In most countries and governments, historical revisionism (the reexamination, rewriting, or distortion of the historical record) normally takes place after a decent time interval, or after there is a change of regimes or governments.
In the case of the government of President Benigno Aquino III, it is doing something unprecedented and bizarre, which not even Nazi Germany and Military-Dictatorship Japan ventured to do during their heyday. It seeks to revise and distort the historical record of the Aquino presidency while it is still in office. It does not want to leave to historians, librarians and archivists the task of keeping for posterity the records, documents and accounts of events during the Aquino regime. It is denying with a straight face what has been retold over and over.
With still 11 months to go before the curtain falls on the regime, this revisionist project is being implemented by Aquino functionaries, propagandists and bureaucrats. It is manifest in two key chapters of the Aquino years that have been marked by policy failures and administrative breakdown. These two chapters are:
(a) The Supertyphoon Yolanda/Haiyan diasaster on November 8, 2013 – covering not just what happened on that fateful day, but also the massive failures in the rescue, relief, recovery and rehabilitation effort that persist nearly two years later.
(b) The massacre in Mamasapano of 44 Special Action Force Commandos on January 25, 2015 – encompassing the decisions that led to the massacre and the massive effort to cover up presidential accountability for the operation and presidential failure to order rescue operations that could have saved SAF lives
Before discussing the specific distortions that are currently being done, let’s get a grip on the meaning of historical revisionism, and the various forms that it can take.
Revisionism, what it is and why it sucks
Historical revisionism is essentially the re-examination, reinterpretation, denial or distortion of well-established historical facts.
Revisionism can take either of two forms: (1) the legitimate scholastic re-examination of existing knowledge about a historical event, or (2) the illegitimate distortion of the historical record. The latter, which sometimes involves the denial of historical crimes, is also sometimes called negationism.
Notable examples of negationism include the denial of the Holocaust in World War II, Soviet historiography, and the controversial program of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.
Distortion of Yolanda disaster
As the response of the Aquino government to the Yolanda disaster has been adjudged as incompetent, inadequate and insensitive by Filipino and international organizations, the administration has labored hard to produce a substitute narrative about its work on the disaster.
It has tried to document its efforts to move resources and personnel for the recovery and rehabilitation effort. But recent assessments by the United Nations, Social Watch Philippines and international air organizations have belied the claims. It has engaged in blatant denial and dishonesty about the real situation and the real status of projects and funding.
One dubious revisionist effort of the government is the barefaced denial by President Aquino that he admonished a Chinese-Filipino businessman, Kenneth Yu Uy, who claimed to have been shot at by looters, and who urged the president to declare martial law in Tacloban because of the rampant looting and violence.
The President allegedly told Uy, “Buhay ka pa naman, di ba (You’re still alive, aren’t you)?”
Nearly two years after Yolanda’s landfall, Palace propagandists claim that in the transcript of Aquino’s meeting with disaster management and local officials, there is no record of the President having addressed Uy during the meeting.
But official claims notwithstanding, the quote has posterized the President as inept and insensitive. It became emblematic of the many shortcomings of the government in the relief, recovery and rehabilitation effort.
Until the challenge of rebuilding lives and communities is fully met, there will be no success in rewriting the history of Typhoon Yolanda and East Visayas. Realities will undo the revisitionist effort.
Distortion of Mamasapano massacre
Typhoon Yolanda is clearly the biggest humanitarian and management challenge to face the Aquino administration.
But in some ways, the massacre of elite police commandos in Mamasapano has become an even bigger public relations disaster for the Aquino presidency. Aquino’s accountability is written on the tragedy from start to finish.
Consequently, government propagandists have exerted a lot of effort to rewrite the Mamasapano massacre in a way that would not portray the president as having sent the SAF 44 to their deaths and having failed to order a rescue operation to save them.
Here again, public perception have hardened in a way that defies revisionism.
To counter this perception, Palace communicators have lately issued statements and press releases to show that the administration has not been remiss in its responsibilities to the slain commandos and their families.
Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office has resorted to straight-face lying about the president’s actions and shortcomings.
Knowing full well what had already been reported in the media and was known to the victims’ families, Coloma claimed:
“The President did not wait long to recognize what they (the SAF44) had done for the country. The administration did everything that was needed to be done to address the needs of their families.”
When President Aquino failed to mention the SAF 44 in his state of the nation address last July 27, and then failed to mention them also in his speech at the 114th anniversary of the Philippine National Police (PNP) last August 7, he destroyed the revisionist strategy.
Coloma wrote the epitaph for the failed effort. When asked why Aquino did not mention the SAF 44 in his speech during the anniversary, he declared: “The President has acknowledged their sacrifices in many speeches in the past.”
This sounded like he was denying the Holocaust ever happened.
Scars will remain
To successfully revise the history of the Aquino years, the Aquino revisionist project will need to cover a lot more ground and more abominations. It cannot stop at Yolanda and Mamasapano. DAP is screaming to be recognized.
This is because the Aquino presidency has had a profound and deep impact on our country and our people – far more than most of us realize.
This presidency will abide in our memories long after it is gone from office. The nation will bear scars that should last at least a decade.