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Notes from the field: Confronting historical truths as a young Ilocano

By James Lloyd Guittap Published Oct 14, 2022 5:19 pm

Last July, I was offered to work on a research project, which presented an opportunity for me to take a break from my daily routine as a university lecturer in the north. 

Upon learning more about the project’s focus on the polarizing environment surrounding the youth on politics in the Ilocos region, I began to ask myself some questions as an Ilocano who grew up in Ilocos Norte. How did the "magic" seemingly possessed by the Marcoses have held up to this day? What impact do they bring to the youth now that the younger Marcoses have also immersed themselves in politics? And how will President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. chart the destiny of his young voters? 

It also made me confront my own difficult reflections, given that a hundred days have passed since the beginning of the second Marcos presidency.

In our province, Marcos-opposing groups that have made their presence felt since the start of the campaign period last year are worth noting. In Ilocos Norte, what pervades is a denial of the existence of the horrors of martial law. Predictably, the older generations continue to propagate the narrative that reinforces the inherent goodness of the martial law proclamation, and how it has benefited them and their lives as a community. What is interesting, however, is that younger people extend the narrative into a desire to experience the "good things" about martial law once more. 

In one of our focus group discussions with young participants, they were asked what their thoughts are about martial law. One answered, “Kayat ko nukwa mapadasan” (“I would like to experience it”). What immediately ensued piqued my interest. The respondent smiled, and it was followed by a burst of laughter from all the participants. 

Playing along with their take on the events, it kept me wondering the extent to which they absorbed and internalized the stories surrounding Marcos. I also wondered if they, with the advent of technology, confronted such information. After all, the atrocities of martial law can be easily searched and validated on the Internet, compared to what others had to say as anecdotes. 

This is a long journey for the truth I know and grew up with as an Ilocano, and the truth that lies beyond.

In another round of interviews, some claim that they have heard remarks such as “bobo” for supporting the younger Marcos’ bid. When prodded further, they said they would just walk away from the conversation or would rather not respond at all. In so doing, they skipped the chance to engage critically with people with opposing stances. 

This research project made me remember the times when my grandparents allowed my cousins and I to play around the Marcos mansion back when I was still a child. We were oblivious to the history the place held. We would run up and down the mansion feeding our curiosity with everything that we see from bric-a-bracs to life-sized portraits, grand staircases, and spacious rooms full of curated items fit for royalty. In their spare time, both of my grandparents would share stories about what the Marcoses built, their great projects around the country, and their trips abroad where they met state leaders and royalty, making them the closest we have to kings and queens. They were heaven-sent to the eyes of my old folks. These stories have also been repeated to our younger family members. 

Fast-forward to the present, I try to reckon with my experiences growing up and what I know now. While I assist in conducting interviews and gathering data, there were moments when I would ask myself: Are some people too blind to see the goodness the Marcoses have done? Or do I know little to see the larger picture of what has happened to the country? Searching within me, I ask uncomfortable yet important questions — Have I been more of a selfish Ilocano than a Filipino?

Rather than finding a definitive answer to these questions, I went back to what I remembered: how relatively laid back our life was then compared to the life of those families who have lost their loved ones because of the martial law, how we enjoyed peaceful nights after a day of running around a mansion, while those in the other parts of the country suffer from nightmares as they long for their missing loved ones, never to return. 

I imagine a lot of young Ilocanos in a similar position—a hundred days since the second Marcos presidency and we’ve yet to see the fulfillment of promises for the Filipino youth. It has been also been a hundred days since a number of state visits, bringing back the lavishness that the Marcoses have been known for into the conversation.

I know what lies ahead for me as I learn more. It may strengthen what I believe or sway me to disbelieve. I am learning more and becoming more open to the search for truth beyond the personal. This is a long journey for the truth I know and grew up with as an Ilocano, and the truth that lies beyond.