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[2020 May 18 Academy] The May 18 Spirit in the Memorialization, Collective Memory and Human Rights Education in the Philippines
Writer : Tala Celina U. Batangan    Date Created : 2020-11-14     Hit : 56

 The May 18 Spirit in the Memorialization, Collective Memoryand Human Rights Education in the Philippines



The May 18Uprising in Gwangju, South Korea represents the struggle for freedom, democracyand human rights of the people. The May 18 Uprising was a part of the globalmovement for social reform in the 1970s and 1980s, along with the People PowerRevolution of the Philippines in ending the Martial Law regime of the dictator FerdinandMarcos. Forty years later, both South Korea and the Philippines are stillseeking for justice and truth for the victims of state violence. Even worse,forty years after these movements, the same struggles of democracy and humanrights are still being fought by various nations and groups in the present.


            These struggles are rooted in the three ridges or aspectsof social movements, as mentioned by Professor Sangbong Kim. These ridgesinclude state violence, as a result of imperialism, peaceful and non- violentresistance against the government, and self-harming resistance. The continuingnarrative of state violence against the marginalized groups in society willalways lead to the continuation of the narrative of conflict and resistance.While leaders are changed with the elections every several years, theyperpetuate the same system that seeks to exploit its people. As most Filipinossay, “mukha lang ang nag-iba, meaning that there is only a change in the face of the government, but thecorrupt system and acts are still present.


In orderto prevent these from happening again, we must combine efforts to memorializethese social movements, to form a collective memory based on the struggle forfreedom and democracy, and most importantly, to educate the masses on humanrights. In my work for the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commissionor HRVVMC, we are tasked to memorialize and give justice to the 11,103 victimsof the Martial Law period of President Ferdinand Marcos, which was from 1972 to1986. Our agency is currently building the Freedom Memorial Museum that seeksto honor the lives and sacrifices of the victims of Martial Law. Theinitiatives of the May 18 Memorial Foundation serves as a model for ourcommission, in seeking truth, justice and recovery for the victims of MartialLaw.


AsProfessor Myung-hee Kim mentioned, we start memorializing and healing byuncovering the truth. In doing so, we identify who the main actors andperpetuators of state violence are, what their reasons are, and how theycontinue to uphold this unjust system. By answering these questions, we alsouncover who the victims are, what kind of human rights violations are beingcommitted and what we can do for these victims. Uncovering the truth isespecially important in the age of historical revisionism. Denial anddistortion of facts is widespread in the Philippines, with most of it comingfrom social media. By creating a museum that is heavily based on facts fromresearch and with initiatives on education, we uphold the truth and disseminateit to the public. 


Memorializationshould also provide a comprehensive view to be presented in the museum for theaudience to see. While memorialization of these movements is mostly focused onthe violent aspects, it is also important to focus on the daily actions of thepeople that sustained the fight for freedom. Contributions like the donation ofblood, sharing of food, dissemination of information and the production of art,have kept the May 18 movement alive, even during the present. Contributions tothe movement against abusive regimes should be well-documented and preserved inorder to record how different sectors reacted to the call for democracy.Professor Jean Ahn’s lecture focuses on the role of women during the May 18Uprising, also stating the need to reconstruct the historical narrative to suitthe feminist point of view. A feminist and social historical approach to thesestories could reveal much more than the available narratives provide. Thesestories could be revealed through interviews of victims and their families,providing a holistic view of the Martial Law period.


Bymemorializing these efforts, there will be multiple faces to the movement andwill encourage others to participate in democratic movements in any way thatthey can. The fight of the different sectors will form the collective memorythat should be preserved for the current and future generations. Byunderstanding that the struggle for democracy and freedom appear differentlyfor various sectors of society, we learn to empathize with them. Just like whatProfessor Sangbong Kim said, the May 18 Uprising was a “response to others’pain, to the extent that people would willingly sacrifice their life.” Pursuinga collective memory also means easing the burden of the victims their andfamilies. This will lessen the stigma and trauma these victims experience,which will hopefully contribute to the social rehabilitation of the nation.


Collectivememory would be promoted and maintained through education. While the museum isstill being built, the commission can be more aggressive in its efforts inpartnering with schools, in order to educate its students and teachers aboutthe Martial Law regime. The commission should produce more researches about theperiod and share their findings to the government’s Department of Education, tobe shared through history textbooks. Other activities like film showings,story-telling sessions with survivors and teacher training workshops should beregularly held across the Philippines. This would also celebrate the art andculture uniquely produced during these tumultuous times. As Professor GyongguShin mentioned, this deep-seated passion can promote a cultural boom in variousart scenes in the present. 


Thecommission should also push for human rights education in schools andinstitutions. Since the struggle for freedom and democracy is still not over,it is important for the younger generations to know and realize the rights thatthey have. With the knowledge of theserights, they will know how to think critically, in matters of nation-building, likevoting in the national elections. This will also teach them how to empathizewith the struggles and fights confronted by marginalized groups of society.Students should be taught equality and human rights at an early age, throughvarious activities. Fairs, festivals, plays, contests and debates that usehuman rights as a theme will encourage students to reflect about their rightsand also contribute to the growth of Filipino art and culture. 


The efforts of memorialization, formation of collective memory andeducation of human rights are accompanied with the hope that thesedemocratization movements need not happen again. It is with hope that with theseinitiatives and many more in the Philippines, South Korea, and around theglobe, everyone will be able to exercise their human rights. It is with hopethat these truth commissions, human rights violations investigative teams andsocial rehabilitation programs no longer need to exist because societies andgovernments already value human rights and democracy. However, as long as theseare not yet attainable, we must continue seeking avenues to restore the rightsof the victims and advocate for the human rights of the future generations. TheMay 18 Academy is one of these vibrant avenues for transnational solidarity inpursuing democracy and human rights for all.


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