‘Protect the truth’: Marcos’ return to the Philippines scares history

MANILA, May 27 (Reuters) – Books about late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his brutal era of martial law are flying off the shelves, spurred by “panic buying” after his son and namesake won the election presidential election on May 9.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s presidency, which is due to begin June 30, has many worried about losing access to books and other accounts of his father’s reign, given his family’s decades-long effort to rehabilitate his name through what critics describe as a campaign of historical revisionism.

“They buy in panic,” Alexine Parreno said of her customers, many of them parents buying books on martial law for children.

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“They are really worried and scared that the books will be taken out and everything will be reviewed.”

One of the customers was Faith Alcazaren, a mother of two, who collected bundles of extra books to send to friends abroad.

“I felt like the smallest thing I could do and control was to protect the truth,” she said.

Thousands of opponents of the elder Marcos were imprisoned, killed or disappeared during martial law, from 1972 to 1981, when the surname became synonymous with cronyism and extravagance as billions of dollars in wealth of the state have disappeared.

Young Marcos has called for a review of the textbooks that cover his father’s reign, saying they teach children lies.

His choice as education minister, Vice President-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of incumbent strongman Rodrigo Duterte, has raised fears that the Marcos family may finally succeed in entrenching their sanitized version of history.

“We already thought that textbooks and the teaching of history in basic education were woefully insufficient to explain to our young people and our children what the period of martial law meant,” said Ramon Guillermo, professor at the University of the Philippines.

“If the Marcos come back to power and Dutertes supports them, we might even have a more difficult situation to teach what really happened,” Guillermo said.


Guillermo, along with a group of fellow academics, launched a manifesto last week pledging to fight attempts to tamper with history to fit Marcos’ narrative and to oppose all censorship and book bans. .

The manifesto, signed by 1,700 people, came after a government task force branded a children’s book publisher selling five titles about martial law and dictatorship as communist which it called “#NeverAgain Book Bundle”.

“Never again!” was the battle cry of millions of protesters who joined the historic ‘people power’ revolution that toppled the 20-year-old dictatorship in 1986, when Marcos senior and his notoriously extravagant wife, Imelda, fled with their children into exile in Hawaii.

“History can’t be bought, but books about history can be bought,” said one book buyer on Instagram.

“We will continue to fight historical revisionism.”

Marcos and Duterte-Carpio did not respond to requests for comment. In a 2020 media forum, Marcos dismissed accusations that his family was trying to rewrite history.

“Who does revisionism? They put it in the books, the children’s textbooks that the Marcos stole that, we did that…what they said about what we stole, what we did, it’s not all true.”

Years of investigation and legal proceedings followed the rule of the elder Marcos. The Presidential Commission on Good Government created in 1986 has clawed back about $5 billion of Marcos’ fortune, said its chairman, John A. Agbayani. Another $2.4 billion is still caught up in litigation, he said.


Young Marcos fought the election with the slogan “Together we will rise again”, invoking nostalgia for his father’s reign, which his family and supporters have described as a golden age.

His campaign has gone through what scholars have called a “tsunami of misinformation” with social media awash with stories downplaying rights abuses and corruption under his father.

On the day it became clear that Marcos had won, a book published in 1976 that details corruption and abuse under Marcos’ rule sold 300 copies, its publisher said.

More than a week later, 500 copies of the book, “The Marital Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos”, were sold less than an hour after it went online.

“I wanted to make sure that inside our house I can keep a version of the martial law era that hasn’t been tampered with by their hands,” said student Jose Anonat, who got the book.

In an indication of the kind of rewriting of history Marcos supporters want, Juan Ponce Enrile, the late dictator’s defense minister, said in a chat with the younger Marcos that appeared on YouTube in 2018, that no one was arrested for political reasons and religious opinions, or for criticizing the elder Marcos.

The clip has been viewed over 1.5 million times.

There have also been attempts to remove the terms “dictator” and “kleptocrat” describing the elder Marcos from Wikipedia, said Carlos Nazareno of the Wiki Society of the Philippines, which is part of a movement against misinformation.

Carmelo Crisanto, who runs an agency memorializing victims of martial law, is scanning documents related to 11,103 survivors who won reparations from seized Marcos family wealth. He hopes the database will be online by September, in time for the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.

“These archives will be alive,” Crisanto said. “They will never be deleted.”

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Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Robert Birsel

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