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Holding on to history's pages with Project Gunita

By Michael Roy Brosas Published Sep 22, 2023 5:00 am

History was a school subject I wasn't very fond of. I was never really good at recalling names, places and events. Like most important things, I regrettably only found appreciation for it as I started to age.

I believe how history is introduced to us plays a factor in this apathy. Events were presented to us as distant things that happened in the past and were rarely taught to provide context for how things are in the present. It's seldom that history lessons would go beyond the words in our textbooks or items on our curriculum.

When I learned about Martial Law, I never truly understood the weight of its horrors. I knew it happened, from its declaration to its downfall, but I didn't fully comprehend the profound implications of its abuses and trauma. How do years of corruption, violence, and injustice shape a country and its people?

“Growing up, we know na not a lot is being taught about martial law history sa Philippines. It’s something the older generations are responsible for and that’s disappointing,” Atty. Josiah David Quising of Project Gunita tells Young STAR.

Project Gunita emphasizes how putting ourselves in other people’s shoes allows us to value human lives.

Project Gunita, an academic research organization focused on our martial law history, began operating right after the landslide win of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., namesake and son of the former dictator. Complementing the efforts of other organizations and individuals who are archiving historical records, they started digitizing books, news, fact-finding reports, and other materials on martial law.

However, considering how alarming and rampant disinformation and historical denialism are here, Project Gunita believes that "we need to do more than just scanning documents and making it public," Atty. Quising says.

Beyond their archives, Project Gunita has hosted history fairs, talks and even their own podcast on Spotify, “Project Gunita: Defend Historical Truth,” where they amplify voices of martial law survivors and young activists. Through these efforts, they hope to reach outside their echo chambers and debunk myths that continue to surround the Marcos dictatorship.

As an organization founded and run primarily by very young people, it's easy to be dismissive of their work. After all, the imposition of martial law was more than five decades ago. Why should the younger generations, who were yet to be conceived at that time, concern ourselves with this dark period of our history?

History, according to Atty. Quising, teaches us to make better choices. By learning from the past, we hopefully avoid committing the same mistakes.

Retrospect empowers us to think critically and reflectively, but most importantly, it also teaches us empathy. Atty. Quising emphasizes how putting ourselves in other people’s shoes allows us to value human lives.

Everyone has an inherent right to live a life with dignity and respect. Understanding this makes us see that there is no justification for the large-scale crimes against humanity committed during the martial law era. No matter how seemingly great the accomplishments of any leader, they will never make up for the thousands of lives lost to famine, torture, murder, and enforced disappearances.

A snapshot of old newspapers that covered the 1986 snap elections leading up to the People Power Revolution, which ended the decades-long rule of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

Empathy, then, opens our eyes to the absurdity of the calls coming from supporters of the current administration, including its elected officials, urging us to “move on” and forget the plundering, state-sanctioned human rights abuses and suppression of freedom.

“‘Yung pag-move on, magagawa lang ‘yan kapag mayroong hustisya,” Atty. Quising points out. He acknowledges that there have been efforts in pursuit of justice, such as the recognition and provision of reparations for the victims of human rights abuses—the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, an independent body assigned to evaluate reparation claims, received as many as 75,000 applicants, but only over 11,000 of these were approved. As Atty. Quising succinctly puts it, “Incomplete justice is not justice at all.”

Atty. Quising also mentioned our country’s lack of transitional justice. Unlike the Nuremberg Trials against Nazi Germany and the ad hoc tribunals in Rwanda, Cambodia and Yugoslavia, our country lacked systematic trials that would have held accountable the perpetrators of the Marcos regime. Instead of facilitating a just transition, subsequent administrations reappointed these perpetrators.

As the battle against historical distortion continues, Project Gunita is concerned with the possibility of censorship and even the misinterpretation of their work as something supportive of one political party. “Ang kasaysayan ay wala namang kulay dapat. Wala naman kaming political leaning. Of course, hindi naman ibig sabihin na neutral kami, kasi history is never neutral.

Mayroon kaming specific purpose, which is to combat historical distortion, and alam naman natin kung saan nanggagaling yung ganoong klaseng mga propaganda at kung sino yung pinapanigan,” Atty. Quising added.

With how well-funded and massive the disinformation machinery is, it can be overwhelming to fight for the truth. But we have every reason to remain hopeful. True to their mandate, Atty. Quising looks at history to find hope. “Any change or reform doesn’t happen overnight. It always takes generations,” he said.

Our role as the country’s future is to hold on to the pages of our history and protect it from further perversion. For Atty. Quising, we can do this by actively studying the past and becoming more socially aware. “‘Yung current generation is gifted with so much access to information. Sana gamitin natin ‘yung power na ‘yun.”

Beyond recalling names, places, and events, history is our chance at a better future. Although it’s uncertain, to ensure that we don’t relive the horrors of the past, we must value the lessons of history and never forget.