When Ferdinand Marcos fell from power through EDSA I, I was all but seven months old. Since there’s no such thing as a politically conscious infant, I only became somewhat conscious of Marcos when I went to school, when the strongman was gone from the seat of power. Everything I know about Marcos from people who actually lived through Martial Law.
For a time, it seemed that Marcos’ legacy will be forever tainted and reviled. Some people truly and genuinely resented Marcos, and that Martial Law was like our Dark Ages. You would have heard of “Marcos stories;” how you would be forced to sing the national anthem in the middle of the street for jaywalking, how “Voltes V” was banned, how troops would patrol the streets after curfew hours. For a time, and to a certain extent, Marcos was the closest equivalent we had to a political Beelzebub; Marcos was as much a caricature as he was a historical figure.
We’re the generation that didn’t have to go through Marcos. The political consciousness of this generation was molded after Marcos. Everything we know about Marcos is secondhand knowledge, lore passed on from the generation before us. We cannot speak of “better times” with reference to Marcos because, as far as this generation is concerned, we weren’t born yet.
EDSA I, for example, is hailed as that one moment where our democratic institutions were restored, but one can’t blame a Marcos loyalist for saying that the whole thing was nothing more than a historical whitewash, or perhaps even a conspiracy. One’s opinion of Marcos, among other things, is a very powerful opinion that can polarize and even galvanize political opinions… at list for this point of history.
I sometimes think that a lot of the problems we have are born out of the intent to “repair the damage caused by Marcos.” It seems that the history of policy over the past two decades meant to rectify the damage caused by two decades of dictatorship. Yet Marcos is part of recent past; many Filipinos still have the preference and the longing for his strong leadership and iron-fisted rule, even at the expense of rights and democracy.
If there’s anything a “buti pa noong panahon ni Marcos” rant can teach us, it’s that the leadership of a nation – especially one that banks on personality politics – can greatly shape one’s idea of what ought to be. Everything wrong said against Marcos is, at least for today, being offset by a feeling that maybe we hadn’t had it all that bad before.
Has history finally absolved Marcos? No; that sense of longing comes with the absence of a substitute or an alternative. Today, the generation that was born during Martial Law, and witnessed every bit of it, is at the peak of its political consciousness and understanding. Marcos becomes the point of comparison: every President, to a person born during Marcos’ time, will always be compared to Marcos.
I rue the day our generation will engage in points of comparison and political nostalgia. “Buti pa noong panahon ni Gloria…” I’ll be damned.