Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Devouring its Absence": A Perspective on the Anniversary of Martial Law

It is easy to miss the cost of scaling back the magnitude of the martial law period in the Philippines and the roles of the iconic figures who cleared the way and assimilated it into Philippine society. It is untrue though that Filipinos have so developed a taste for remaining moot at the farthest end of the accounting of history, the end farthest from the past, that they have jettisoned the significance of martial law over the side.

To make this sensitive call can be misleading for there are Filipinos who are profoundly reluctant to directly tackle the paradigms of the past and who are more concerned about how they will confront the future. That Filipinos have “larger” things to worry about than the shoulder-deep reflections on martial law goes a long way in explaining the commemorative ambivalence that has spoiled their accompanying zeitgeist. From one single-minded but incautious Filipino to the next, the ubiquity of the martial law experience in the gallery of Philippine history does not cause much alarm or suspicion of it, or a derivative of martial law, effectively falling upon the Philippines again.

It has been quite disappointing to see dozens of Filipinos distracted from what was the institutionalization of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos, and from how it was repressively structured around theoretical depictions of social foundation and normalization. At this stage in history, straying Filipinos misunderstand or render the cautionary tale of martial law as ostensibly drawn from the story of a country that sincerely never wants to forget what it was supposed to bring to the table of democracy in its corner of the world.

But Filipinos have had little patience for the past. They keep up the appearances of speaking to it, of communing with it, but under this cover Filipinos, to source a postmodernist’s response, “devour its absence”. When are Filipinos going to realize that their democracy was not exactly created equal with others, that this precarious state would cast the country forward into the shadow of something as barren of righteousness and freedom as Marcos’s one-man rule?

It was forty years ago that a heavy gambit butchered Filipinos’ sunlit democracy and splintered it into the cavernous depths of a dictatorship. The Philippines contracted then as its moral and liberal circumference became no longer possible to ascertain. How easy it has been for Filipinos to move on without fully accessing that well-chronicled history, a history that has been subjected to every form of fiction and nonfiction there is.

A lot has been said and written about martial law and how it dehumanized everyday life and people in the Philippines. This is telling because it allows one to plead the case that the memory of martial law has not been prima facie left by Filipinos to twist in the wind, that the dreadful remembrance of it by Filipinos of all stripes has not entirely abated thanks to the flowing pens and fearless voices of writers, artists, thinkers, clergymen and women, and activists who defied the regime.

Cradled however in a broad, mesmerizing ideal——a modern ideal that estranges them from yesterday and raises expectations of something better over the horizon——Filipinos to a large extent rarely pause to make out the contempt that the illustrious cast of the martial law initiative continue to have for their rights and liberties. After freedom reigned again in the Philippines, Filipinos descended into complacency and instead of leading them to repent, allowed the villains of martial law to receive the political and economic rewards of evading punishment for their crimes. Now as a result, many of the martial law perpetrators are in positions of power today, putting their political successors up to the same machinations that filled their own careers with ulterior intent.

That the memory of martial law hasn’t inextricably lodged itself into the minds of Filipinos has less to do perhaps with shutting down an unguarded, sobering view of a traumatic myth of balance and order than it does with Filipinos afraid of having to, as Nietzsche held, to stare into the abyss because it would stare back. Maybe Filipinos should stare into the historical abyss of martial law more often so that they won’t have any reason to be caught unawares for what might come.


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