【by Isa Lacuna, Dec. 2021】
So much of Philippine life has shifted online in response to the limitations that are part of the national and global response to the pandemic, and while the change has had both positive and negative effects on Philippine arts and culture, one cannot help but grapple with the sheer number of possibilities suddenly attendant to living so much of life through the internet. While this insight is not exactly new, never before has it felt so inevitable and inescapable. We are now all neck-deep in the digital life of things, and we have arrived here at such an abnormal speed. While we understand that there so few choices left to us at the moment, we also know there are definitely very many consequences to these choices, both in the short-term and the long.
One of these consequences is perhaps the effect the internet and social media have had on national memory. We are keenly aware that political misinformation is not endemic to the internet, but its large-scale manipulation has not reached such heights until now. Andrew Peck provides that though this problem’s general contours are not unique in history (narratives have always been prone to co-option) but that the current affordances provided by social media and the world wide web does add a peculiar tinge to how the news—and in this case historical narratives—are disseminated, consumed, and legitimized. In the Philippines, no example of this is perhaps quite as emblematic as the distortions surrounding Martial Law. Last September 23rd, the country commemorated the 49th anniversary of the late Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of military rule, and if social media reactions are anything to go by, the contemporary response to what is one of the greatest human rights violations the country has ever faced is now slowly being skewed into a positive light rather than remain an outrageous negative. All this even when the facts and the data regarding the period are available and accessible to all. All this, even when the dictatorship’s many victims are still awaiting compensation, and while the generation that had witnessed the rise and fall of the dictatorship are still very much alive, though aging into seniority. On social media, we observe a remembrance of things not quite past, and it is an utterly strange reminiscence.
The stakes for the Philippines is clear: if the memory of such a large-scale violation suddenly gains new levels of malleability in digital spaces, what consequences do these entail for such categories like the national consciousness, or our own concomitant ideas regarding justice, ethics, and the truths we stand by for the future-to-come? What might this mean, more concretely, for the upcoming year’s national elections, which is possibly the main target of all this misinformation? That the son of the dictator is now running for president while his family’s legacy is being laundered online does not seem so coincidental when all these events are constellated together.
While the question demands an answer larger than this space can contain, various artists and directors have taken to social media to remind the public of films that tackle the issue of Martial Law and its many afterlives. The tail-end of September 2021 was marked by a number of online releases, and I was lucky enough to have been able to watch Alvin Yapan’s EDSA (2016) alongside Ramona Diaz’s Imelda (2004) and Lauren Greenfield’s The Kingmaker (2019). The last two are documentaries that ruminate on the grotesque uncanny of Imelda Marcos and her family, and should be watched by those who want to hear the story straight from the remaining half of the conjugal dictatorship. EDSA, meanwhile, is not a documentary, but it is the film which I think adds something new to the conversation at hand.
Yapan’s filmapproaches its subject with thoughtful obliqueness. Instead of retelling the EDSA narrative through the usual cast of political characters (the Aquinos, the Marcoses, the Cojuangcos, the Ramoses, etc) and rehearsing the triumphalist content of popular documentaries and schoolbooks, Yapan instead re-signifies the historic highway in light of its contemporary frustrations. As the longest, most densely congested, and most used road of Metro Manila, traveling between any part of the 23.8km stretch may range anywhere from half an hour to 3, and it is the stress brought about by that kind of ridiculous congestion that makes even the most momentous historical events recede into the background. Who can, after all, ruminate on the fact that EDSA is the site of radical peaceful protest when one is not only threatened by lateness, crime, and petty cruelty, but also simultaneously squeezed tight by other rushing bodies into the smallest available unit of space? The experience of the highway and the megalopolis of Metro Manila forecloses both the spatial and the ideological, and the film gently signals that there is a metaphor extant between the structure of the city and the imagination of its people. If to move through EDSA is to move through history, then its travellers are all attenuated, with their potential and desire for better slowed to a snail’s pace.
Such is the case for the film’s characters, who are all stuck together in the capital’s main artery. From private and public drivers to nurses, teachers to businessmen, small-time hustlers to highway snatchers, all come together on the same road, bringing with them the various burdens that trouble their subject positions. The film ruminates on EDSA’s many contingencies: both the problems that erupt along it, and the spontaneous quick-fixes that are demanded of the people who must suddenly face them. It is the idea of the quick-fix that resonates on multiple temporal levels, and possibly addresses the concerns of the main inquiry. It is undeniable that EDSA and its revolution are testaments of a people’s heroic effort to organize against power, yes, but what might bear more consideration is how revolutionary momentum might—and has to, in fact—find itself diffused at the very level of the quotidian, to enact a change that is both comprehensive and long lasting. We see how 1986 was not enough to address the deeper ills that plague the archipelago, problems that are as old as 1896, if not even older. That the problems endure, rather than the many rectifications Filipinos have made to redress them, speaks to an immensity that has yet to be fully confronted but is manifest regardless of the lack of acknowledgment.
