Survivors fear documents may vanish when Philippine dictator’s son assumes office after election victory
By Rebecca Ratcliffe
South-east Asia correspondent - The Guardian
Cardboard boxes form neat rows, from floor to ceiling, along the narrow corridors of the archive room. Each is assigned a number from one to 10. Inside are the personal accounts of thousands of victims of atrocities committed under the rule of the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. The lower numbers are the least egregious cases. Those labelled with a number nine or 10 contain the most harrowing descriptions of rape, torture and disappearances.
“My task now is, [with] all of the truth, all of the evidence I have … to preserve the records,” said Carmelo Victor A Crisanto, the executive director of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, which manages the archives. He is focused on digitising victims’ case files so that they are protected and more widely accessible to researchers.
Crisanto’s work has recently taken on even greater urgency. Last month, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator, won a landslide victory in the presidential election, following a surge of online disinformation that glorified his father’s rule, which was marked by an abuse of power after declaring martial law.
Academics, activists and survivors of Marcos Sr’s regime fear further distortion of history – and even the disappearance of historical records – once the family returns to office.
In the weeks after the election result, many have rushed to protect the country’s past. Shops have sold out of history books that depict the plunder and abuses that occurred during the Marcos era, while 1,700 academics have signed a manifesto promising to protect the truth and academic freedom.
Francis Gealogo, a professor of history at Ateneo de Manila University, who helped organise the manifesto, compared his country’s rush to preserve its history to panic buying food. “After the elections, we had the unusual phenomenon of panic buying of books regarding martial law,” he said.
Marcos Jr has never apologised for abuses or corruption under his father, and has instead downplayed past atrocities. For years, social media has been flooded with false stories that portray his father’s rule as a time when the economy was thriving and society was orderly. Marcos Jr has denied there is any coordinated network of pushing such claims.
Marcos Jr’s spokesperson has dodged media questions over whether memorial days marking the declaration of martial law or the “EDSA revolution” that overthrew Marcos Sr will be commemorated under his son’s rule.
The Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission is a government agency. It is protected by law, says Crisanto, “but it can be starved”. Its budget is reviewed annually by Congress.
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd
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