Martial law books flying off the shelves

BOOKS about the 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 May 9 presidential election.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr’s presidency, which is due to begin on June 30, has many people 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.

“It’s panic buying,” Alexine Parreno said of her customers, who buy books about martial law for children.

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

One customer 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 is 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, 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 other scholars, 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 history books can be bought,” said one book buyer.

“We will continue to fight historical revisionism.”

In a 2020 media forum, Marcos dismissed accusations that his family was trying to rewrite history.

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

Years of investigation and legal proceedings followed the senior Marcos’ reign. 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 US$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 abuse 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 have been 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. —Reuters

Nancy I. Romero