EDSA concludes, humorously, with another kind of cast—the crustacean kind. As the film reaches its dramatic climax, all tension is suddenly diffused by a wave of crabs, initially thought to be the tiny kind (“talangka”) only to actually be of the larger sized variety (“alimango”). What was building up to be an eruption of violence between law and its others ends with everyone dazed and disoriented into a stalemate by the unexpectedly massive animal interlude. It is an enjoyable kind of social satire, because it resists cliché resolution without completely barring the possibility of the better lurking somewhere-to-come. The sudden intrusion of kingdom animalia becomes the gesture that launches a reminder of Philippine folk, such as the oft-told saying that Filipinos are afflicted with crab/talangka mentality, or maybe, that these crabs are the forerunners of folk figure Juan Tamad’s much-delayed journey homeward. (In the twenty-first century, it seems entirely plausible that the Lazy Juan is also a commuter, and has asked the crabs to go ahead simply because they travel faster on six legs than he does on four wheels). Others have inquired whether this might be read as a kind of Philippine post-humanism. All these are possible explanations for the nature of the ending, but for myself, I would like to think that this kind of hilarious absurdity of crabs contains within it a little sprinkle of the literal. After all, it is only a few years after EDSA was released when people started finding pythons in the highway’s train stations, and runaway ostriches chased by goats started appearing in the cities. Crabs, in the larger scheme of things, do not seem all that unusual at this point, and possibly illustrate the many layers of incongruity that must be contended with as we navigate through EDSA as both urban reality and historical metaphor.
The affordances attendant to the internet and its many screens undergirds the very foundation which makes this essay even possible. Without them, none of the documentaries or the films would have been available for viewing right at the time when discussions most needed them. Accessibility has always been one of the great hallmarks of the digital age, and the ability to acquire information and narratives of all kinds, to my mind, can only be beneficial for the wider public in the long-run. However, the ability to access information now also necessitates the accompaniment of what Nishant Shah calls post-access politics. It is not enough to connect people to information in digital spaces, but to now also foster a discernment of the meta-structures that shape the subjects and objects of digital access. These meta-structures rarely point to themselves (social media algorithms are a premier example of this) but strongly shape the availability of content consumed, which in turn becomes the basis on which narratives such as EDSA’s and Martial Law’s are either reinforced, overturned, or even altered in some way.
To interpret Yapan’s EDSA, as well as Diaz’s Imelda and Greenfield’s Kingmaker, as digital artefacts is to also consider that these narratives respond and signify in a space that contains digital echo chambers, political trolls, fake news stories, influencers of all shapes and colors, campaigning politicians, organizing activists, and commercial brands attempting to profit from public political sentiment. They exist in a crowded digital structure alongside other alter-narratives, and are attempting to shift a socio-political condition that spans both off- and online worlds. The significance of anti-Marcosian work, whether factual or creative, remains undeniable if only for the mere fact that the remembrance of such immense violations safeguards the present and future from their exact repetition. However, the more urgent question remains whether any of the documentary and cinematic rehearsals on social media will matter enough to make a difference with regard to the nation’s closest deadline: the 9th of May 2022. Can it, and other efforts like it, significantly recalibrate the political atmosphere that is slowly coming to bear on the whole archipelago? It might be too early to tell as of this moment, but not too early to feel that so much is at stake regarding it.
Isa Lacuna, University of Western Australia, Australia
 Andrew Peck, “A Problem of Amplification: Folklore and Fake News in the Age of Social Media” The Journal of American Folklore 133, no.529 (2020): 330.
 Aside from the documentaries mentioned above, free online resources that can be consulted for an introduction into the topic are: The Martial Law Museum, accessed 12 October 2021, https://martiallawmuseum.ph/; Portia Reyes, “Claiming History: Memoirs of the Struggle against Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law Regime in the Philippines,” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 33, no.2 (2018): 457-498. People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action (PAGASA) has also provided an open-access Google Drive which holds Supreme Court rulings, news reports, scholarly papers, and digitized books on the subject, which can be accessed at bit.ly/ReadMartialLaw.
