The way to overcoming historical amnesia


Marcosian martial law made us Humpty Dumpty and we will never be put back together again.

It broke us in ways so deep and permanent no amount of talk about reconciliation and unity will ever make us whole. But we can cope with it in a very Filipino way.

We have always been described as a hospitable, friendly and resilient people. These are good qualities, but when taken to the extreme, they become bad qualities. In this instance, the extreme aspect of our resilience is a historical amnesia that accepts and forgets.

This historical amnesia is helped along by the victor, who dictates how history should be seen. For examples, consider the brutal Philippine-American war at the turn of the 19th century, which saw widespread massacres, executions, torture and forced hamletting perpetrated by American forces on our people, and then the way the Americans pulverized Manila in order to liberate it during the World War II. And yet we were turned into “little brown brothers” many of whom even desired American statehood and even up to now, American citizenship.

Is the second coming of the Marcoses a reflection of this historical amnesia? Helped along by sustained, shrewd use of social media that pervade our daily lives to an extent that mainstream education and media could not?

Blessing and curse

Our capacity to forgive and forget is therefore both a blessing and a curse. The ability to forgive and forget makes healing possible, just as it makes tolerating abuse possible. To dwell on the negative means not healing. It is good not to dwell on what is negative because we must allow our wound to heal and scar over. But the same ability can also make us prone to indifference and tolerant of abuse.

There is a way out of this dilemma: The capacity to forgive and forget must be coupled with the ability to learn. Without it, we are doomed and it shall be useless. “You never learn” is something we commonly hear when we make the same mistake all too often.

Healing does make us stronger. Literally. Physiologically, the point where a fracture heals is actually stronger than it previously was. Of course, you should not fracture yourself all over just so you could be stronger at those points. Your system won’t be able to take it and your parts may have to be replaced en masse and you end up like RoboCop.

To take the metaphor further, the wholesale fracturing is like the abuse you will suffer if there is no learning. You will just get broken up over and over again.

Now the specter of kleptocratic authoritarianism has been resurrected. It was tried before. It was an utter failure, with a retrogression that has taken us more than 30 years to not quite overcome.

While there has been some healing and some restitution — recovery of a bit of ill-gotten wealth, a bit of reparation to victims — there has not been the complete healing and forgiving and forgetting in a positive way.

We were broken once. Will we allow ourselves to once more be broken all over again?

There have been many economic gains that see us finally taking our place at the Asian table of progress and development. And yet if the Duterte policy towards China continues under Ferdinand Marcos Jr., we remain a very explosive flash point where we invite the powers that be to play in our backyard and exercise their aggressive geopolitical agendas. Will we become another failed state, balkanized, and with our people turned into refugees fleeing our shores?

To heal to fight

Learning entails some kind of conversion.

When Saul of Tarsus converted (seeing the risen Christ, he was struck down from his horse, as one story goes), it was the best learning experience ever because he never recovered from it and went on to sow the seeds of the modern Church. This is what should happen to all of us to whatever degree possible, and not necessarily in the religious sense. Saul, who became the apostle Paul, lived in the most horrid of times. When the Romans sought to stamp out the occasional opposition it was all deadly business, decorating their highways with crucified rebels. On many mornings in recent years our streets yielded the night’s harvest of corpses, some of the killings chillingly caught on CCTV.

The objective of healing must be in mind. Because that is what adaptation and evolution require. And because we must heal to continue fighting.

Christianity was the only religion the Romans sought to eradicate. And yet, ironically, it took over their empire. False gods and idols were struck down. And if there is anything we can learn from history, both ancient and modern, it is that peoples must go through cycles of renewal, and it is those who heal and renew faster who can survive to the next round.

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