Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The title of the Lauren Greenfield's Imelda Marcos-centric documentary “The Kingmaker” (Lauren Greenfield, 2019) was worrying for some people — is it really okay to bestow such a legal and powerful label to a person who has been found guilty of seven counts of graft and still clings to the vestiges of her family’s former power? The film’s poster featured Imelda Marcos in a gilded frame, all regal amid a background of one of the poor areas in the city. There’s an accompanying pullquote that read “Perception is real, and the truth is not.” Will this just be another mouthpiece for Imelda Marcos to revise history?
“The Kingmaker” treads murky waters. It tries to elicit a little compassion for the Marcoses (Imelda as a loving mother who sacrificed everything for her family, Bongbong as a dutiful son who wants to restore the family’s former ‘glory’). At the same time, it paints how dire the situation is in the Philippines, using the Marcos vanity project in Calauit Island and its remaining animals (some sickly giraffes and zebras) as a parallel picture to the inbreeding that’s happening in Philippine politics.
Whether you’re confused, angry, or dumbfounded after watching the film (which is nominated for Best Documentary at the Writer’s Guild Awards), here’s a list of articles we’ve published from the past to contextualize the extent of the effects of the martial law era and what we can still do to tell the stories of the victims and survivors.
The bare essentials that can get you started in your re-education. This is by no means an exhaustive and encompassing guide but rather a jumping-off point.
When it comes to martial law in 1972, the collective memory, it seems, has not decided on what narrative it should believe. As the nation remembers Proclamation 1081 — which was pronounced on Sept. 23 but predated to Sept. 21 — two main narratives emerge in present day: one that, despite proof to the contrary, remembers Marcos’ dictatorship as a glorious era of discipline and prosperity, and another that remembers it as a time of struggle, repression, and widespread corruption.
For Zeny Mique, the divergence of narratives is not new. “’Yung mga Marcos loyalist, dati nang andyan ‘yan. Mas naging visible lang sila ngayon noong nagsimula si President Duterte, kung saan kaalyado niya ‘yung mga Marcoses, at dito parang lumakas loob ulit ng mga Marcos loyalists,” she says.
“’Yun yung tingin ko na nagpalala ng divide; ‘yung nakaupong administrasyon ngayon ay kaibigan ng mga Marcos,” Mique adds.
Primitivo Mijares was tasked with a difficult job: to tell the glorious, swashbuckling narrative of Ferdinand Marcos.
As the “media czar” of an era of no free press and no free speech, Mijares was, plainly and simply, a propagandist. But he did not buy his own story, the one he had been trusted to tell.
So he told what he knew to be true: that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had a conjugal dictatorship, and were robbing the people of their money. Mijares wrote what he had known from his time as a trusted aide of the regime in “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos,” which was published, after quite a hurdle, in 1976. A price was paid for it: two lives. The author and his son Boyet joined the growing list of desaparecidos — the disappeared.
In an excerpt of the interview, Imelda Marcos recounts a near-mutiny among the staff in Hawaii. To appease the staff, she claims that Marcos gave a quick speech where he invoked his namesake Ferdinand Magellan and their exile to the circumnavigation of the globe. In her recollection, Magellan likened his men and himself to gods, and Marcos supposedly recited this passage to them.
Here is how the conversation that follows reads:
PLAYBOY: “You think of yourselves as gods, then?”
IMELDA: “Yes, because we are on a divine mission.”
PLAYBOY: “Which is?”
IMELDA: “To return to the Philippines to reclaim our destiny.”
FERDINAND: “We are part of the achievement of being a god. That is what we are about now. An ordinary mortal would not be able to stand it. All of our statements now have to prove that we have not gone back to being ordinary mortals.”
IMELDA: “And even if we fail —”
FERDINAND: “We’ll fall as martyrs for the cause; we’ll fall with honor.”
