ONE of the major reasons why there is a consistent cycle of poverty and exploitation in the Philippines is due to people's lack of appreciation of how the exploitation has evolved through our history. Bad enough that most Filipinos have a very shallow sense of their country's history.
Philippine history is rewritten even before it is learned. Let's not even venture beyond the last century. Even now, as you read this, we witness the re-run and repackaging of the old tricks and the old scenarios that once had laid the groundwork and the subsequent cover-up for the assassination of former senator Benigno Aquino on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983.
Taken to a ridiculous extreme, that freshly spun yarn suggesting that the mastermind behind the Aquino murder is a close relative of Cory Aquino - the trail may eventually point to former President Aquino as the brains behind her husband's murder. The current attempt to rewrite this important chapter of our contemporary history is not surprising at all. Edsa I and Edsa II have had their fair share of rewriting from the very first hours of these People Power victories. In the same manner, the history that was taught to the generations of the 20th century had been rewritten by Americans to suit their interests. For instance, nowhere in our history books when I was a student did we read about the Balanggiga Massacre that occurred during the Philippine-American war.
With all due respect to the greatness of Rizal, a truly remarkable nationalist, even America's own envoy to the Philippines admitted that the choice of national hero was an American machination. Former ambassador to the Philippines Charles Bohlen (1957) recounts: (William Howard Taft, the Philippine governor in 1901,) quickly decided it would be extremely useful for the Filipinos to have a national hero of their revolution against the Spanish in order to channel their feelings and focus their resentment backward on Spain. But he told his advisers that he wanted it to be someone who really wasn't much of a revolutionary that, if his life was examined too closely or his works read too carefully, this could cause us any trouble. Per Bohlen, Taft chose Rizal as the hero who suited his pacifist model. It is not surprising when a colonizer like the United States of America does these historical manipulations to suit their objectives. George Bernard Shaw very well put it: God is on the side of the big battalions.
Indeed, the winning side gets to write the history of the battle and the war. Writing history is part of the spoils that go to the victors. Thus, we should not fault the US for doing what serves their national interests. But it becomes tragic when local historians allow themselves to be party to these manipulations of our history especially after the country ceased to be a US colony. The conscientious and deliberate Americanization of the Filipino mind was most evident in Philippine history books even in the post-American generation to which I belong.
To mention three examples:
1. The US was still made to appear a benefactor instead of a colonizer who stole a successful revolution from the Filipinos. In fact, from 1946 to the term of President Diosdado Macapagal, Philippine Independence Day was celebrated on July 4 - the date the US formally ceased to hold us as a colony.
2. In the 1945 Battle of Manila, the over 100,000 civilian casualties were attributed more to the Japanese atrocities rather than the non-discriminatory shelling and bombing by the US armed forces which they did to avoid face to face confrontation with the Japanese.
3. Notwithstanding unprecedented economic gains in his time, Elpidio Quirino's term was painted as disastrous. Ramon Magsaysay was projected as the Savior. It was only during the administration of Diosdado Macapagal that we were able to reset the date we commemorate our Independence Day to June 12, to mark the same day in 1898 when Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo installed the revolutionary government following victory over Spain.
It took later historians (Recommended reading: The Battle for Manila by authors Connaughton, Pimlott and Anderson) to correct erroneous claims about the civilian casualties of the 1945 Battle of Manila. Filipinos became sacrificial lambs when Gen. Douglas MacArthur chose to violate the rules of war by razing the city to rubble with cannons and bombs instead of sending troops to secure what was already a sure victory. The risks of war are supposed to be taken by soldiers not civilians.
The Japanese did commit atrocities during the retaking of Manila. But these atrocities, while they make dramatic and blood curdling reading, do not account for the enormous civilian casualty count which made the 1945 Battle of Manila one of the most vicious during the Second World War. The effects of American propaganda on our national psyche has been so deeply entrenched that genuine Filipino nationalists who fostered Philippine national interests were no sooner tagged as Communists or Red sympathizers by no less than fellow Filipinos. Such was the fate of our Claro M. Rectos, Renato Constantinos and Lorenzo Tanadas. To this date, nationalists continue to suffer from the same tagging game especially from writers who are known promoters of US interests. Ever paranoid about communist movements, and fearful that President Elpidio Quirino may not be dealing with the Huk problem as much as they had wanted him to, the US CIA cultivated Ramon Magsaysay, then defense secretary and regarded as America's 'own'. The CIA, represented by Col. Ed Lansdale, bankrolled and promoted his presidency.
While Quirino's well-deserved legacy has been vindicated in later history for his laudable economic achievements, and while Magsaysay himself has earned his own well-deserved place as 'the man of the masses', the whole point of all this is: Why are we Filipinos so easily inclined to bash our own good people?
Having fallen prey many times to the divisive rule of our colonizers, have we not yet realized that we have always been the victim of the 'divide and rule' imperial policy perfected by the Roman Caesars? I have been privileged to participate in the events that led to Edsa I and Edsa II. I know the real score - who really were the 'long marchers' and who were the Johnnies-come-lately. Many who really contributed in a major way to the making of Edsa I and Edsa II were never recognized. Many, who deserved to be in Club Filipino on February 25, 1986 when Cory Aquino was inaugurated, were not even there. Most of those who really brought down the Estrada regime were not even on the stage of the Edsa Shrine when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was inaugurated on January 21, 2001. Shortly after, many of them were even branded enemies of her regime.
Today, we are seeing the attempt to rewrite the Ninoy Aquino murder episode that has shaped Philippine history since 1983. The timing seems well studied. Easily 61% of the population today were either 8 years old or have not yet been born on August 21, 1983. They only have a vague idea of what happened and do not appreciate its impact on current events. Their minds are most fertile for planting the seeds of disinformation because they have no basis for questioning the big lie. The sorry state of compromised Philippine media, which a new PCIJ book superbly documented, makes it quite easy to rewrite history. What is written or passed off as history can be determined by the managed flow of money instead of the accurate narration of historical facts.
Not only that, the divisiveness that our colonial masters sowed still works at optimum performance even among those who write Philippine history. Our historians cannot even agree as to who are the heroes and the villains in our history. History has been subjected to the ideological leanings of the historian. If the historian follows the nationalist fervor of Recto and Constantino, the United States is an exploiter and our militant nationalists are the heroes who are trying to correct the enculturation of counter productive mindsets the colonizer planted in the Philippine psyche.
On the other hand, there are those who can see nothing wrong with the United States and these people will forever see anyone who says anything negative about US intentions, no matter how patently good only for US interests, as a pro-Socialist rabble rouser. We can't get to agree on what really is our history. The task is made more difficult by an oligarchy that has a vested interest in keeping history written to their favor. Hardly do the Filipinos realize that these oligarchs have replaced our former colonizers. Thus, it is not surprising that nobody has really tied-up the current behaviour of our oligarchs to that of the illustrados who stole the Malolos Congress from the real revolutionaries - to the utter disgust of Apolinario Mabini. This chapter of the Malolos Congress has repeated itself in the recent events of Edsa I and Edsa II.
It was People Power which evicted presidents Marcos and Estrada from office but it was not the people who ruled after each eviction. Power went back to the oligarchs and their lackeys who we know as the traditional politicians. The more things changed, the more they remained the same. Our neighbors Malaysia and Thailand have outpaced us. It is not sheer coincidence that the Malaysians and the Thais are people who are reconciled with their history. If we are to get to the future we desire for our next generation, we must learn the lessons of our past. Only then will we realize who we really are, who our enemies from within and without are, and why we are where we are today. We must ensure that what we are taught as history is the real saga of the Filipino people.