Backlash after claims Philippine government is trying to whitewash history of Marcos

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 4:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 10:03pm

The Philippine government faced a backlash on Monday over claims it was trying to whitewash the history of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Critics said a series of edits to the Facebook page of the country’s official government record were an attempt to put a positive gloss on years of authoritarian rule.

Among changes that sparked fury over the weekend was the claim that Marcos imposed martial law in 1972 to deal with Muslim secessionists and a communist insurgency.

Opponents charge Marcos declared martial law to keep himself in power. They also say he threw opposition figures in jail and plundered state coffers.

The gazette also said he gave up his role in 1986 to “avoid bloodshed”; historians agree he reluctantly fled in the face of massive popular opposition.

“The caption should have been ‘Ferdinand Marcos stole $10 billion dollars worth from Filipinos, had 34,000 Filipinos tortured, had 3,240 Filipinos murdered, and was so hungry for power he tried to stay dictator for life’,” one angry commentator posted on Facebook.

The furore is the latest chapter in a struggle over the national narrative in a fiercely partisan country, where power has traditionally been passed among a small number of elite families.

Controversial President Rodrigo Duterte – a Marcos ally – has reignited squabbles over Marcos’ legacy with a plan to bury his embalmed body in the “Cemetery of Heroes”.

Mainstream historians agree that Marcos’s 21-year rule was a dark period for the Philippines; a time when extrajudicial killings, disappearances and corruption were the norm.

Most Filipinos lived in grinding poverty, even as the president and his family grew wealthy – a gulf symbolised by the discovery of thousands of pairs of luxury shoes in the first lady’s living quarters.

“We are not in the business of revising history,” assistant press secretary Ramon Cualoping insisted on Monday in response to the outcry.

“The Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines is devoid of any political colour and affiliations,” he added.

The government later revised the entry to say only that Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and went into exile in the United States in 1986.

Marcos died in 1989 and his family was later allowed to return to the Philippines where they have made a remarkable political comeback, with several members getting elected to major positions.

Duterte, who styles himself as an anti-corruption crusader, is a close ally of the Marcos family and credits them for his election as president in May.