Rewriting History: Learning or Propaganda?

HISTORICAL REVISIONISM has long been an issue in the country, even before Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed the presidency. A team of scholars did academic research to establish how disinformation networks in social media platforms  primed the ground for his candidacy and  victory. The Marcos family has capitalized on these networks to gain public sympathy, pushing the narrative that they were victims of the People Power uprising in 1986 and had been wrongfully punished by the government since. 

False information on Marcos Sr.’s regime has not been limited to online platforms. They have also been in textbooks and learning modules for some time now, and there has been hardly any discussion about the need to rectify their errors.

Media reported a social media post by Maria Elena Malvar that had gone viral. A senior high school student from Marinduque, Malvar showed a learning module for her class “whitewashing” the Martial Law period which did not mention the suspension of civil and political rights. Critics and concerned citizens called on the education sector to address the issue.

Shortly after, the Department of Education (DepEd), now headed by Sara Duterte said it is not “in the business of erasing the facts” of the Martial Law period. Her statement stopped any further discussion on the need to correct the presentation of Martial Law as a benign period in DepEd’s learning materials. 

CMFR reviewed media reports for the whole month of October that called attention to instances of historical distortion in DepEd materials. 

“Period of New Society”

One module designed for senior high school is titled “Geographic, Linguistic and Ethnic Dimensions of Philippine Literary History from Pre-Colonial to the Contemporary.” (Sic)

It depicts the Marcos’ regime as a time of positive political transformation. The module calls the year 1972  a “Period of the New Society.” By doing this, the module prettifies the declaration of Martial Law as the necessary condition for the supposed launching of a “New Society” —a misleading claim Ferdinand Marcos Sr.  began spreading in 1972.

The module was created in 2020, during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency and under former Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ watch. Based on the module’s preface, this originated from the agency’s Calabarzon regional office.

Some lawmakers have been actively criticizing the failure of the education sector to check the accuracy of such learning modules. 

France Castro, Deputy Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, said in ANC’s Rundown October 20 report that ACT Teachers Party-list has filed a bill  to include Philippine History in high school instruction to combat disinformation. The party-list has also proposed book and module reviews to proactively search for and correct historical distortions. 

In a report by the Manila Bulletin last October 24, Senator Risa Hontiveros emphasized that this module calling Martial Law a “New Society” was a “blatant failure” on DepEd’s side. The modules have enabled the use of propaganda to paint the Marcos regime as a time of real reform. 

Hontiveros also cited Republic Act No.10368, more commonly known as the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, which provided monetary reparations for those who suffered under Martial Law. 

Jessel Ubania, a historian and member of the Catholic Historians’ Association of the Philippines (CHAP), said in UCA News’ October 25 report that the renaming of the Martial Law period is a blatant form of historical revisionism. By giving it a different name, Ubania noted that the government and the education department are “soft-pedaling” the presentation of the Martial Law period. 

Vladimer Quetua, chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), pointed out that the use of the term “Bagong Lipunan” changes the socio-political contexts of the Martial Law era. Just using the term “New Society” without mentioning the declaration of Martial Law makes it look as though the Marcos regime had not engaged in repression and suspension of civil and political rights, and only launched a national program of socio-political reform. 

In CNN Philippines’ October 25 report, ACT also demanded that the module be deleted from DepEd’s online portals.’s report last October 26 cited Secretary Duterte’s explanation that the terms “New Society” and “Bagong Lipunan” were already being used since 2000 “within their proper contexts.” Duterte said that the terms “New Society”, referring to Marcos Sr.’s program, and Martial Law, the late dictator’s 14-year rule, are both “historical facts.” The news account did not point out that this explanation failed to address why these two terms are now seemingly presented as interchangeable, as evidenced by the 2020 module from DepEd’s Calabarzon office.

Not a New Case

Back in 2016, another learning module became the subject of news reports for rebranding the Martial Law period.

In Bulatlat’s March 2016 report, Vencer Crisostomo, then chair of the mass organization Anakbayan, specifically pointed to “Araling Panlipunan I Modyul 17: Ang Pilipinas sa Ilalim ng Batas Militar,” which discussed the supposed development in agricultural areas without mentioning acts of fascism and repression. Crisostomo also noted the module’s description of curfew implementation as “pangkatahimikan na pagbabago” (for peace and order), which made no reference to human rights violations that happened despite the curfew.

Truths to teach

Are the modules part of the government’s attempt to delude Filipinos into accepting the myth that the older Marcos supposedly ruled over a period of peace and progress?  

Based on data provided by the Martial Law Museum, the income of agricultural workers declined during Marcos Sr.’s time, plummeting to 30%. In context, a farmer who earned PHP 42 per day in 1972 only took home PHP 30 by 1986.

Amnesty International, a nongovernmental human rights organization, recorded in its November 1981 research the arrest of 70,000 people, the torture of 34,000 and the killing of 3,240 outside of battle zones during Martial Law. 

Other scholars and experts have documented the stagnation and eventual collapse of the educational system during the regime, as well as the decline of the economy which was dominated by Marcos’ cronies and members of the ruling elite. 

The refusal of DepEd’s chief to even discuss the problem of disinformation in the learning modules should not stop the media from reporting on the issue. There are ways of drawing out the truth about how people feel when education itself becomes a channel for political propaganda, for falsehood and for lies.