The Philippines held its national election last May 9th and while election coverage has died down a week later, there are a few alarming revelations.
Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte won about 39% of the country’s votes for president; hailed as ‘The Punisher’ by the Time magazine, the mayor of Davao (a city in the Southern part of the country) is known for his vigilante-style crime-fighting tactics. Prior to election day, he also made headlines after a video of him surfaced wherein he was recorded making a rape joke.
He is a complex character, but also a product of the country’s semi-feudal and semi-colonial society. His candidacy seemed ludicrous at times, but perhaps not as unbelievable as that of Bongbong Marcos, who was running for vice president.
Marcos has garnered 34.6% of votes for VP, a close number to Leni Robredo’s 35.1% with 96.13% of precincts reporting. The margin between the two candidates is small. In a country that has been riddled with election fraud in the past times, it is shocking to see Marcos’s rise in this election cycle.
Perhaps, a quick history lesson is needed: Marcos is the son of the former Philippine president and ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. who subjected the country to martial law from 1972-1986. Marcos, Sr. was ousted in 1986, following the People Power Revolution (also known as the EDSA Revolution). During his reign, human rights violations became the norm and the country’s economy collapsed.
It is also during the Marcos reign that the Philippine economy tanked, rendering itself a slave to neoliberal free market policies. Ibon Foundation states that Marcos’s rule was not just for personal political survival but for the restructuring of Philippine economy to foreign monopoly capital.
The Marcos regime implemented the neoliberal economic policies demanded by the US-dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank in exchange for a share in the foreign loans and comprador business opportunities.
Marcos and his cronies were allowed to directly control and profit from large portions of the national economy – sugar, coconut, bananas, tobacco, logging, mining, telecommunications, banking, construction, vehicle assembly, energy, shipping, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, gambling, and others.
I was born a year after Marcos was ousted. I learned about his dictatorship in school, and my naive mind questioned why his family couldn’t just return everything they stole from the Filipino people. In my young mind — without the knowledge that I have now — I believed that his reign was a dark time in the country’s history.
Which brings me to bigger questions: how has his son managed to garner 34.6% of the votes? What was in the minds of 13,803,444 Filipinos as they shaded the box corresponding to Bongbong Marcos’s name?
As I scroll through my Twitter feed, hear of support for the Marcoses from colleagues at work and read about his VP campaign, I feel a crippling sense of fear. I came across a petition on Change.org calling for the Dept. of Education to rewrite Philippine history books and include the full story of the martial law era.
I also came across a working list of Martial Law literature on Facebook, believing that literature is one way of preserving the necessity of memory, a lesson I gleaned from the writer Viet Thanh Nguyen.
After looking at the list, I went to the Filipino American Center at the San Francisco Public Library to find books that talked about martial law. I came across a few titles, some poems and passages of remembrance, of indignation.
The History of the Burgis by Mariel N. Francisco and Fe Maria C. Arriola is a history pseudo-comic book focused on understanding the bourgeoisie in the country, how they came into power and what can possibly be done to transcend their class status for the general good. It was published right after the People Power Revolution and dedicates a whole chapter to Marcos and his dictatorship.
It features stories like “Yes, We Have No More Bananas” which talks about transnational companies monopolizing crops like bananas and pineapples, with the Filipino farmer unable to afford what he planted with his own hands. It also paints a true picture of the country’s economic and political state under Marcos:
Another book I came across was R. Zamora Linmark‘s book:
Rolling the R’s is a novel that is “throwing new light on gay identity and the trauma of assimilation.” I’ve never read the book although I’ve heard a lot about it. I scanned the pages and came across a poem that befits the lesson I was looking for:
Memory is a mosaic of tongues licking dirt, of lies
embroidered to protect the King of Marital Law.
He was born. He is risen. He will kill again. And his
kingdom will have no end.
Memory is a 1972 machine gun fired one Sunday morn-
ing. Four bodies on the edge of a road. An act of sus-
This is a cup of his blood, the new and everlasting
Memory is a woman who howls wolf past curfew. Late
night dinner parties and spilled champagne.
She drinks it so that his sins may be forgiven.
Memory is a spinning bottle, a top with no base, a mad
pack of white dogs eating brown tails, brown dogs eating
She breaks bread, gives it to his disciples, and says, Eat
this in memory of us.
Memory is an archipelago of closed-view coffins, eaten
calmly like sugared fingers of bread.
Lastly, I saw a title by Prof. Joi Barrios, a Filipino poet and activist who currently teaches at UC Berkeley. She has written poems and composed songs for GABRIELA, of which I am a part of.
Bulaklak sa Tubig: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig at Himagsik (Flowers in Water: Poems on Love and Revolt) is a wonderful collection of poems, of which most are dedicated to and inspired by the struggles of Filipinos and issues facing the country.
I landed on a poem dedicated to the student victims during martial law and the Marcos dictatorship, as well as to the students of Kwang-Ju Massacre in Korea:
Babang Luksa: To Shed the Black Cloth
In my country,
we wear black
a calendar year
to mourn the dead.
So we call the day when
we shed the black cloth,
the day we let go, and turn
But how does a nation entire
move to quit grief?
How do we forget those slain in cold blood,
slain in the fight for power,
slain in the fear of
How long must we mourn
our youngest children
struck down in struggle?
Who long can we refer
that it was not our hearts
pierced by bayonet,
torn open by bullet?
How long must we remember
what it means to remain?
When does ache ease
into memory of
the plucked and stamped out lives of youth?
You ask now:
Just how long will black cloth swath us?
Our love for the lost
is umbilical cord
that binds eternal,
we honor their memory
from the depths of our wombs,
as we become their mothers,
their forebears in the struggle.
Here we vow truly,
that only on the day of justice
will we shed the black cloth.
Only hustisya will call forth
As I looked at the shelves around me, I held the power of literature in reverence. I believe in its capacity to transpose the gravity and significance of the Philippines’s history, so that Filipinos, specially millennials, can say Never Again with conviction to any entity that seeks to undermine our sovereignty.
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.