Rewriting of Marcos' record sparks outcry

Supporters of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos after releasing balloons to celebrate his birth anniversary at a park in Manila on Sunday. President Rodrigo Duterte - a Marcos ally - recently reignited squabbles over Mr Marcos' legacy with a
Supporters of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos after releasing balloons to celebrate his birth anniversary at a park in Manila on Sunday. President Rodrigo Duterte - a Marcos ally - recently reignited squabbles over Mr Marcos' legacy with a plan to bury his embalmed body in the national Heroes' Cemetery in Manila.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Critics say Philippine govt is trying to put positive gloss on dark period in history

MANILA • The Philippine government is facing angry claims that it has been trying to whitewash the history of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

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

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

Opponents charged that Mr Marcos declared martial law to keep himself in power. They also said he threw opposition figures in jail and plundered state coffers.

The official gazette on the Facebook page also stated that he gave up his role in 1986 to "avoid bloodshed"; historians agree that he reluctantly fled in the face of massive popular opposition.

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

OFFICIAL RECORD

We are not in the business of revising history. '' 

ASSISTANT PRESS SECRETARY RAMON CUALOPING, in response to the outcry over edits to the Facebook page of the country's official government record.

One angry commenter posted on Facebook: "The caption should have been 'Ferdinand Marcos stole US$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'."

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.

President Rodrigo Duterte - a controversial figure and a Marcos ally - has reignited squabbles over Mr Marcos' legacy with a plan to bury his embalmed body in the Heroes' Cemetery in Manila.

Mainstream historians agree that Mr Marcos' 21-year rule was a dark period for the Philippines; a time when extrajudicial killings, disappearances and widespread 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 former first lady's living quarters. "We are not in the business of revising history," assistant press secretary Ramon Cualoping insisted yesterday in response to the outcry. "The Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines is devoid of any political colour and affiliations," he said.

Mr 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.

Mr 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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'Rewriting of Marcos' record sparks outcry'. Print Edition | Subscribe