Never Forget vs Move On: What Filipinos Remember Will Decide 2022 Elections

What happens when voters "misremember" the past?
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Physician Erlinda Senturias has never forgotten the time she treated activists who were injured in an anti-Marcos rally in the 1980s, also witnessing first hand how dissent was met with violence. She simply can't move on as the resurgent family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos repeatedly tells their foes.

Senturias is among martial law survivors who sought the disqualification of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. from the 2022 presidential elections. With the prospect of another President Marcos, she hopes that Filipinos, like her, would not move on as easily.

Mahirap mag-move on kung hindi naa-address yung iba pang aspeto ng transitional justice,” said Senturias, a former member of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.

Maraming nalalapastangang karapatang pantao kasi hindi natin hinahalukay nang husto kung ano yung nangyari noong panahon ni Marcos,” she added.

In her most recent comment on her father's regime, eldest daughter Sen. Imee Marcos said martial law was “one million years ago.” Instead of the dwelling on the past, she urged the public to focus on the country’s present problems. Their supporters also say that the sins of the father should not be blamed on the son.

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As the 2022 race heats up, Filipinos will have to scrutinize the background and past actions of their candidates. It’s a responsibility that every voter should take seriously, as the deeds, or misdeeds, of politicians will reflect on their leadership if they win, an analyst said.

“What politicians did, what they have offered to us in the past are likely the exact ones that they will deliver when they get elected for office,” sociologist Athena Charanne Presto told reportr.

“If you want to change your life, and if we want to bring justice to people who were victimized by politicians, then you should make sure that you remember the things that happened in the past,” she added.

#NeverForget requires reflection

In life, correcting one’s mistakes requires looking back to the past to where things went wrong. The case is the same for the elections, where voters need to assess the past actions of candidates to help them rethink how they voted in previous polls, Presto said.

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“We always say in the Philippines that we are not developing as a country. So if we have that longstanding and generally felt sentiment, then why would we vote the same as we have been voting in the past?” she said.

Kung walang pag-unlad yung buhay mo noong nakaraan, tapos boboto ka ng same way as before, walang mangyayari,” she added.

Recognizing the misconduct of politicians in the past and demanding accountability from them is one way to seek justice for those whom they have wronged, even if these took place years or even decades ago, Presto said.

“You don't forget so that we can still fight for justice especially for people who were victimized by administrations that corrupted government funds and violated human rights,” she said.

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Then there's 'misremembering'

For Presto, there are a number of factors that contribute to how some people remember things. If your friend or relative has a different perception of the Marcos regime, that’s probably because he or she was made to remember it that way, according to Presto.

“In the Philippines, it is safe to say that a lot of things drive us to think a certain way. These things include the proliferation of fake news, the rising accessibility of online platforms that do not have fact-finding features, and also continued manipulation of people in power,” she said.

“The issue here is not just historical forgetting, but also problematic historical remembering. We do remember certain events in our history, it's just that we remember them in problematic ways,” she said.

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For instance, some people, especially those from the Ilocos region, still remember the late dictator Marcos as a bright lawyer, the president who supposedly brought the Philippines to its golden era, Presto said.

“But what people forget is that brilliance was exercised in a way as to fool Filipino people and pocket billions of dollars of money,” she said.

“Kasi kung nakalimutan na natin ang mga Marcoses, bakit ang lakas pa rin ng dating ng apelyido nila? Kasi we misremember their regime,” she added.

So what happens when this “misremembering” continues through the 2022 elections? “We don’t just repeat what happened in the past, but we will experience way worse times,” Presto said.

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How then can people move on?

To ensure that the stories of martial law victims remain in the public consciousness and the past wrongdoings of politicians are never forgotten, people should keep conversations about them going, Presto said.

“Moving on does not mean that we have to disengage from all these conversations. Moving on means facing these conversations head on,” she said.

When you encounter someone who may have different way of remembering the past, or may have contrasting opinion, engage with them and ask where they got their information, Presto said.

“If you just tell me that your opinion is coming from this site, this fake news that you saw online, then that means your opinion needs to be reevaluated,” she added.

It’s also helpful to talk to the victims themselves. This will help you reconstruct your own memories of the past, even if your weren’t born yet during those times, Presto said.

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Sinasabi ng mga tao, bata ka pa, wala kang alam sa mga nangyari sa martial law. But no, you're wrong. My present reality ay lubog pa rin ang Pilipinas, ang lala ng korapsyon and I trace that directly to the time of the Marcoses,” she said.

“It's just an active act of reconstructing and reevaluating the historical events that pervade our lives up until now,” she added.

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