REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST

May 5, 2022 – 5:37 pm

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“No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is,” said Uruguayan scholar and journalist Eduardo Galeano. The Philippines General Election is on May 9, 2022. Will the Marcoses be brought back to power? Filmmaker and cultural critic Ram Botero reflects on her nation.

A few days ago, a friend suggested I’d be an interesting subject for a documentary because I remember everything. An exaggeration, of course, but I do try to remember as much as I can. Equally, I try to make my recollection as truthful - free from my own embellishments - as possible.

Chinua Achebe writes that memory is an affirming god, a transcended guide in the ritual of continuity. But when spurned, when repressed, memory becomes a trickster imp and seduces the wayfarer to the precipice and beyond.

Nine years ago, we visited our grandmother’s older sister in Antique. She was in her 90s and blind, preferring to stay in her clean little house, which was dark but quiet. We introduced ourselves as the grandchildren of Marie, her younger sister who moved to and got married in Davao.

She replied in a commanding tone and a quivering voice: “I do not have retention in my brain.” Her neices, our aunts, who lived close to her said she doesn’t remember so much anymore. She only recognizes Malou, her daughter’s daughter who takes care of her. You’ll eventually stop remembering, they said, it comes with age.

I read Milan Kundera that same year, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. He said, the struggle of man against power is like the memory’s struggle against forgetting. So I made a conscious decision to remember as much as I can.

To revive the oldest memories I have, no matter how mundane, and to let them become beacons to signal other memories. And, for as long as those memories remain unchanged and closely resemble what I know to be accurate, I can be confident in my own recollections.

One of these memories is when I was three years old, gazing at myself in the mirror after spreading gold dust on my chest that I found on my mother’s little orange plastic tray, with a little orange plastic bow. We were living in my grandfather’s house, in my mother’s old bedroom.

I was very pleased with my reflection. I was wearing my favourite black kamesa de chino; I was glittering like a pixie and, in the background, was the wooden walls painted blue, a black-and-white poster of Farrah Fawcett in a bikini, and a poster of a mustachioed cowboy saying, “You’re the boss”.

Another such memory is when I was in kindergarten; Ate Glo, my mother’s second cousin who was also staying at my grandfather’s, took me to school that afternoon. We arrived just when the rain started to pour. My teacher ma’am Templanza, the kindest I ever had, ran down the steps and grabbed my other hand while Ate Glo held the other. When we got to the highest step, close to our classroom door, I leapt with joy that I wasn’t drenched in the cold rain. I swung between the two women. I felt safe.

Memory has been an area of interest in the fields of sociology, history, psychology, and anthropology, specifically collective memory, the shared memories of a social group significant to the group’s identity. One form of collective memory is national memory.

Thirty six years ago, ex-President Ferdinand Marcos was driven out of the country and out of power by the will of the masses. We celebrate it today as the EDSA Revolution, the People Power revolution. It installed Cory Aquino, the widow of the Marcos critic Ninoy Aquino, to the presidency.

This has been the historical memory enshrined in our textbooks in primary school, Sibika at Kultura. Nobody challenged that truth until recently, with the Marcoses, heirs of the fallen dictator, worming their way back to the palace. The futulity of upholding the memory of EDSA and the deposition of the dictator is not because they are not true, but because they have been appropriated to serve a political interest and marketed by the culture industry to serve the hegemony.

Thirty six years ago, ex-President Ferdinand Marcos was driven out of the country and out of power by the will of the masses. We celebrate it today as the EDSA Revolution, the People Power revolution.

Memory and truth can be tricky; they are subjective. Collective memory can compete with individual memory and dominant collective memory with other collective memories. Memory can be augmented and emotionalised to reshape nationalmemory. Propagandists of the current President Rodrigo Duterte like Mocha Uson dismissed the marching of nuns in EDSA to confront the military with their guns and war tanks as dramatic (Ed: Click here.)

It erodes our objective analysis of our country’s past. The social movements and people’s war that rose during the dictatorship, years before EDSA, are seldom discussed and, worse, even seen as an inconvenience. This includes the boycotting of banks and crony businesses of the Marcoses that effectively crippled the dictatorship and its enablers.

Perhaps this is to not remind the people of the true power of EDSA, beyond Cory and Ninoy, and that, with the collective will of the people, we can decide our nation’s destiny. To prevent the appropriation of history by the hegemony, it is imperative that we understand it objectively.

History must be viewed in a sociological manner. At the same time, we must interrogate our personal truths and individual memories, especially those that were handed to us. In my mother’s recollection, when Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972, the day was nothing out of the ordinary, except that her classmates joked girls won’t be allowed to wear micro mini skirts anymore.

She was in college, taking up nursing in the city. She had an inkling of the political unrest; a cousin of hers was involved politically and had been a community organiser as long as she could remember. In the province, in her hometown, her sister has a different memory.

Militarisation had intensified, and paramilitary groups were swarming the countryside; they rounded up activists, members of the church, and anyone who dared to speak against Marcos. There were neighbors and peers of my grandmother from church who were abducted, incarcerated, and tortured.

My aunt remembers they hid under the sofa in their sari-sari store [convenience store] from the crossfire between the paramilitary and the revolutionary groups. She remembers how a hole was secretly dug in their backyard and how my grandmother supervised the burying of what were considered subversive documents then, without her husband’s knowledge.

As we commemorate the memory of EDSA, we cannot do so without acknowledging the looming election and the project of the Marcoses to assert their version of history. In our efforts to combat them, we must put ourselves to task: will we confront their machinations by asserting our own narrative of history in a competition of which history shall prevail, or will we endeavor to truly understand history in all its complexities in order to preserve facts alongside the multitude of memories.

History, according to Gramsci, has deposited in us an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory. Edward Said calls this the most interesting human task, the task of interpretation. It’s a task of giving history some sense and shape.

For a particular reason, not just to say my history is better than yours, my history is worse than yours, or I am the victim and you are the oppressor. But rather to understand my history in relation to others. To move beyond generalisation.

The great goal is to become someone else. To transform itself from a unique identity to an identity that recognises and includes the other without suppressing the differences. That is the ultimate goal of writing the inventory, not only understanding oneself but understanding oneself in relation to others as you would understand yourself.

At the same time, we must include in the discourse the connection between memory, forgetfulness, identity, and national imagination. To not see forgetfulness as an individual flaw, but rather as the establishment’s ongoing project to keep the masses poor, thereby hindering their remembrance.

These days, I often hear the question, did EDSA fail? No. EDSA is an important moment in our history, a beacon that will signal future social movements. Some may forget but the words of the Uruguayan scholar and journalist Eduardo Galeano is a salve to this malady: “No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.”

Note: Ram Botero is an artist, feminist, and cultural worker from Davao City, Philippines. She wrote and directed her debut short film, Pamalugu (In Limbo), which won Jury Prize for the Ngilngig Asian Fantastic Film Festival Davao (2019) and Pluma delas Rosas of Festival de Cine Paz Zamboanga (2019). The film also had an international screening at Fukuoka Independent Film Festival in Japan (2021).

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  1. One Response to “REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST”

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