Digital martial law library launched, ‘to ensure that all Filipinos will remember’

Digital martial law library launched, ‘to ensure that all Filipinos will remember’
The website offers the whole gamut—from memoirs to novels, documentaries to films, from documents to presentations.

With the click of a button, you’ll find a copy of Proclamation 1081; read excerpts of hard-to-find memoirs, including Benigno Aquino Jr.’s “Testament from A Prison Cell”; or view videos of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the heyday of martial law. 

The possibilities are endless when you visit the Ateneo Martial Law Library and Museum (, a digital archive of documentary, literary and visual records and other resources on martial law. 

A collaborative project of the Ateneo de Manila University, the Rizal Library and the University of Hawaii, the digital library was launched on April 8 at the Rizal Library on the Ateneo campus. 

Maria Luz Vilches on developing digital library
Maria Luz Vilches says developing the digital library is a pushback against the rising global tide of political authoritarianism.

“By creating the digital library and archive, we hope to ensure that all Filipinos will remember the atrocities of the past and never forget the horrors of the Marcos dictatorship, so that the youth of today especially will not allow these adversities to happen again,” Maria Luz Vilches, Ateneo vice president for higher education, said at the launch that was also livestreamed on Zoom.  

Treasure trove

It’s a navigable library that offers a treasure trove of materials, divided into primary sources (diaries, testimonies and journals, government documents, memoirs, newspaper articles), secondary sources (biographies, books, essays), and art, literature, films and photography. 

By making the digitized materials available to all, the digital library seeks to preserve history, and make the younger generation of Filipinos “understand and learn from the experiences’’ of that dark period in history, Vilches said, adding:    

“ … [A]nd no better time than today should we insist on raising awareness given a rising tide of political authoritarianism around the globe.” 

At least 3,240 people were killed by the military and police out of the 107,240 victims of human rights violations during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. that saw the first family amassing $5 billion in ill-gotten wealth on top of $683 million in assets stashed in Swiss banks, the library noted in its summary of the Marcos legacy.

Two professors, a university librarian and a web developer conceptualized the digital library at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 out of a sheer need for a “searchable one-stop archive’’ of primary sources on martial law. 

digital library
Vina Lanzona and Miguel Paolo Rivera (top, left and right) and Vernon Totanes (right, below) talk about the beginnings and challenges of the digital library during an open forum moderated by Jose Lorenzo Martinez from the UP Dep’t of History.

“I teach about the martial law period, and I always wanted to teach with primary source documents, and then I remember thinking: ‘How can I find out about these different documents about martial law?” Vina Lanzona, associate professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, said during the roundtable discussion.

“So I Googled … Proclamation 1081, and all the documents related to the period itself, and I thought, ‘Why can’t we have a website where we can access all this information about martial law, and …. these different types of resources, right?” she said.

And that’s how the idea of a digital library began. 

Lanzona next contacted her friend, Vernon Totanes, then a director at the Rizal Library, who in turn linked her up with Miguel Paolo Rivera, past immediate coordinator of the Martial Law Museum and Library. It was Liezl Cabrera, a partner at Dapat Studio, who developed the website.  

Logical follow-up

“Putting up a martial law online was the most logical follow-up to having a martial law museum. That’s why I thought of connecting Vina with Migs,” said Totanes, now university librarian at Ateneo. 

Rivera, a lecturer at Ateneo’s Department of Political Science, said: “This idea of a library is something that people have mentioned, but they couldn’t seem to do it. So we just decided, why not go against the odds and do it?”

The presidential election as well as the 50th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in 2022 loomed on the horizon, making the idea “urgent and relevant,” according to Lanzona.  

“As both historian and educator, it was really important to me to ensure accurately depicting martial law, because it wasn’t something that was fictional,” she said. 

Both Lanzona and Rivera spoke through Zoom, while Totanes spoke on stage at the Rizal Library during the forum.  

Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s landslide victory in the May 2022 presidential vote sent authors into a frenzy of scanning their books on martial law, for obvious reasons.  

“All of a sudden, many people were worried about their books,” Totanes said, chuckling. “I was getting all sorts of emails, and, you know, offers to digitize books and documents, and preserve them in the Rizal Library. And I was actually having secret meetings, but I could not tell anyone because just in case, we didn’t want anyone else to know that these papers were in the Rizal Library. I don’t know if I should be saying that now.” 

He added: “But part of it also was, some people became ‘scanning happy’—they were scanning entire books and making these available in Google drives. Are there lawyers in the house? But I was the one saying, ‘No, no, we can’t do that’!” 

With the permission of copyright owners, some books can be read in full. But for the rest, only the first chapters can be accessed. 

The memoirs, autobiographies, novels, collections of poems, essays on martial law—the whole gamut—are a rare find even for non-students of history, and so are the rest of the documents, videos, films, and documentaries.

The digital library had its initial launch in September 2022 as part of Ateneo’s “awareness-raising campaign” on the declaration of martial law. 

Aquino Foundation

Francis “Kiko” Aquino Dee, deputy executive director of the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation, said the launch of the digital Martial Law Library is “a big help to the work of the Aquino Foundation in particular, as it makes many of the primary sources that talk about our country’s journey back towards democracy, which is central to the stories of Ninoy and Cory, readily available.” 

“For the country as a whole, I hope that Filipinos, especially those who are more internet-savvy, can use this resource as we form our beliefs about our history and our current situation,” Dee said.   

The original idea of a digital museum on martial law at the university was broached by Erwin Tiongson, an Ateneo alumnus and a former senior economist at the World Bank, who was outraged by the “surreptitiously organized’’ burial of strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr. at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on Nov. 18, 2016, according to Vilches. 

“ … [W]e can demonstrate, we can lash out in anger, but we should also truly make sure that no one ever forgets about martial law,’’ Vilches quoted Tiongson as saying in an email he sent her immediately after Marcos’ burial.  
Dr. Mark Sanchez at Vanderbilt University and Lila Ramos-Shahani of the International Council of Monuments and Sites also delivered presentations during the launch. With a report from Minerva Generalao

Read more: Project Gunita et al.: ‘The truth will outshine the lies’

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