Educating millennials on martial law

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[This commentary was originally published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on October 5, 2016.]

Of late, members of the younger generation, commonly referred to as “millennials,” have been the target of condemnation by some sectors for their supposed clueless acceptance of deceptive accounts of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship.

But blaming millennials obscures the role played by an ineffectual oligarchic democracy and its dismal failure to effectively prosecute the Marcoses and their cronies for plunder and human rights abuse. The persistence of foreign domination, landlord and elite rule, and bureaucratic corruption after the fall of the dictatorship have made it easier for the Marcoses to misleadingly claim that life was better under martial law.

Indeed, President Duterte’s promise to bury the dictator’s remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is only the culmination of the long passage toward the political rehabilitation of the Marcos family.

Apart from school textbooks and curriculums that whitewash the abuses of the martial law regime, the continued enforcement of Marcos-era education policies also plays a role in the erasure of collective memory.

With Batas Pambansa 232 (or the Education Act of 1982), Marcos decreed the deregulation of the education system by allowing private schools to set tuition and other school fees. This resulted in the jacking up of the cost of education, with tuition soaring from P700-P2,600 a semester in 1982 to P1,200-P7,000 in 1987, according to a 1987 study of tuition levels of selected tertiary schools in Metro Manila. Fast-forward to three decades later, and the cost of tuition has spiraled by 5,000–7,000 percent, with the continued deregulation of the education system.

When Benigno Aquino III became president in 2010, the annual tuition was P30,000-P60,000. That amount had risen to P40,000-P80,000 by the time he left office last June, according to a study by the office of Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago. Many have been deprived access to education, with only 14 in every 100 Grade 1 pupils making it to graduate school.

Meanwhile, Marcos’ 1972 Presidential Decree №6-A created the task force for an educational development plan aimed at realigning the education system toward supplying semiskilled labor for transnational corporations. This neocolonial orientation continues today, with the K-to-12 program focusing on technical-vocational courses and the “internationalization” of higher education that reduces the teaching of history and the humanities in favor of “globally competitive” programs.

All these form part of the neoliberal policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund-World Bank that transformed the public obligation of the state to provide social services like education into another opportunity for profit-making.

The gearing of education to supplying a cheap labor force and increasing profit margins has resulted in attacks on academic freedom, critical thinking, and the gutting of historical awareness among the youth. Many millennials have been left with no compass to navigate through history and its enduring legacy on the present.

Educating millennials on martial law thus means correcting insidious historical revisionism in schools as well as asserting education’s role in nation-building, as opposed to its current role as a commercial and neocolonial apparatus.

Last Sept. 21, students across the country walked out of their classes to join street protests timed with the 44th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. The young protesters called on President Duterte to make education free at all levels, put an end to extrajudicial killings, release all political prisoners, and stop the planned burial of the dictator’s remains in the heroes’ cemetery.

With his first 100 days in office over, it’s time Mr. Duterte heeded these demands and made good on his promise of change by finally breaking away from the neoliberal policies that have strengthened the oligarchic stranglehold on the country.

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