- Dark Days of Authoritarianism: To Be in History ed. by Melba Padilla Maggay
Dark Days of Authoritarianism: To Be in History
Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library for The Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC), 2019. 208 pages.
In Dark Days of Authoritarianism: To Be in History nine individuals, including Melba Maggay, editor of the volume and head of ISACC, share their reminiscences of martial law and their narratives of and reflections on People Power. The book has three parts. The first part includes six stories billed as "Years of Authoritarian Rule." The second part, with five narratives, focuses on "Days of People Power." The third part, "The Morning After: Views from the Margins," presents the insights of four contributors. While the first two parts are devoted to storytelling, the third distills insights based on some of the authors' experiences.
As the first set of recollections of martial law published since the rise of "historical revisionism" and the imminent possibility of a Marcos occupying Malacañang, this book hopes to dampen a pervasive infatuation with authoritarianism among Filipinos. At the outset Maggay asserts, "the big lie persists that the martial law period under Marcos was a good thing," "a golden era presided over by a strong and heroic leader" (xi). On the contrary, the book is premised on the proposition that "one-man rule cast a dark shadow, not just on a small number of dissidents, but on the whole fabric of society during that period" (xv). In fleshing out this idea, the book tells individual stories in the vein of what C. S. Lewis called "primal history": "that primitive experience of reality as we have lived it" (xiv). The retelling seeks to not just preserve these memories but also address the young. Mary Racelis's chapter, titled "A Gift for Millennials," adumbrates lessons from her martial law experience, meant for millennials to digest in capsule form, and implores them "to reject both the authoritarianism of populism and the elitism of pluralism" (188). Evidently, the present is the book's primary concern for the past.
As an anthology its heterogeneous contributors form an "unlikely collection," coming "[f]rom various social and professional backgrounds and even divergent ideological commitments" (xiv). At first glance, the stories lack coherence and a consistent voice or point of view. In the first [End Page 269] part, Fe B. Mangahas, Mario I. Miclat, and Alma Cruz Miclat recall their initially heady involvement with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the onset of their disillusionment with the movement. Elizabeth Lolarga narrates her work as a writer for the regime's media and gradual descent to the underground, only to find the collective setting reigniting her depressive condition. Willie Buyson Villarama was a regime insider, as assistant minister (87) of Minister of Labor Blas F. Ople, whom he regarded "like a second father" (92); Villarama's narrative zeroes in on Ople's trip to the United States in February 1986 as Marcos's emissary. Racelis writes about the regime's tentacles as they penetrated academia, causing fear and suspicion, "with self-censorship as one outcome" (20); yet, her story reveals that support for the Marcos dictatorship came from the top echelon of the Ateneo de Manila University's Jesuit administration (22–23). No common template is evident in these primal histories.
Despite the editor's disavowal that the book does not "attempt to construct or deconstruct interpretive frames" (xiv), these narratives are not devoid of theory or interpretative frames. Mangahas and Mario Miclat both take issue with the class analysis in Amado Guerrero's/Jose Maria Sison's Philippine Society and Revolution (PSR). Mangahas recalls her study group's attempt to define the middle class, which turned out to contradict the PSR: the middle class represented a sizeable proportion of society (34.1 percent compared with the 7 percent in PSR) and was politically significant, especially in view of "deteriorating" economic conditions that saw the class "increasingly becoming restive" (45–47). The dissonance eventually led her "to join the urban mass movement of the middle class" (49), taking "the electoral process seriously," contrary to "the primacy of...