48 Years after Martial Law was declared, “Is the Filipino still worth dying for?”

48 Years after Martial Law was declared, “Is the Filipino still worth dying for?”

Sep 21, 2020

I have a collection of what I call Roseisms, 50 quotes on lessons I’ve learned in my five decades of existence in this world. It was a gift to myself when I turned gold. One of them goes like this:

“If you’re 50 and you still don’t love your country, it’s time to get out and find another one!”

I’m sure you know people who always have something bad to say about our country. Not that there’s none, but I’m talking about those who always put down their fellow Filipinos, always quick to judge and enumerate the most negative things about the land. Talking to them suck out all the hope and positive charge from the person they’re talking to.

And there are those who love the country that they are willing to die for it. A few weeks ago, I read the book entitled To Love Another Day (The Memoirs of Cory Aquino). It was compiled and edited by Rapa Lopa, with the help of Rhona Lopa-Macasaet and Paolo Reyes. I finished reading the book in a single day. I sought out Rapa Lopa, who was my batchmate at the Ateneo de Manila University, because I wanted to discuss with him more about the couple whose love for the country is etched in Philippine history – Ninoy and Cory Aquino. (The video conversation will be published on FQ Mom YouTube channel this week.)

The book made me think about the Martial Law days, the 48th anniversary of which we are remembering today. 

Ferdinand Marcos, born on September 11, 1917 rose to power as the 10th president of the country in 1965. I remember back in school memorizing the presidents of the Philippines, and noticing that while all the nine presidents had relatively short terms, Marcos’ was like “to infinity and beyond.” At first, it was fine for my Ilocano family. I remember hearing my Ilocano parents say good things about him – he’s brilliant, good orator, ka-ilian (townmate). He looked a bit like my father, that a lot of people would think they were related. A story goes that one day my father was at the airport together with his officemates. Seeing the resemblance, an airport staff asked one of his companions if he was related to the president. The officemate said yes in jest and they were given special treatment. That was their dose of wang-wang(preferential treatment given to those in power and their allies). 

Martial Law was actually declared on September 23, 1972, a year before the end of Marcos’ second term as president, a step towards his mission of ruling the country “to infinity and beyond.” The reason why we commemorate Martial Law on the 21stis that Marcos had a fetish for the number 7, and 21 is divisible by 7, so his press release was that he signed Proclamation 1081 on the 21stand just told us about it a couple of days after. 

I was only eight years old at that time, but I do recall our black and white tv showing Marcos announcing something important. Everyone was quiet, some tv and radio stations stopped airing, there was curfew. Whenever my oldest sister would say anything about the Marcoses, my parents would always get cautious and nervous. They didn’t tell her that her allegations were wrong, but they just warned her to be careful and refrain from saying bad things about them. 

What happened to the Aquino family on that same day of September 23, 1972? Kris, the youngest of five children, was just one-and-a-half years old. Cory received a call from Judy Roxas, the mother of Mar Roxas, informing her that Ninoy had been arrested! 

The invitation of the book is to imagine oneself in the situation while reading it. And so, I did. 

I felt the pain of a mother, a housewife at that, who was suddenly alone to raise her children. How can this happen? She had always perceived her husband to be the strong one, always sure of himself – the youngest in almost everything he got into – a war correspondent at 17 who received the Philippine Legion of Honor award at 18, an advisor to then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay, later on appointed by President Magsaysay as personal emissary to Luis Taruc (leader of Hukbalahap rebels), successfully securing the prominent rebel’s unconditional surrender, elected as mayor of Tarlac, the youngest at 22, vice governor at 27, governor at 29, senator at 34, again the youngest, and eventually, becoming the biggest political threat to Marcos.

As I read the memoirs, the question, “What would I have done if I were in Cory Aquino’s shoes?” was in my head and heart. What would I have done when faced with the nightmare of not knowing where they brought my husband, of being brought to an undisclosed place to finally visit my detained husband and wondering whether I’d still make it to the next day, of being subjected to psywar so I would believe that my husband was cheating on me, while I think about my five young children, the youngest being practically a baby, and many many more trials! I will not spoil it for you but suffice it to note that being in Cory’s shoes would make me say, “Tama na. Sobra na!”

