Following the 2022 Philippine elections and the rise of the Marcos family to power, a bigger issue has been spotlighted within the Filipino community: historical revisionism or the reinterpretation of historical events. However, the Philippines is just one example of this phenomenon. Misinformation is rampaging countries around the world and in the age of social media, everyone needs to be aware of its signs.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., also known as BBM, was recently elected as president of the Philippines in a contested battle at the polls against then-Vice President Leni Robredo. As the son of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the former dictator who imposed martial law in the ‘70s, Marcos entered his presidency amid echoes of resentment from his father’s human rights violations, media censorship and stolen wealth.
These human rights violations included 3,000-plus extrajudicial killings, 34,000-plus people tortured and 70,000-plus incarcerations. Major media outlets and newspapers were completely shut down by the government under Marcos Sr. It has also been estimated that $5 to $10 billion were stolen under his father’s administration. It’s no surprise, then, that chants of “Never Forget, Never Again” were heard on the streets of Manila following the announcement of Marcos’ victory.
Despite his background, Marcos also entered the presidency with millions of supporters as a result of historical revisionism being entrenched in the Filipino people. Many Filipinos remember martial law as the “golden era” of the Philippines, attributing it to Marcos Sr.’s public programs, new infrastructure and “rightful” discipline. Under the surface of these acts, however, thousands of political opponents were tortured and red-tagged, an anti-insurgency tactic of labeling organizations or individuals as “communists.”
Historical revisionism has become a strategic tactic for Filipino politicians like BBM to persuade voters by reinterpreting history in their political favor. Historical revisionism takes place in media outlets, social media and educational materials. “Troll farms,” the use of fake accounts with false information, reportedly rose during the election season. Pro-Marcos propaganda changed the legacy of the Marcos family to match the myth of the “golden era”. Even in school curriculum, Filipino textbooks have raised concerns about misinformation. In some classrooms, discussion about martial law is limited despite its impact in the Philippine’s history.
The issue of historical revisionism isn’t solely affecting the Philippines. In the United States, misinformation spread like wildfire during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. In Japan, there have been controversies over school textbooks diluting the Japanese government’s atrocities during WWII, portraying Japan as a victim rather than a perpetrator. According to The New York Times, at least 70 countries have experienced disinformation campaigns. It’s clear that historical revisionism and the spread of false information will continue to be a pressing issue in the coming years.
It’s important to remember history and never forget the realities of atrocities. The stories of martial law victims matter and many are still alive suffering the consequences. Even for those who have passed or disappeared, we have the responsibility to keep their stories alive and continue to fight for justice. We must also remember the social movements that fought for these histories to be known.
For the Philippines, this means remembering the People’s Power Movement on EDSA, the movement that ousted Marcos Sr. from office 37 years ago. For countries around the world, it means remembering activists and grassroots movements that contributed to changing their societies.
Combating false information can be done in two ways: by supporting journalists who advocate for truthful information and by taking direct action in communities to stay informed.
Journalists like Maria Ressa, the first Filipino Nobel Laureate and the first working journalist to receive the prize since the ‘30s, are examples of those who have fought misinformation in their communities. It’s important that we, as informed citizens, support local journalists who fight for us through factual information.
Individuals must also stay informed, utilize fact-checking skills and get involved in their communities. Whether that means taking part in social justice movements or joining community organizations, anyone can help educate others about the facts, issues and histories of their community.
We must work together to advocate for the truth; false information doesn’t have to be the future.
Camelia Heins is an Opinion Staff Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.