to progressive discussions. Rather, they sideline the issue at hand—adding jokes instead of dissecting its underlying truths.
There is nothing new with the seemingly recurrent pattern of controversy that emerges every election season. The political scene in the University has often been described as a microcosm of Philippine politics. How the current issue has ballooned, and how knee-jerk reactions have proliferated among the studentry and beyond, eerily mirrors the broader socio-political landscape of the country—the socio-political landscape that we, Lasallians, claim to abhor and endeavor to change.
We must practice critical thinking alongside empathy, and not just one without the other.
Note: This has been updated to reflect recent developments.