In a protest that would mark world history, thousands of Filipinos flocked to Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue in 1986 to topple the 21-year rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. In the years that followed the revolt, the ouster of the president would be commemorated by various progressive groups that call on Filipinos to never forget this story.
But in this year’s remembrance protest, an air of worry looms: Marcos Sr.’s son and namesake Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is following the footsteps of his father in seeking the nation’s top post. His trail to the presidency is braced by his family’s massive disinformation networks, the goal of which is to erase years of the late Marcos’ catalog of human rights violations.
But Marcos Jr.’s propaganda machinery found a formiddable enemy in the children of Martial Law victims, who saw the dictatorship through their young selves and the memories of their families. While their parents were erased by the brutal regime, the harrowing trauma of Martial Law is unforgettable, and would mark their family for generations to come.
Now, the children of Martial Law survivors are in the frontlines of the disinformation war, striving to keep the stories of their disfigured families unburied.
Among them is Elmer Galario, who was barely 10 years old during the 1986 protest. He learned about the horrors of the regime not through secondhand stories, but by his own experience.
When Marcos held a snap poll in 1985 amid accusations of rigging the previous elections, the young Galario was there to protest. In these demonstrations, he was joined by his father Ricardo Galario, who was a political detainee.
“’Kontrolado ni Marcos ang midya, ang mga simbahan,” he told TNP. “Hindi makatotohanan na sabihin na golden era ang panahon na ‘yon.”
Now almost 50, Ricardo could not evade Marcos Jr.’s propaganda networks online. Where Marcos, Sr. controlled the news media during Martial Law, his son is bending the internet to his will.
“They invested a lot in the information put out on social media — to promote the Marcos name, to create the narrative that the Marcos years were golden years for the Philippines,” said UP Political Science Professor Maria Atienza.
The usual rhetoric spread across propaganda networks are claims that Marcos Sr. was the “best president” of the nation, putting emphasis on his mammoth infrastructure projects. But this is a disregard of the 70,000 people incarcerated, 34,000 tortured and 3,200 who were killed during Martial Law, Atienza says.
“A lot of human rights violations were committed, and to this day, there is no attempt on the part of the Marcos family to at least seek forgiveness or at least acknowledge that these things happened,” she added.
Atienza notes that the massive propaganda network has its roots in 2015, when Marcos Jr. was setting up his foiled run for vice presidency. But the disinformation blossomed again last year, when Marcos Jr. announced his candidacy on Oct. 6, 2021, this time to become the nation’s chief executive.
After Marcos announced his presidential bid, social media pages were filled with messages of a restoration of the “golden era.”
Ria Jose, daughter of Martial Law activist Joel Jose, thought the absurdity of the claims would be ‘preposterous’ to anyone.
“But I guess I was wrong,” she said. “Now, I feel anger because it invalidates the thousands of Filipinos who lost lives, property, and even dignity.”
Ria, who used to be a counselor for children of Martial Law victims, heard the many stories of how the Marcos regime ripped apart families. She said that there are children of Martial Law victims who used to just stay quiet, because “retelling our stories can be very taxing. Kasi what else can we do?
“Most of them (children) did not grow up with their parents. Some never saw their parents and there were a few whose relatives became desaparecidos. They never knew what happened to their relatives, kasi nawala na lang,” she said.
But now, with days ahead from the May 9 elections, Ria fears the Marcoses’ return to power. She worries that this could endanger the memories of her family, and the families of the children she used to counsel.
With Marcos Jr. in the far lead of Pulse Asia’s latest presidential survey conducted from March 17 to 21, Atienza says the country’s future is at risk of socio-economic and political decline.
“[Marcos Jr.] cannot provide concrete programs on economic, political, social and educational aspects. [Even for] COVID-19, it’s still not so clear what he really intends to do,” Atienza said.
During Marcos Jr.’s proclamation rally on Feb. 8, his camp played a revamped version of “Bagong Lipunan” – a song commissioned by his father’s administration. The lyrics talk about the Philippines’ unified rise under a new governance and social movement, now to be headed by Marcos Jr. should he win the elections.
But Atienza believes Marcos Jr.’s idea of unity is a false promise, and a form of outright disrespect to Filipinos.
“Their call for unity is actually very empty. There has not been a reckoning in terms of actual abuses and damages that were committed by the administration,” Atienza said.
Marcos Jr.’s campaign for presidency is also blotched by his failure to file income tax returns in 1997, as convicted by the Court of Appeals. Civic leaders filed petitions to the Commission on Elections on Nov. 2, 2021 calling for his disqualification, but these were junked on January 17.
“Pinatibay iyan (disinformation) ng rehimeng Duterte, na ‘di baleng mabuhay tayo sa kasinungalingan o masama basta happy tayo. Parang ganoon ang naging principle,” Elmer said.
Scholars from the Philippines and Hong Kong found that several social media users who spread disinformation favoring the Marcoses are paid ‘trolls.’ While some engage in troll culture for entertainment or push their political beliefs forward, some Filipinos engage in trolling out of financial needs.
“Hindi ko masisisi [ang trolls] dahil kung economically ay pangangailangan nila ‘to, pero pwede rin naman sila magtrabaho ng marangal. Dapat rin sila mayroong pananagutan sa kanilang ginagawa,” Elmer added.
For Elmer, the winning factor in the fight against false narratives is to keep retelling the stories of Martial Law and how the people ended it through the People Power revolution.
“Dapat ay hukayin natin ang katotohanan kung ano ang naganap noong ibinaba ng Martial Law. At katotohanan na kung ang panahon ng Marcos ay maunlad, bakit ganito ang inabot ng bansa natin?” Elmer said.
For Martial Law survivors and their children, campaigning for the right leaders in this year’s national elections is crucial. Elmer believes this is the fight of their lifetime.
“[Allowing Marcos Jr. to win] revictimizes not just people like my parents who experienced human rights abuses,” Ria said. “But all the Filipino people and even the generations to come who will carry the burden of the repercussions of Martial Law.”
There is a great need, Ria said, to remind people of the origins of historical distortion and denialism that the Marcoses have propagated. Resisting this is what she knows to be a promise to her father and to future generations.
“Siguro ‘yan ang kaya kong ipaglaban until the end,” she added.
Ria and Elmer believe that the struggle for truth and freedom is not only theirs alone. For them, the national elections is not just a fight to preserve their family’s memory, but the nation’s, too.