To make sense of current events, I have decided to embark on a strange and somewhat disjointed course of comparison of my position in faintly connected family histories. It might appear to be quite an indulgence on my part, but with no particular intention of self-aggrandizement, allow me to consider myself as someone on the same side of the privilege fence where Bongbong Marcos stands—cut from the same portion of the fabric of a struggling nation.
I was born and raised by a family which, aside from being involved in government service (two generations-long now), was part of the society that seemingly stayed unscathed during the Marcos regime. But unlike the recently famous Philippine Vice President aspirant’s clan, my family did not flourish in prosperity. During the build-up towards the tumultuous years of the Marcos dictatorship, the chief breadwinner, my grandfather, worked as a simple carpenter and construction worker hailing from a family of farmers and herdsmen in Nueva Ecija. Later during the Marcos administration he became one of the numerous construction workers contracted by the administration cronies to build roads. He manned heavy equipment such as backhoes and bulldozers, leveling hills and mountains for national roads. He toiled together with hundreds of men who, like him, only had sheer physical exertion to see themselves through another work day—a huge contrast to their bosses who exponentially prospered using public funds by being friends “with benefits” of the dictator.
Every other member of the family had the same humble roles amidst the backdrop of the tragic social divide in the Philippine society. My father—who, during his teenage years, worked as a helper at the ironworks business of my grandmother’s clan—was a young enlisted personnel in the navy. His failure to earn an engineering degree (originally sponsored by my great grandfather, who passed away before he was able to complete his studies) prompted his entry to the Service, through connections courtesy of my grandfather’s beloved military officer cousin. My enterprising grandmother who came from a family of metalsmiths and bakers in Apalit, Pampanga was a market vendor and, just like my grandfather, did not complete her formal education. Both her and my mother, to whom I owe almost my entire life to, were housewives and sari-sari store vendors during that time. My uncles and aunts comprised the young, but never unproductive, members. This was how the then growing Basco clan looked like—a barely getting by Kapampangan family transplanted in the middle of metropolitan Makati straight from the ironworks, farms, and bakeries of Central Luzon.
One can say this portion of our clan history portrays a typical lower-middle class unit. Every member’s primary motivation was chiefly survival—partly a great fault of my grandfather. He was a man full of pride who wanted no help from my grandmother’s well-off family, despite not graduating from school and having no regular source of income. He chose to stake everything and move his family to the city instead of asking for help. But despite huge economic setbacks, plus that strange mix of humility and pride running in their veins, this small, lower-middle class family managed to stay financially afloat by working hard, my grandmother, father, and all his then young siblings pitching in to keep living costs low and earning income from various sources—selling vegetables, peddling pan de sal, and even typewriting lazy students’ papers.
They survived, thank God, and I got lucky years after. I was born in 1991, the time when my father was already in the Service and my uncles and aunts were proficient in school enough to get scholarships and maintain good academic standing. That was years after the Martial Law period, and the fight for survival was slowly giving way to aspirations for better living conditions. A better TV set, for example, became a prominent motif of family discussions back then. It got stuck in our family’s collective consciousness up until now—an expensive, cable-connected, TV set became a symbol of a comfortable life for our generation of the family.
I was born ten years after Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by the EDSA People Power revolution, so obviously I rely heavily on recorded accounts for information. I have had exposure to a lot of Martial Law era records and essays, mostly documented facts from books, movies, and documentaries back in college. But the most striking and convincing, for me, are my grandfather’s recollections.
1981 and the succeeding years was a bitter period for him—my grandfather used to tell me when he was still living—because of the so-called “lies” people were so eager to shove to their Marcos loyalists’ throats. For him, EDSA People Power was basically a cloak-and-dagger conspiracy. It was nothing more than a political game played by those in power, which ultimately denied him and thousands like him of a seemingly benevolent benefactor. In a visceral way only someone who lived a life of manual toil can feel, Marcos’ ouster meant to salt-of-the-earth people like my grandfather the disappearance of the great road-maker, the job-giver, the provider of relief during the years of struggle for survival. The former dictator appeared as such a perfect leader to them who had simple aspirations in life—an unfortunate case of false consciousness propagated among the members of the working class during that time. He effectively used his charisma, together with publicizing various institutional and material achievements, to give them a form of tunnel vision and make them turn a blind eye towards their convictions and morals as well as their fellows, and proclaim him the greatest leader they ever had.
One particular story from my grandfather revolves around book-burning. After the declaration of Martial Law my grandfather narrated once how he torched some of his most precious books—theory and sociology books and pamphlets, mostly—following his military cousin’s advice. It can also be said that it was chiefly because his despotic idol’s effect was so strong he was more than willing to throw away what he always loved doing. My grandfather loved reading books. He loved telling stories and discussing his thoughts, as evidenced by his enthusiasm to talk about real-life accounts and alternate histories that he believed were true to almost everyone in our family and his circle of friends. But before I learned how to think for myself and speak well and discuss with him, my father moved our family out of his house to live on our own. That facilitated my years of independent learning and growth in searching for new things to know.