Have we learned from Martial Law?

It’s hard to answer this question. Despite the cold facts, both in economic data and statistics on human rights violations during the authoritarian rule of Marcos, there are still many people who consider him as the best president, the strong man, and even consider his regime as the Philippines’ golden years. 

Indeed, facts don’t change people’s minds (click link to know what does). Last weekend, I sought out people who take this perspective for free-wheeling conversations in order to have a better understanding of the matter. I wrote the big words HUMILITY, EMPATHY on top of my notebook as a reminder to me while listening to different narratives. 

The experience was enriching and made me appreciate the bigger picture. An important insight I got is that our parents’ beliefs are the foundation of what we will form as ours, as we get older. One’s initial feeling for a leader will be the basis of his assessment of his character. An experience or even just a perception that the leader has done something positive, no matter how insignificant it is, will make one cling to it, to continuously validate the initial vote of confidence. All other transgresses will either be ignored or attributed to other people. Hardly any responsibility of a wrongdoing will be attributed to the revered leader.  

Deadly Tandem of Confirmatory Bias and Social Media

In Behavioral Economics, we study the cognitive bias called Confirmatory Bias. This is our tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports our prior beliefs. We are all prone to this. We cherry-pick empirical data that support our beliefs, ignoring the other data that say otherwise.

This is exacerbated by social media and the internet world in general. All the algorithms at work in the virtual world feed us the information that we want to see, as this makes us stay longer online, consequently, giving more profit to the one who designed the algorithm. Consuming more of this type of content will further fuel our confirmatory bias leaving us exasperated expressing to our like-minded friends online, “Why are they so stupid that they can’t see what we see so clearly?!”

On the other side of the virtual world, they are saying exactly the same thing about us, as their own beliefs are also solidified by the feeds thrown to them by the almighty algorithm! 

So, do we even wonder why we have never been so divided than ever before? This connectivity has brought about a catastrophic division among people. The Dilawan vs. Dutertard is being fueled (maybe even created) by social media and it’s sad that we see a lot of friendships and family relationships being ruined by this. It is always easier to sell the idea of “If you are not with us, you are against us!” This binary way of thinking peddled to us is actually dangerous as it leads to tunnel vision, narrow-minded solutions that are not effective. 

Love for country

It is easy for us to collectively see the love for country expressed and lived by our heroes like Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, et al. Unfortunately, it is not the same when it comes to the sacrifices of the Aquinos. It’s because we lived during their time. Each one of us was situated in our own circumstances when Martial Law was declared and implemented, when EDSA happened, when Cory, Ramos, Erap, GMA, PNoy, Duterte were elected to the highest post in the land. We all saw them fumble in their jobs, some a lot more than others. But then again, that’s depending on whose perspective. 

Anaïs Nin, French-Cuban American writer, said it best, “We don’t see the things as they are, we see them as we are.” 

On the 48th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, I invite each one of us to reflect on what Martial Law means to us. Reading the memoirs of Cory Aquino reminded me of her and Ninoy’s extraordinary love for the country. This is not to say that the Aquinos have the monopoly of love for country. I would even bet that each one of the other presidents including Marcos also loved the country. But we should remember that love can also be misguided. And authoritarianism, as we’ve seen not only in our country but all over the world, is never the way to national prosperity. All leaders can claim love for country and use their preferred manner of governing, but the genuine kind of love should always be compatible with the universal principles of liberty, justice, and humanity.

Forty-eight years after, are you happy where we are now? While it is true that the whole world is suffering from this pandemic, our situation is far from being acceptable. As one of the millennials I interviewed said, “It’s frustrating that we seem to be in deep sh_ _! There’s a multi-billion-peso Philhealth scandal in the middle of a pandemic, lack of clear plans, closing down a major media company in the midst of worsening unemployment, etc.” 

Forty-eight years after, do you think the Filipino is still worth dying for?

 (I invite you to watch my conversation with Rapa Lopa on Wednesday September 23, 2020 on FQ Mom YouTube channel. We will be discussing the answer to this question.) 


Attribution: Cover background from pppbackgrounds.org