Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Day 80: That you may not forget

This is part of my 100 days 'til Home series.


Dear C,

Yesterday, our country voted for new leaders. You asked me why "election" is important, and what corruption is. I owe you an explanation. This will be too difficult for you to grasp but in time, you will understand.

I was born in a period when our country was under Martial Law. For more than twenty years, people cannot speak out their minds against the government. They get severely punished or killed for minor mistakes, things they did not do, or for speaking about wrong things that are happening.

Many good people, including doctors, missionaries and priests in far places, were accused of fighting the government even if they were only trying to help the poor. Young students died as they spoke out bravely against the bad government.  When Filipinos could no longer be silent, they came together and defeated the bad guys in a peaceful way through the People Power revolution. I was barely four years old then, and do not remember anything.  But since then, we enjoyed freedom and peace as we know it now.

The government collects money from the people as tax, and leaders are expected to carefully use this money to take care of the people.  But the bad guys - Marcos and his family - stole this money to buy houses, jewellery, shoes and throw expensive parties in the Philippines and across the world. They kept huge amounts in secret bank accounts. They made themselves, their families and their friends rich while the rest of the country suffered. They kept themselves in power by instilling fear through Martial Law.

The Marcos family denies these acts up to now.

Like many Filipinos, I thought the Martial Law stories were only made up . As I was growing up, my mother and grandfather thought Marcos was some kind of hero. I was told that people were punished because they were doing wrong things, and that the rich could not benefit from Marcos so they plotted against him.  Marcos took care of the poor. Marcos built lots of roads, hospitals and schools. It was "peaceful" everywhere. Marcos supported everything beautiful and praise-worthy so that we can have pride in being Filipinos. Someone even gave me the idea that Philippine Science High School (Pisay), where I was a scholar, was one of Imelda's initiatives.

Until I heard my Pisay classmate's story of her mother and how she suffered during Martial Law. Her mother had to hide when my classmate was very young. She did not know if she will see her mother again.  I could not believe that it happened to her family.  It was my first time to hear from someone who actually suffered under the Martial Law.  This started my own quest for the truth and the realization that Martial Law was indeed scary and true. (Fast forward, I had the honor of meeting her mother during a UP College of Medicine lecture where both of us were speakers.)

Back then, it was difficult to acknowledge that my own mother and grandfather - both I deeply respect - were mistaken. (Keep this in mind, when you grow up I encourage you to validate and own your convictions on matters of ideologies, politics and even faith.) Since then, I remained quiet whenever there were political discussions at home.

I do not blame them for their glorious perception of the Martial Law days.  They did not have first-hand knowledge of terrifying accounts as many many Filipinos have access to now, thanks to the internet (and freedom of speech). Our country suffered the consequences of Marcos' bad governance after he was long gone. Also, leaders who took over after Marcos did not make it any easier for many of us.  Many of them were also corrupt, looking only after their own interests. But I wonder if Lola Loida and Nong were still alive now, would facts have changed their minds? Trusting in their character, I know they would.

Going back to the elections, we will have a new president soon. He promises to fight crime and corruption, and I am praying that he will do this in ways that respect human life and dignity.

But Mama is upset because the son of Marcos has gotten a lot of votes from our countrymen. The younger generation remains blind to the truth despite all the facts available to them. When you are old enough, be responsible for your opinions. Let them be guided by the truth, and deep respect for others.

My hope is that your generation's future will be brighter than ours. Leaders are then ones who shape the future, and this is why elections are very important. Our vote puts into power the right, or the wrong kind of leaders.

Lastly, do not take freedom and peace for granted, we owe it to the deaths and sacrifices of many.

I voted with you in mind.

May 9 elections, at the Philippine Embassy in Brussels, Belgium.



P.S. I will be focusing on my thesis in the coming days so I may not be able to write here as often as I want to.

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