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Preserve the Truth: Historical Books, Documents in Danger as Marcos Family Returns to Power


FILE - Philippine president-elect Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, attends a news conference at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 23, 2022.

As the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. infamous for massive corruption and human rights abuses takes back control of the Philippines, historians, academics, book publishers and authors have vowed to “protect the truth.”

When 31 million Filipinos elected Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as president in May’s election, they also voted for the powerful and influential Marcos family’s narrative surrounding the brutal and corrupt regime of the senior Marcos.

Marcos and his wife, Imelda, whose name has become synonymous with extravagance, plunged the country into debt and deep poverty while their family and cronies amassed billions of dollars of wealth.

The Marcos regime also saw the killing, arrest, torture and disappearance of thousands of victims, according to records of human rights organizations. But these facts do not matter to the supporters of the Marcos family.

Critics say the electoral victory of Marcos Jr., who is set to formally assume office June 30, is partly attributed to his family’s decadeslong distortion efforts. Now that the family is back in power, they fear that they will use their overwhelming mandate to erase historical truths about the period of martial law under the elder Marcos.

Books on martial law have been selling fast in the weeks after Marcos Jr. was elected president over fear that these will be banned or purged. Some titles, including the popular “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” by Primitivo Mijares, have been sold out.

Journalist Raissa Robles, author of the 2016 book that examined the events during martial law from the perspective of victims and military officials, is alarmed that the government is already “red-tagging” or blacklisting, books critical of the Marcoses.

“It’s possible that there will be a purging. Will my book be banned? It's possible,” Robles told VOA in an interview.

“Actually, Marcos supporters have already been trying to ban my book. They claim online that my book is banned, that there was a court order that was issued in 2016 banning my book. I wouldn't be surprised,” she added.

Robles published her book titled “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” in 2016 and has since sold thousands of copies. Interest in her book climbed after Marcos Jr. was elected and her publisher is planning a sixth edition of the book.

Robles said she delivered copies of her book to the vice-presidential candidates’ offices in 2016, including Marcos Jr. In a chance encounter with him on the campaign trail later that year, she asked if he had received and read her book.

“Oh, yes, thank you very much. But you know, I haven't been able to read it because I've been so busy,” Marcos told her.

Red-tagged

During the heated presidential campaign in March, independent bookstores that carry a rare selection of Filipino historical books were spray-painted in red. The finger of blame was pointing at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a heavily funded government agency formed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 to respond to a communist rebellion.

The door of Popular Bookstore, known as the bookstore for intellectuals, was spray-painted with “NPA Terrorista” a common phrase tagging an individual or organization as communist and terrorist.

“With the previous incidents [in mind], after red-tagging violence follows,” Geraldine Po, general manager of Popular Bookstore, told VOA when asked what her reaction was when she saw the vandalism.

“It is important to know and to preserve the truth because from history, we should learn our lessons,” Po said. “They say we should move on because Bongbong is now the president. If we just do that, we will just be going backward instead of moving forward.”

In May, the head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency red-tagged Adarna House, publisher of children’s books, over books about the martial law period that supposedly “subtly radicalize” children against the government.

Preserve the truth

Michael Pante, a professor of history at the Ateneo de Manila University, believes books will not be physically burned or banned, but he warned of a climate of fear that will prohibit Filipinos from seeking the truth.

“I'm thinking not of a literal book burning, not of forcibly pulling books out of library shelves, but more of creating that atmosphere of fear – fearing for your life that merely holding a copy of certain books would merit you condemnation,” Pante told VOA.

“It's a more insidious form of quote unquote book burning,” he added.

Last month, about 1,700 historians and academics released a manifesto calling for the defense of historical truth and academic freedom for fear of intensified historical distortion and disinformation now that the Marcoses are back in power.

Marcos Jr.’s choice of education secretary, incoming Vice President Sara Duterte, also raised concerns that the whitewashed version of history will be legitimized through the schools.

In 2020, Marcos Jr. called for the revision of history textbooks, claiming that these are teaching children “lies.” But historians like Pante believe history education has been inadequate since the country adopted the K-12 curriculum.

“We will not revise anything, all we will do is to also make known, make public what we know, our side of the story, which we have perhaps been remiss in not telling simply because we were scared of the traditional media, of all the abuse, diatribe, the insult," Senator Imee Marcos, sister of the incoming president, said in a TV interview.

A group of young people is working double-time to digitize documents and materials including thousands of pages of newspapers that chronicled the abuses of the Marcoses.

In advance of another Marcos presidency, Pante stressed the need for historians and academics like him to think of creative ways to seek out the truth and preserve it.

“We need to break away from this academic stereotype and engage with popular media, to speak using the language of the ordinary Filipino so that we can bridge that gap, that very huge gap that we see nowadays,” he said.

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