McCoy’s paper also highlights that this tendency to forget major national trauma is not confined to the 1970s, but spans well into the previous centuries. “[T]he Philippines suffered the brutality of military rule four times—Spain’s martial law of 1896-98, the US military regime, the Japanese occupation in World War II, and Marcos’ martial law. No matter how great the brutality, in the aftermath the Philippines coped with the collective trauma by a period of forgetting followed, often decades later, by a sense of outrage.” Alfred McCoy, “Dark Legacy: Human Rights Under the Marcos Regime,” in Memory, Truth Telling and the Pursuit of Justice: A Conference on the Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2001), 143.
 Lian Buan, “US Lawyer: No PH Admin supported compensation for martial law victims.” Rappler, 16 July 2019, accessed 29 November 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/us-lawyer-says-no-administration-supported-compensation-martial-law-victims-since-1986.
 Daphne Galvez, “Bongbong Marcos announces bid to join presidential race in 2022,” Inquirer.net, 5 October 2021, accessed 7 October 2021, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1497309/bongbong-marcos-announces-bid-to-join-presidential-race-in-2022
 Elyssa Lopez, “Manila, one of the most congested cities in the world, undergoes a transport rehab,” City Monitor, 05 February 2021, accessed 29 September 2021. https://citymonitor.ai/government/infrastructure/manila-one-of-the-most-congested-cities-in-the-world-undergoes-a-transport-rehab
 Neferti Tadiar, “Metropolitan Life and Uncivil Death,” PMLA 122, no.1 (2007): 316.
 On the first folk reference, “crab mentality” is often used to explain why Filipinos are unable to progress as a nation. Like crabs stuck in a container, Filipinos apparently like to pull somebody higher in position and about to escape back down to the bottom where all the other crabs are. The second reference, on Juan Tamad (or Lazy John in English) is a character from an old Philippine metrical romance, whose laziness is characteristic and verges on the comedic. Many thanks to both Christian Benitez and Sunny Tsai for raising these possible genre readings of the crabs in EDSA.
 Manila Bulletin Online, “Snake found on handrails of MRT Ayala Station” YouTube, 3 October 2018, accessed 29 September 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4sjA27yHvE; Regine Cabato, “Forget bird flu—ostrich fever is gripping the Philippines,” Washington Post, 11 August 2020, accessed 29 September 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/ostrich-escape-manila-coronavirus-lockdown/2020/08/11/e10f4d64-db90-11ea-b4f1-25b762cdbbf4_story.html.
 Nishant Shah, “Digital Humanities on the Ground: Post-Access Politics and the Second Wave of Digital Humanities” South Asian Review 40, no. 3 (2019): 155-173.
Buan, Lian. “US Lawyer: No PH Admin supported compensation for martial law victims.” Rappler, 16 July 2019, accessed 29 November 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/us-lawyer-says-no-administration-supported-compensation-martial-law-victims-since-1986.
Cabato, Regine. “Forget bird flu—ostrich fever is gripping the Philippines,” Washington Post, 11 August 2020, accessed 29 September 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/ostrich-escape-manila-coronavirus-lockdown/2020/08/11/e10f4d64-db90-11ea-b4f1-25b762cdbbf4_story.html.
Galvez, Daphne. “Bongbong Marcos announces bid to join presidential race in 2022,” Inquirer.net, 5 October 2021, accessed 7 October 2021. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1497309/bongbong-marcos-announces-bid-to-join-presidential-race-in-2022.
Lopez, Elyssa. “Manila, one of the most congested cities in the world, undergoes a transport rehab,” City Monitor, 05 February 2021, accessed 29 September 2021. https://citymonitor.ai/government/infrastructure/manila-one-of-the-most-congested-cities-in-the-world-undergoes-a-transport-rehab.
Manila Bulletin Online, “Snake found on handrails of MRT Ayala Station” YouTube, 3 October 2018, accessed 29 September 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4sjA27yHvE
The Martial Law Museum, accessed 12 October 2021. https://martiallawmuseum.ph/.
McCoy, Alfred. “Dark Legacy: Human Rights Under the Marcos Regime.” In Memory, Truth Telling and the Pursuit of Justice: A Conference on the Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2001), 129-144.
People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action (PAGASA). “Marcos Martial Law Documents,” GoogleDrive, accessed 12 October 2021. bit.ly/ReadMartialLaw.
Peck, Andrew. “A Problem of Amplification: Folklore and Fake News in the Age of Social Media.” The Journal of American Folklore 133, no.529 (2020): 330.
Reyes, Portia. “Claiming History: Memoirs of the Struggle against Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law Regime in the Philippines,” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 33, no.2 (2018): 457-498.
Shah, Nishant. “Digital Humanities on the Ground: Post-Access Politics and the Second Wave of Digital Humanities” South Asian Review 40, no. 3 (2019): 155-173.
Tadiar, Neferti. “Metropolitan Life and Uncivil Death,” PMLA 122, no.1 (2007): 316-320.