BACOLOD

Abellanosa: Why can’t we move on from Martial Law?

Fringes and Frontiers

A CERTAIN political scientist in our not so fortunate land suggested that we should “move on” from Marcos. If Marcos is no hero, we better shut up and stop remembering Martial law, says he whose name we need not mention. Some analysts and thinkers are too intelligent that they do not make sense anymore. In life, there are many things that “belong to the past” but we cannot, no matter what, easily move away from. Many things should be refreshed in our memories again and again because doing so reminds us of our moral responsibilities, fallible we may be.

The construction of history may follow and observe certain methods to lessen the subjectivity of the narratives we make. However, we must consider the limitations of History as a discipline. History is not politics and, more so, is it not ethics. When we tell and retell histories, we do so not just for the sake of “historicizing.” There is an intentionality behind historical reconstruction. There is a reason why we tell (not make up) stories.

Some brilliant thinkers in our country, be they jurists, philosophers, even pastors and theologians, have forgotten that we study History as part of our political life, and political life makes meaning only in view of an envisioned common good. Are we not to write narratives or even simply enumerate facts (e.g. details about the good things done by a certain person, say Marcos) and just limit the enterprise with this? This brings about an important question: what meaning does this make? Is there any sense if we limit the process of historical writing to simple identification and enumeration of details?

Thus, we should understand why the construction of the history of Marcos’ regime cannot just be about the litany of the good things he did. While there is validity in the claim that Marcos achieved good things for this country, however, the writing of history about him cannot be limited to the enumeration of these projects. While it is true that the years of Marcos’ administration was not all about Martial Law, a responsible and honest historian cannot say we cannot and should not focus on the Martial Law years and the dictatorship of Marcos.

It is true that we should credit Marcos for the construction of bridges, the Heart Institute, the Cancer Institute, the Rice Institute, etc., but it would be intellectually dishonest and naïve to construct a narrative revolving around these merits. Primarily, the history of a country’s life cannot just be about its infrastructures.

Here’s more. Some if not many people were not arrested during Martial Law is true. That some people liked Martial Law, as claimed by a certain noted priest-jurist, is also true. But this cannot invalidate and cancel out from the equation the fact that many persons who were considered “enemies of the state” disappeared. One cannot say, therefore, in all honesty, that Marcos was a dictator and not a dictator at the same time. Neither can we say that in order to give justice to Marcos, we allow those who were not persecuted to speak of him as good, and as a matter of concession allow those who were persecuted to just describe him as evil. A person who murders one need not murder more people or everyone in order to be a murderer. Are we to get a hundred percent consensus that a leader was a dictator for us to have a full-proof historical conclusion that indeed he was?

We go back to the premise that History is connected to politics and politics to Ethics. The writing of history is based on our political affiliations, and our affiliations are rooted in our ethical convictions. Life, after all, is about making choices. An important question is: are we to allow all interpretations to prevail and have an equal footing in the political sphere? Are there no foundations on the basis of which we can speak of narratives that are acceptable as they are in harmony with what reason allows us to believe and accept as valid?

Someone said that we better read the writings of philosophers Jacques Derrida and Francois Lyotard. But I would like to ask him who suggested these names, why the choice for them? For sure he knows whether Derrida or Lyotard can lead us to something non-relative. I am also wondering if, based on his religious calling, he would be willing to apply the hermeneutical principles of either (thinkers) in the reading of the Gospels.

He who would argue that all we have are “constructs” can claim to be a historian, he may claim to be an astute philosopher or scholar of the law. But apparently, he denies “moral responsibility,” hopefully not because of pretensions of objectivity, brilliance nor plain assertion of scholarly novelty.

Those who write and speak kindly of dictators to the point of canonizing them must admit of their leanings to dictatorship. In fact, they must admit who they are writing for, and above all . . . who they are.


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