I must have taken that trait from the old man. I always remember personal recollections of my mother and uncles and aunts, about how he would spend hours reading and re-reading the books that survived, particularly his beloved Bible. He would scour and read even his grandsons’ textbooks for stories and information, to know things and validate that which he believes he already knew. I distinctly remember that time when he spent a few weeks with us because of my aunt’s house construction in Rizal, in the same subdivision where we lived, which he took part in initially. I was in high school, and was just starting to be enamored by libraries. He would read the first few books I was just beginning to hoard back then, particularly discussing things he learned from an old history book, mixing fact and fiction from what he supposedly believe were true.
Other instances like this, of him talking about what seemed to me an affirmation of his own knowledge, formed part of my then growing inspiration to learn how to tell stories both to myself and other people. Hearing my grandfather weave tales from both real and imaginary history, and telling them with such passion and full trust on the material, gave the impression to me as a means of holding on to a certain form of truth. In a way, it was an anchor for a man forced to know and believe things within the limits of his material condition.
I never fully understood my grandfather’s reasons for keeping his faith in the late dictator when he was still alive, and I could only hazard a guess at this point in time and for the years to come, just like how a student of theory can only put forth a reading of a literary masterpiece or artwork. Apart from the intricate deception he became a victim of, my great-grandfather’s legacy must have had a great influence on his view of Ferdinand Marcos.
“Captain Isagani”, he used to tell us, bravely lead a small guerrilla unit in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija during the Japanese occupation period. My grandfather delighted in describing his exploits which seemed to have come from action movies (with my young grandfather playing a role, of course; he loved to tell us how he acted as the secret boy messenger for his father’s compatriots), complete with a tragic ending in the infamous Death March to Bataan—the valiant Captain (who was not exactly a soldier, but a hot-headed herdsman who owned a couple of cows and horses) perished somewhere in that cruel episode of history, his body never found. His father’s heroism was my grandfather’s source of pride, and I believe this is what set the course of his misguided myth-making of the dictator.
The despicable Ferdinand Marcos, perhaps understanding that the legacy of World War II can lend anyone the benefit of trust and adulation, flaunted his supposed heroism, decorating himself with a war hero’s history in his bid for power. This deception has been proven several times already, a task undertaken not by biased supporters of any affiliation, but by experts of history. Nevertheless, this politically-motivated move naturally caused the poor men and women of that era to be misled—without access to complete fact-verification and knowledge on how to do it, backed with control over institutions like the media (especially during the Martial Law years), the people were rendered powerless over that which they can believe. And so, people like my grandfather, the children of a nation rebuilding from a war-ravaged, post-colonial situation, bought the bargain with whatever meager hope they still had.
In so many aspects that I myself am still wondering and contemplating about, the Marcos scion and I—minus the political maneuvering and furious greed for power and affluence I obviously (and humbly acknowledge) do not share—undeniably have things in common. Ultimately, what I want to highlight is our role of being important heirs of our families’ respective memories and traits, a point in this rambling comparison in which I specifically address our extreme difference.
There are a lot of things we need to unpack regarding the Martial Law era and the things that transpired during those years, things already explained coherently by more critical people since freedom to do so was restored. These we must examine with acceptance of the fact that we will always have our personal biases. But even with the baggage of our histories—our tribe and clan’s culture, tradition, and beliefs, our kin’s enemies and alliances—our desire for objectivity must always prevail if we desire to stay true to notions of justice. Consider fairness in objectivity for this, but note that fairness can be bastardized when we talk about the context of history in favor of those who are in power, invisible or not. We all know how the Marcoses have been doing these years. Our parents and their parents must have missed something really important, or maybe our generation must have done a terrible mistake of sleeping through silent but dangerous acts of historical revisionism. But the fact is that similar heirs of history just like Bongbong Marcos will continue to corrupt the history in favor his own crooked, self-serving, and deceiving legacy, being entrenched in their sins and too far away from seeking redemption.
Here, I have laid a personal account of a simple family’s history. I am but a mere legacy of my grandfather—an imperfect man who was born at a harsh time, who grew with great wanting but was denied. And it pains me, even years after his death, how limitations imposed upon him were taken advantage of by such vile corruptors of history, who turned him until his death into a hardened “loyalist”—I have always lamented knowing that such a word has become synonymous to betrayal in this context. My respect is what lies in the midst of this grievance: I will not dignify this disservice done to my grandfather. I will do my part in ending it.
I was not, like some of my friends and associates, an heir to atrocities and injustices. My forebears lived and struggled to survive, not to vigorously contend with the evils weaved into the fabric of the society they were made to cloth themselves with. I was not born and raised to take up the cudgels they did not wield, that which they did not even realize they should have. But now that I stand in the continuing portion of this history, I understand the need to take ownership of this inheritance—make sense of it, do my part in addressing the nightmares my grandfather was made blind of. And in these times when spinning chaotic threads of history is taking the same turn just like those years under the Marcos regime, cutting the fabric instead of weaving imagined histories is the only option.