Commentary: Weaponizing trauma

Last week, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s declaration of Martial Law was once again commemorated. And once again the country got bombarded with the romance of perpetrator-victim storyline, meant to tug the heartstrings of the young, so their emotions could be weaponized against the political enemies of the storytellers.

The story has taken a religious tone: it’s a battle between good and evil. However, it’s told in its secularized form. Marcos gets “Hitlerized,” while the Communists and their conspirators were reduced into his helpless victims, sadistically dealt with by “the dictator” for the pure pleasure of inflecting pain on them. As a response to the demonization of Marcos, his loyalists peddle narratives of his apotheosis.

The result: A nation that couldn’t come to terms with the past, which is only possible through historical understanding.

Historical understanding is a consequence of historical empathy. In An Updated Theoretical and Practical Model for Promoting Historical Empathy, educators Jason Endacott and Sarah Brooks defined historical empathy as:

 “the process of…cognitive and affective engagement with historical figures to better understand and contextualize their lived experiences, decisions, or actions. Historical empathy involves understanding how people from the past thought, felt, made decisions, acted, and faced consequences within a specific historical and social context.”

But instead of historical empathy, what’s being fostered by the storytellers is the transmission of trauma from one generation to another generation. And just like how trauma works, inherited trauma also inflicts damage to the mind. Those who don’t want to move on want succeeding generations to relive the trauma over and over again. For what purpose? For learning?

A mind on the grip of trauma isn’t a mind capable of learning from the past. It’s a mind always in a state of agitation. Thus, those who promote the transmission of trauma doesn’t want the succeeding generations to learn but to be caged in a perpetual state of agitation. One doesn’t learn from the past by being intoxicated by anger but through a sober understanding of the actions of historical figures in their own context.

#NeverAgain to Martial Law. That’s the main slogan of those who’ve been weaponizing trauma. It perpetuates the idea that martial law itself is inherently evil. Martial law has always been one of the tools of the state to quell rebellion and invasion. So who benefits from cultivating a native abhorrence of that tool in the minds of the citizens of a state?

In his column on September 25, 2016 (“What Marcos prisons were really like”), Rigoberto Tiglao, the former head Communist Party’s Manila-Rizal Regional Committee, stressed a very important point in the traditional martial law narrative: “What isn’t mentioned at all in such narratives is that many, if not most, of them were cadres of the Communist Party, which would have tried to overthrow any government.”

Tiglao, who was arrested in July 1973, wasn’t writing from the point of view of victimhood but of  someone who has attained historical understanding. “In my case, I not only headed the Party’s organization in metropolitan Manila, but was also organizing the first armed group intended to operate in the metropolis, the prototype of which would later be the dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade. Why shouldn’t the state arrest and detain me?”

Yet not everyone is like Tiglao who chose to free himself from the past by understanding it. There are those who want to hold the country hostage in the darkness of trauma, so they could continue the pleasurable role of being a victim.

Some are still members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, committed in their protracted war with the Philippine Republic no matter who its head is. These folks simply want to become the government not through democratic means but by enthroning themselves through violence. They want to have their own dictatorship. A fascism they could call their own.

Others are like Senator Risa Hontiveros of one of the most hypocritical political party in the Philippines, Akbayan, which publicly hates fascism and authoritarianism but was so enamoured by Hugo Chavez’s version of those two evils they hate. Can Akbayan really convince our youth that they hate fascism and authoritarianism, when on March 14, 2013, their own youth wing paid tribute to this Venezuelan fascist and authoritarian at UP Diliman-College of Science Auditorium? And as I wrote in my column on October 31, 2017, “There’s a long litany of authoritarian acts and failure of governance attributable to Chávez. Yet despite them, [Akbayan’s former representative Walden Bello] didn’t hesitate to call him ‘a class act’” in a eulogy he wrote in the Inquirer on March 7, 2013.

And hovering above these two former political allies is the Liberal Party of the Philippines, a political vulture waiting for a dead prey so they could rise once again to power.

These three benefit from the continued weaponization of trauma: The first uses it as a fig leaf for their own ambition to be this country’s dictator; the second, as a veil to their political hypocrisy; and the third, as their road to power.

(Published in the Manila Times on 25 September 2018)

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