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Commentary: The truth is not optional

In a time rife with disinformation and historical revisionism, current society is called to arms for the defense of the truth.

Educational institutions are vital actors that contribute to maintaining a universal understanding of the world. Meanwhile, institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) have been crucial actors in archiving and preserving credible information for they have pieced our nation’s history and identity. 

However, what may seem common to some is unknown to others. Information that is merely stored ceases to exist as knowledge in the human intellect. The way we have been taught history does not give justice to its breadth. Without critical minds and institutions to discuss its complexity, history can be rewritten under the people’s common understanding—dividing a nation’s identity.

Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center is a non-profit organization that was established immediately after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was ousted in 1986. It runs a library, a museum, and a historical research center to memorialize the victims and heroes who fought against the tyranny of Martial Law. Despite its long-standing survival and well-acclaimed accomplishments in preserving memories of a grave era in Philippine history, the 2022 elections brought to light how oblivious Filipinos seem to be to the truth it has fought for.

In the age of technology and disinformation, the limitations of LAMs upheld and maintained by Bantayog ng mga Bayani have become far starker and are damning for the preservation of truth.

The spread of deceit

Much of the adversity that archives face is found among those who need it the most: our current society. Besides Bantayog, there are many resources that our countrymen could look at if they choose to do so. Still, it would be wrong to ignore that the majority of our fellow Filipinos are unable to set aside time just to scour through whatever archives we have and identify which pieces of information align with our real history. Those that do not have the privilege and access to these resources settle for the “next best thing”, which tends to be what they see on social media. 

Perhaps the worst of the troll farms present on the internet are the content creators who choose to spread cherry-picked information about the Marcos dictatorship to their audiences. They are so engrossed in unearthing what material best suits their agenda that they develop a bias toward which pieces to believe in. These creators overflow with praise for the Marcos dictatorship, citing the supposedly great economy of his time as well as boasting about the discipline that people had during that period—all while blatantly ignoring the atrocities committed by Marcos and his loyalists. This provides fuel to the idea that the Philippines is a forgetful nation, forgetful of the past and of those still seeking justice.

Regrettably, this content is what most of our netizens are exposed to. Understanding media trends and riding the wave of viral strategies are, unfortunately, what these biased content creators are familiar with and what they use to their advantage. Fatima Gaw, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, puts it quite succinctly, “Digital media is not users seeking information, but information seeking us.” 

The digitization of archives would make for a formidable counter against these social media trolls. It would allow for all the necessary information to simply be within arm’s reach for anyone with internet access—and when faced with the facts, even the most carefully curated lie will fall apart. 

Measuring truth

The availability of credible knowledge online is not enough to turn the tides of disinformation. Behind its facade lies the greater challenge to regain the worth of credible information, which institutions such as LAMs hold. What is true or false does not matter—logic and proof are turned askew by their varying degrees of worth to people facing them. Even if facts stand as undeniable truths, it is in their worth where it is denied. 

It is written on record that during the Marcos Sr. era, at least 70,000 people were incarcerated, 34,000 people were tortured, and 3,240 people were killed by military and police forces—statistics that have been repeatedly used to show the magnitude of violence during Martial Law. Yet, to a great amount of Filipinos, this information is either fake, exaggerated, or negligible. While some continue to believe that nothing happened during the “golden years” of the Philippines, there are also those who acknowledge the atrocities and justify them as mere consequences of the decade’s prosperity. 

Even when these sentiments are fueled by the truth, the truth does not always evoke a universal response of sympathy.

Disinformation is only a tool used to distance people from trustworthy information as it thickens the walls of people’s echo chambers and solidifies its foundational bias. Even without disinformation, the disconnect and distrust between people and credible information will always remain vulnerable to manipulation. 

Mere access to information is not the problem. Instead, it is the lack of effort to protect the integrity of the nation’s truth at both an individual and institutional level.

In the same way disinformation was a tool to machinate political plans for elite actors, LAMs are instruments with the power to orchestrate and reinforce the relevance of their own records and the worth of their knowledge. Digitizing data, circulating archives, and disproving false claims to adapt to the age of technology is only a part of the process of institutionalizing the value of our nation’s history through nationwide powerful actors. 

One thing remains certain—it won’t matter how many centers of knowledge we have within our reach if we, as a collective, would rather believe in fabricated propaganda over the indelible truth. 

But simply taking a stand on particular issues of disinformation is not enough; critical thinking must be cohesively intertwined with our arguments and our beliefs. We must not allow the mistakes of history to repeat when we already have a list of things to avoid at our disposal. It has been said countless times that we deserve a better future and a better set of leaders; these are undeniably true, but it won’t come to us lest we work hard for it. The road to doing so requires us to look beyond the lens of bias and deceit and earnestly perceive the truth as it is. 

By Zoila Caga

By Marie Angeli Peña

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