As soon as former Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Etta Rosales, wearing a raincoat on stage, acknowledged it — “Ang langit po ay kasama natin ngayon; siya ay lumuluha tulad natin, sapagkat ayaw niya na ilibing si Marcos sa Libingan ng mga Bayani!” — the rain, as if in agreement, poured in torrents, as the sound of simultaneously blooming umbrellas momentarily cut through Rosales’ fiery speech. Rosales, among those tortured during Martial Law, soldiered on. “Wala namang korte na lalaban para sa amin,” she said. “Pero isa lang ako sa libu-libong napakarami, doon sa Davao, si Karen…ano nga ba ang pangalan niya? Teka muna, basang-basa na ang aking papel!”— a light moment where the audience laughed — “Si Karen, isang batang aktibista, pinaslang ng mga sundalo sa Davao mismo.”
There are thousands more like Rosales and Karen. Rosales stated that there are 75,700 claimants tortured, killed, and kidnapped by the dictator, all of whom should be evidence enough that he was not a hero worthy of interment at the Libingan. Seventy-one-year-old Hilda Narciso is one of the 75,700. She stood at the back of the crowd, her silver hair held tight in a bun, her smile radiating a bit of warmth amid the chill brought by the habagat.
Before the program started, Narciso had been interviewed by two journalists, supposedly from Finland. They asked her why Marcos is not a hero. She contemplated for a while on her answers. “Infrastructures lang ang nakikita ng millennials, ‘di nila nakikita ang context…pero ang ‘di ko nasabi doon [in the interview with the Finnish journalists], tignan din nila kung bakit may Human Rights Commission, kung bakit na-itayo iyon. At kung bakit merong PCGG.”
Since its declaration in 1972, martial law has always carried with it two opposing narratives — one perpetrated by Marcos propaganda that depicted martial law as the herald of a New Society that will bring about 'change' and 'progress,' and the other, which displayed the various human rights violations, evidenced by curtailed freedom of speech and accounts of individuals who were tortured, jailed, and/or killed.
The opposing narratives are what the newly launched online portal, Martial Law Museum, seeks to address. Spearheaded by the Ateneo de Manila University, the platform is a community response to reclaim national memory and promote engaged citizenship; a resource with a mission to reveal extensive information gathered of the 14-year dictatorial rule in order to educate the public of the truth.
"Like it or not, this dichotomy is out there in the public arena and to deny its existence is to fool ourselves into a state of mindless oblivion or deliberate forgetfulness," says historian Maria Sereno Diokno, during her keynote speech at the launch of the online museum.
The easiest way to comment about Martial Law, and Philippine history classes about Martial Law, is to describe the terrible legacy of the former, and the tepid quality of the latter. It has been three decades since the EDSA Revolution, but the tragedy is that a generation of young Filipinos remains largely ignorant of the narrative of Martial Law. These were only children during, or born after that period, and sheltered by parents who would rather not discuss what they had endured for so long.
An even greater tragedy, however, is that there are many older Filipinos who experienced Martial Law as adults and continue to support the memory of Ferdinand Marcos today. Within this category are Filipinos who either honestly do not know the extent of the excesses of the dictatorship, or even benefited from Marcos’ rule, and describe the period as the so-called Golden Era of Philippine history.
When we use the word “education,” we are referring not just to what is taught in the classroom, through our textbooks and our teachers. For most of the period after EDSA, the narrative transmitted throughout elementary and secondary school was a watered-down version of Martial Law. Abuses by the military and paramilitary units, and the plunder committed by the Marcos family and their cronies, were routinely downplayed, while emphasizing the positive accomplishments of the regime, as if it were a balance sheet.
“We never spent government funds for our personal purposes. If we did, we replaced them immediately. I have committed many sins in my life. But stealing money from the government, from the people, is not one of them.”
Ferdinand Marcos said this in 1986, in reply to ABC’s “Nightline” correspondent Ted Koppel, who had at one point in the interview asked about his wife’s extravagance.
Stealing was in fact one of the sins he would be charged of fast. The Presidential Commission on Good Governance, tasked to recover the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, has estimated it between US$5 to 10 billion.
Koppel also mentioned how critics slammed the first lady’s supposed 3,000 shoes, which Marcos quickly disputed saying, “Where did the money come from? It came from our private funds. Did they prove that it came from public funds? Did they prove that this was the reason why the people don’t have any money?”
It was Imelda’s duty to not just be a housewife but to represent Filipinos, he added. And Imelda, for her part, would stick to this same script.