Heights Ateneo — The Official Literary and Artistic Publication and Organization of the Ateneo de Manila University
The power of collective memory and truth-telling: Remembering Pugadlawin and the People Power Revolution
Aletha Payawal and Kenzie Sy | Feb 25, 2022
The dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos was marked by the two-decade rule of authoritarianism, corruption, and brutality. From February 22 to 25, 1986, thousands of Filipinos gathered in Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) to clamor for his ouster. Soon after, Marcos and his family were forced to relinquish their power and flee the country. As this day marks the 36th anniversary of the People Power Revolution, HEIGHTS joins in remembering the historical struggle of the country by reclaiming the power of our shared and collective memory in the present.
The beginning of Pugadlawin
A response to the unrest and injustice under the Marcos regime, HEIGHTS changed its name to Pugadlawin in 1970—harking back to one of the beginnings of the Philippine Revolution, when the Katipuneros ripped apart their cédulas as an outcry against the Spanish empire. Pugadlawin stood as an act of solidarity with the radical student activism that characterized the First Quarter Storm and a form of resistance to the tyranny’s media censorship and suppression.
From 1970 to 1972, HEIGHTS continued to publish as Pugadlawin, although it only came out twice before it was stopped with the declaration of Martial Law. The publication contained more essays during those years, such as “The Scientific in the Activist” by Angelito de Dios and “The Challenge of Maoism and the Filipino Christian” by Edicio de la Torre, among others.
However, the publication’s resurrection in October 1974 would be a stark contrast to the Pugadlawin issues. It provided a tamer view that was more oriented towards craft and composition due to the regime’s censorship and successive media blackouts. Throughout the years until the revolution in 1986, HEIGHTS focused on reaffirming its commitment to excellent writing, setting forth the publication as “an instrument of expression of beliefs, opinions, and ideals not just of the people of the Ateneo but also of the common-tao.” With its more formalist approach, however, HEIGHTS received heavy criticism from its members, some of which formed Matanglawin in disagreement. Still, HEIGHTS persisted in using art and literature to engage with social realities through its editorials.
Voices from the People Power Revolution
The People Power Revolution marked another change in HEIGHTS’ history. Well before 1986, the popular movement was already built from the hands of activists who had been organizing and protesting against Marcos. Among these Filipinos were Emmanuel Lacaba, Leonidas Benesa, and Evelio Javier—“the three great men who fought to keep these voices alive even if it meant death.” HEIGHTS pays tribute to Lacaba, Benesa, and Javier in the foreword of the 2nd issue of its 33rd volume published in 1986, the same year as the People Power. This issue was composed of five sections: Voices; Journals; In Memoriam; Other Voices; and Historical Study. The first section, Voices, was inked and brought to life from the voices, cries, and pleas of the Filipinos who were killed, imprisoned, and suffered under the Marcos dictatorship. The same voices “forced [HEIGHTS] not to forget when it was simpler to forget.”
Then-editor An Mercado also wrote that the second issue took a long time to get published, with the election and revolution happening in between the first and second issue. Nonetheless, the issues were a testament to the artists’ and writers’ involvement in the uprising and the construction of the revolution’s memory. HEIGHTS as a publication and organization was “painfully changing and taking form” to “capture the redeeming spirit of the times.” Artists and writers joined the mass movement to fulfill a role beyond the confines of ink and paper, to “continue [their] apostolate of writing” out in the streets together with their countrymen, and to record and remember the revolution through their craft.
The democratic duty to remember
In Pugadlawin’s January-February issue in 1971, Jose Maria “Joma” Sison—founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines—was invited to write what would be the first and last guest editorial, as HEIGHTS stopped publishing for a year after the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Sison wrote:
“Until today, many of our youth and elders are deprived of the memory to remember the national-democratic struggle of our people. They have been made to forget.”
Sison’s statement on the deprivation of collective memory still rings true to this day. Even if he wrote the editorial prior to Martial Law, it still reflected the willful erasure of our collective memory of resistance and revolution against the Marcos regime. We do not simply forget nor fail to remember; there are people who blatantly and deliberately revise history, construct lies, and fabricate stories to deny the truth a space in our shared memory and collective consciousness as a nation. The Marcos family’s return to prominence and power—through Imee Marcos’s seat at the Senate and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s presidential campaign—emerged from such orchestrations. The country has been deprived of the memory to remember the human rights violations and ill-gotten wealth that ensued under the Marcos dictatorship. Many Filipinos have been conditioned to forget the numerous unlawful arrests, tortures, killings, and disappearances during the Martial Law era.
Thus, upholding the truth and remembering history are responsibilities Filipino artists and writers must carry. Currently, the biggest and most outrageous affront to the Filipinos’ collective memory takes form in Bongbong Marcos’s attempt to seek the presidential seat. The democratic duty to remember, to never forget, must not only be carried out on the day of the People Power anniversary—neither does it end on the day of the 2022 national elections. As the Marcos family and their allies continue distorting the dominant discourse in their favor and at the expense of justice, the art and literary community hold a greater responsibility to continuously counter these narratives through the persistence and insistence of the truth. They must represent and institutionalize this collective memory in the tangible forms of visual arts, written works, archives, museums, plays, and the like.
Creative works that acknowledge the atrocities of the Martial Law era and the ensuing revolution do not only serve to remedy the nation of historical amnesia and collective forgetting. The collective storytelling of what can be regarded as a ‘memory movement’ also takes back the power of the people to contest dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in pursuit of democracy. The power of truth-telling lies in its ability to make things come and make things go away; to allow the truth of the past to (re)surface and in the process dispel historical myths and lies. When we proclaim #NeverAgain and refuse to have our memories distorted and taken away, we also resist being robbed of our political imagination. To remember the past is to reckon with our present. Remembering renders us capable of imagining an alternative to what we currently have, a different and better reality where equality, freedom, and justice prevail.
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