Commanding celebrations and the memories of dictatorship

Today, September 11, 2020, is the beginning of what could be an annual celebration in Ilocos: this is the declaration of the late dictator’s birthday as an official holiday. Through sheer political will on the part of them who believe the dictator was not an evil person, or that the regime of the late President Marcos qualified under the suspect label, benevolent dictatorship, a memory of martial law is burnished.

Histories have always memorialized periods of infamy. There is the celebration of Magellan, which is neither here nor there. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines would want us to believe that what was then a cluster of islands in the 16th century was part of the “scientific endeavor” embedded in the circumnavigation of the world. As my good friend, Kerwin Tate would say, “this is quite a stretch.” Then come some details about how the battle between Magellan’s forces and Lapu-lapu must be subsumed under the monumental chapter, “the Victory in Mactan.”

If, indeed, we were victorious in that battle, how come the Spanish colonizers came back with such a cinematic triumph and occupied our island, our country and our consciousness for hundreds of years, killing those who protested, hanging the wise ones who sought enlightenment, and executing the influencers, like Jose Rizal.

Who celebrates colonization?

Well, who celebrates the dictator?

Marcos was wise. He may have declared Martial Law and hauled into prison his critics, but he was not sure about the loyalty of the people. He was certain about their fears. He was confident, in fact, that the opposition, vociferous then, could always be shackled, suckled and, finally, rendered submissive to all his wishes.

Three years after the declaration of Martial Law, he issued Proclamation 1490, series of 1975, and signed on August 26, 1975. This document declared September 11, 1975, as “Araw ng Mga Barangay sa Pilipinas” (literally, The Day of the Barangay in the Philippines).

It was not, as the document clearly states, an imposition: WHEREAS, the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Barangay has requested that September 11 be set aside to commemorate the institution of barangays in the Philippines;

With the proclamation, the “barrios” were replaced with the “barangay”: WHEREAS, Barangays today are the basic political units of our country and were primarily established to constitute the base for citizen participation in governmental affairs and their collective views considered in the shaping of national policies and programs;

Where before barrios were labels of backwardness and decay, or, romanticized as pristine wellspring of ancient ideals and values, in the dictator’s proclamation, the barrio-turned-barangay was seen as having “ably demonstrated their capacities to act as effective agents of reforms and as vital forces in the political, economic, social and cultural development of the nation…”

The day was set aside as “a day for our citizens to dedicate themselves to the ideals and objectives of our Barangays…” and for us to “look up to our Barangays to provide leadership and example…”

The proclamation did not stop there. In a move that, for a while, convinced the people Marcos was bent on changing the old to a new society, he closed the proclamation with this command: NOW, THEREFORE, I, FERDINAND E. MARCOS, President of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by law, do hereby declare September 11, 1975, and every year thereafter, as “Araw ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas,” and enjoin all our countrymen to commemorate this significant event with a fitting civic activity in observance thereof to be led by the Barangay leaders. I further require that all government officials and employees should report to their respective Barangays and, on this date, pledge themselves to render civic action work within their communities on an appropriate date to be set by their Barangay chairman, to serve as inspirational example to their countrymen.

This was the beginning of a program where government employees went back to their hometowns or barangays to bring to the “people” the programs of the government. This went on for a long time until the participation of these employees became a paid vacation leave and their activities turned into token presence.

Overnight, the barrio captain became a significant person in the politics of the land. He was asked to sign important documents that were too complex for his untrained mind. The barangay captain was much sought after. One of the odd requirements of the government then was that before a student could graduate, he should have planted at least 10 trees. The same number of trees were required of students who were leaving abroad for studies. It did not matter where you planted them; the barangay captain did not need to inspect your “plantation.” You merely needed his signature.

Some of the barangay captains then were illiterate.

For those with romance and history in their eyes, the notion and reality of barrios—or villages—being renamed “barangays” was an overnight inspiration to dream of a land set free from the colonizer’s imagination. It was just a change in name just like the claim to New Society, or, later, those flamboyant parades called “Kasaysayan ng Lahi” (lit. History of the Race), an idea, which Imelda was supposed to have developed after attending in 1971 the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. There were also those fashion shows that pretended to be cultural pageantry, and were dubbed “Bagong Anyo” (New Image) and were shown only in Manila.

If ever the dictatorship was good with form but not with content.

As regards the Araw ng Mga Barangay, it fell, take note, on the birthday of Marcos—September 11. With the proclamation, the dictator once more tricked the nation into celebrating his person, as the present generation is being tricked by a region into forgetting his dictatorship and lies.       


Image credits: Jimbo Albano


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