September 21, 1972 etched itself in Philippine history as the day the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos began a 14-year rule with the country under Martial Law. But what is often left unmentioned is that the proclamation was not officially declared that day; in actuality, those alive at the time would remember Martial Law to have begun on September 23. It was only later that Marcos would claim to have signed the document on September 21, ensuring that history—and social memory of generations to come—would recognize this different date.
Indeed, this would not be the first time that our collective memory would be jeopardized. And it is perhaps one of the clearest examples of why it matters that we do not forget—that we are wary of how we document history, how we memorialize people and events.
Now, 48 years later, another dubious attempt at altering history has cropped up: last September 2, the House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to designate September 11 as a holiday to commemorate Marcos’ birth anniversary in Ilocos Norte—where the Marcos camp remains dominant. The staunch support was particularly evident when his son, Bongbong Marcos, ran for—and nearly won—the Vice Presidential seat. One of the bill’s authors was even Marcos’ nephew, no less.
Humanity has an interesting way of remembering prominent and influential figures; there is an inevitable part where we contemplate and evaluate their contributions to society—considering just on which side of history they belong, and whether we revere them or detest them. Although no person is categorically plain “good” or pure “evil”—that is a false dichotomy—we can certainly distinguish heroes from non-heroes, especially from a socio-political standpoint.
Compelling allegations have been raised about how the Marcos clan has systematically transferred government funds into Swiss Bank accounts, embezzling money that belonged to the Filipino people. Decades have passed, but they have yet to be properly punished for these crimes, and the wealth is nowhere closer to being returned to the homeland.
Notwithstanding the grueling period of thousands of human rights violations, with individuals disappearing left and right, tossed to prison cells, torture rooms, or six feet under. Numerous members of the academe, student activists, and journalists—who were active critics of the Marcos administration—have testified about horrendous forms of torture including water cure, electric shocks, and sexual abuse.
These torments were not limited to dissenters alone. There are also plenty of accounts of innocent people, including the youth, being implicated in the wreckage, mistaken as rebels or caught in the midst of bullet rains and abduction raids. Historians record over 35,000 individuals in total had suffered through torture, and more than 3,000 were victims of extrajudicial killings.
As it stands, these actions can in no way be justified—it is wholly perturbing that some defend such callous maltreatment as if the people somehow deserved these brutal fates. But it was not disciplining deviant behavior; it was perpetuating terrors, amassing greed and power, and destroying lives.
It is not so much about forgetting as it is about misremembering.
Posts would circulate on social media about how the Philippine economy had been in a much better place during the Marcos era, with some also citing how the citizenry were more “disciplined” back then. While the bustling economy during the Marcos administration is typically used in favor of his legacy, often omitted from the picture is how this period was marred by rising rates of unemployment and massive debt mounting through loans. In his clan’s avarice, Marcos jeopardized the future of the country, and until now, we are still paying our dues. Yet people can be easily swayed by both systematic and inadvertent attempts at spreading misinformation—be it entirely false or simply lacking further context—breeding beliefs that Marcos and his vicious actions could somehow be redeemable.
To believe in Marcos as a hero is to condone his methods—of torture, of exploitation, of cruelty. Even if the scope of the “celebration” is limited, designating an official day of commemoration still sets a dangerous precedent. Having Marcos Day alongside other Martial Law monuments does a disservice to them, as if we as a nation cannot agree on what Marcos truly was in the past.
In the same way that our minds can harbor false memories, our nation’s collective memory is susceptible to contestation. Through institutional propaganda, political maneuvers, or even informal conversations, a dissonance ripples across our social memory—and it becomes fragmented and manipulated rather than a unified memorialization that the Filipino nation can commonly identify with.
We must interrogate what, why, and how we remember.