Concluding Remarks for CONTEND Annual Conference 2022: Martial Law @ 50

[These are the concluding remarks I gave as Secretary General of the Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) in its annual academic conference held last August 10-11, 2022.]

First, we would like to thank our keynote speakers Ramon Guillermo and Lualhati Abreu, all our panelists representing different academic institutions as well as people’s organization, we thank all our online participants, our moderators and co-organizers, we thank you all for making this event possible.

We opened this two-day academic conference a keynote address by Dr. Ramon Guillermo, Director of the UP Center for International Studies and former UP Faculty Regent, on the international campaign launched by Filipino academics against disinformation, red-tagging, and historical distortion. Guillermo is one of the lead conveners of the “Manifesto in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom” signed by over 1,000 academics who pledged last May 2022 to combat the distortion of history in the wake of the return to Malacañang of the Marcoses.

I would to take off from Guillermo’s keynote. Disinformation, red-tagging, and historical distortion in digital platform is but the latest iteration of what has long been called as information wars, a form of psychological warfare waged by the global ruling classes to keep the underclass under their hegemony. Hence, we cannot separate the deployment of disinformation wars from the creation of docile subjects via the political economy of surveillance capitalism, the attention economy. Digital platforms like social media are controlled by big monopolies whose primary concern is profit accumulation. We thus see a moribund wedding of rapacious neoliberal capitalism and digital fascism.

But what is to be done? As the keynote suggests, we have to respond with the people’s own counter-disinformation war, mass education campaigns, a real people’s movement to counter the information wars of global and domestic ruling classes.

The first day of the conference also featured panel discussions on the Marcos propaganda machine, efforts to preserve narratives and lessons of the anti-Marcos resistance, anti-dictatorship movements, and especially the youth and student movement during the martial law years. The second day of the conference included panels on martial law and film, literature, philosophy, education, the economy, everyday life, human rights, and other specters of those dark martial law years. One common theme that came out from the different panels is the need for combatting disinformation by those in power. But alongside these efforts there is a recognition for the need to strengthen mass movements and people’s organizations on the ground.

We actually did not expect this many participants and this many panels for our conference. Our expectations as organizers were a bit more modest. But here we are engaging academics, researchers, and activists from different fields for interdisciplinary discussions on the manifold legacies of the Marcos dictatorship, highlight new academic works and emerging scholars on the martial law period, combat disinformation and historical distortion, and bring martial law scholarship to a wider audience. Many of our participants are millennial, Gen-Z, the younger generations have not lived through the dictatorship. I myself was born only in 1987, a year after the fall of Marcos. Yet our present and future are undeniably affected by the long shadow of fascism in defense of class rule.

There are important areas of research on martial law studies that could have been given more coverage in the conference, particularly those discussing economic questions. Still our conference is an important step forward in advancing a concerted educational campaign to bring serious martial law scholarship closer to the wider public and help combat the disinformation and historical distortion now pervading social media platforms and mass media. Selected papers presented here will be published in a special issue of the PINGKIAN: Journal of Emancipatory and Anti-Imperialist.

To conclude, many of our speakers talked about the power of the state, dominant ideologies, and fake news in shaping our perceptions and distorting memories of the past to forward the interests of the ruling classes and the powerful. We have to push back against efforts to erase our history or denigrate it as mere “gossip” if we are to stand against moves to repress human rights and academic freedom, and constrict democratic spaces that have been won by the people’s collective action against dictatorship in the past. Let us wage our own counter-disinformation people’s war against the information warfare of those in power. Let us forward our own people’s movement for truth-telling, fact-checking, historical awareness, social justice, genuine democracy, and national liberation. Salamat ug padayon!


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