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Those Marcos Videos on TikTok are Rooted in Decades of Misinformation

The 'golden age' narrative jumped from books to digital.
by Pia Regalado
Sep 21, 2021
Photo/s: Sen. Imee Marcos/Facebook
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When the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos' only son and namesake trumpeted his achievements to vlogger Toni Gonzaga, his arguments mirrored those that have been made on TikTok, and years before that, Facebook.

Marcos Jr, or Bongbong, is doing the rounds after declaring his intention to run for national office in 2022. The interview with Gonzaga, his wedding godchild, gave him 5.5 million views on YouTube. 

Martial law survivors noted how the Marcos family is using social media to rewrite history -- highlighting what the late strongman's family's claim that their rule was the Philippines' golden age while brushing aside billions of dollars lost to corruption, millions sunk into debt and thousands dead or missing.

"Ginagawa ito ng pamilyang Marcos nang tuloy-tuloy at walang patid, walang maituturing na takdang campaign period," said Ramon Guillermo, a literature professor at UP Diliman, during a lecture to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.

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When did the misinformation start?

As early as 1964, then Senate President Ferdinand Marcos commissioned biographers who would write the best version of himself -- from being a henyo child who taught himself the English alphabet at age 1 to claims of being the most decorated Filipino soldier of World War II -- to establish his superiority, said Roderick Javar, history professor at UP Los Baños.

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The Marcoses had in their arsenal the National Media Production Center, a government agency using public funds to propagate misinformation through books in favor of them. Most of the books Marcos claimed to write were penned by ghostwriters, notably Adrian Cristobal.

An initial analysis of 119 false claims on the Marcoses that fact-check organizations debunked showed that 15% of the lies were traced from pro-Marcos books. The rest were distributed via social media alone, from persons quoted by the media, general claims, and recent events.

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One such example was a claim that under Marcos' rule, the Philippines became the third richest country in the world. It cited TikTok, the Gen Z's choice of social media platform. (Here's an AFP fact-check on this.)

A quick search of "Marcos" on TikTok will show pro-Marcos videos, from those touting the infrastructure built during his time to one claiming that Marcos predicted Manny Pacquiao's boxing victories.

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"Nanganganak nang nanganganak ang mga 'fake news' ng 1963, 1964 at makikita natin ito sa mga 'fake news' sa kasalukuyan sa TikTok, YouTube, Facebook. Pilit na sinasanay ang taumbayan na masanay tayo sa ganitong kasinungalingan," said Javar.

"Bahagi ito ng isang sistematikong hakbang na linisin ang pangalan ni Marcos sa kasaysayan ng bansa at bilang instrumento sa tangkang pagbabalik ng kanyang pamilya sa kapangyarihan."

Guillermo said it wasn't even Marcos Sr. who should be blamed; he's dead. It's those who are alive who are insisting on his legacy.

The late dictator's family tried to return to the Malacanang with the former First Lady Imelda Marcos facing Fidel Ramos and five more candidates in the 1992 presidential elections.

Her son, Bongbong, failed to win a Senate seat on his first try in 1995, succeeding 15 years later in 2010. In 2016, he lost to Robredo for vice president. In 2019, it was his sister Imee who secured a Senate seat. For 2022, Imee said his brother would make a national political comeback, not discounting the presidency.

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When fact-checking is more accessible than ever, why does misinformation on ther Marcoses thrive? For research associate Miguel Reyes, it's because many source materials in the education system are just neutral or, worse, trying to inject the legacy of the Marcoses.

In history books, authors extensively discuss the achievements per administration but keep mum about wrongdoings. It's different in Germany, where children are taught about the Holocaust at school, said Guillermo.

Fact-checkers were also dismissed publicly by the Marcoses. During a Senate hearing in Jan. 2021, Imee said she felt resentful on how Facebook took down several pro-Marcos pages during the 2019 polls, criticizing its choice of fact-checkers Vera Files and Rappler, which she said was overly critical of their family.

These lies spread by the Marcoses “feed their ‘truth’ to whoever will listen almost as soon as they were out of power,” Reyes said in a separate forum.

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This is why context matters, said Dr. Glecy Atienza, Philippine literature professor at UP Diliman.

"Kapag namangha ka na tulad ng sa malalaking infrastructures at mapa-wow ka na, ano na mangyayari sayo? Mai-intimidate ka na. Tatanggapin mo na. Pero 'di natin nakikita na kaninong pera ba ang ginamit diyan? Sino ba makikinabang, sino ba gagamit niyan? Makakatugon ba 'yan sa pangangailangan ng mga tao para magkaron sila ng maayos na buhay?" she said.

How to debunk Marcos 'fake news'

It was Adolf Hitler's chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels whosaid "repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth." For scholars and martial law victims, it's a never-ending storytelling of history to counter the falsehoods perpetuated in favor of the Marcoses.

"The falsehoods still persist today, the threat of 'fake news' and trolls are still very much around, but if you go to the historical basis, makikita natin na talagang 'di bayani si Marcos," history professor Ricardo Jose said.

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In 2018, UP President Danilo Concepcion declared Sept. 21 every year as the UP Day of Remembrance to set the record straight on the dark years of the Marcos regime.

"Nagkaroon ng pagkakataon ang iba na baluktutin ang katotohanan. Hinding-hindi po natin hahayaan ito bilang isang unibersidad at dambana ng dunong at dangal," Concepcion said.

Those interested to join the discussion can register for the Zoom talks from Sept. 21 to 24 here.

Human Rights Violations Victims' Memorial Commission, created for reparation and recognition of martial law victims, is also holding a webinar series "Essential Truths on the martial law Years" with topics ranging from historical revisionism, economy under martial law, human rights violations, and corruption.

Those who want to join its virtual event from Sept. 21 to 24 can register for Zoom discussions here.

"Dapat maging mapanuri tayo, maging kritikal sa mga kuwento na manipulado na, retokado pa," said Javar.

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