Still, the Marcoses have steadfastly refused to recognize the abuses and the dismal governance record. Instead, they insist that the period was a benevolent and prosperous time, pointing to the construction of grand infrastructure projects. Their supporters celebrate what they claim to be the “general peace and security” during the regime. MIM conveniently leaves out the political and economic context of why the Marcoses had to flee in the first place.
Historical distortion may seem to confirm the adage that “history is written by the victors”. In a sense, this is true. After all, history is an exercise of power. History is power. And those with power typically control the narrative. Yet, there is an ethic that is integral to the writing of history. A story crafted without evidence is but a memory built on lies. Without verifiable sources, it simply erases the blemishes, injustices and crimes that such manipulation aims to cover up or erase.
Distorted narratives perpetuate the abuses and the harm by denying their existence. In reaction to the MIM, film director Joel Lamangan, who was imprisoned and tortured during the martial law years, said, “They [the MIM producers] want the people to take pity on Marcos Sr, while in reality he was more preoccupied with how to take out the stolen money, how to smuggle the gold, or how to transport their valuables. Are they willing to show that? Because if they do, I will applaud this film!”
The writing of history should not remain a purely intellectual exercise. Since it can be used as instruments of influence to justify policies, manipulate sentiments and whitewash injustices, historians must wield this power to push back against forms of distortion and falsification. Even amidst charges of presentism (i.e., the tendency to interpret the past in the context of the present and using current standards and values), historians cannot sit in ivory towers and must keep abreast with current concerns, call out distortions publicly, and engage with people through digital platforms, just as the fabulists do.
Combatting historical distortion in the age of social media is an urgent matter, not just for historians but for every responsible citizen. As Filipino journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa put it, Philippine society has been sentenced to “death by a thousand cuts”, where false information and history manipulate people and their realities. And while many would claim history as having many sides and perspectives (“alternative facts”), it is still possible – indeed essential – to differentiate history from propaganda.