Seven days after the 2022 national elections, internet users browsing the Malacañang website saw something different on their screens. Instead of the slider showing photos of the palace’s façade, an error message filled up the browser window. The website was inaccessible, taking a sizable collection of Martial Law era resources down with it.
With the Marcoses’ skillful manipulation of the public’s digital consciousness, it is not hard to see why people were alarmed over the downtime of the Malacañang website. The extended downtime feels a lot like a media blackout, reminiscent of media shutdowns during the Martial Law era. It does not help that Imee Marcos publicly stated that her brother’s presidential win is an opportunity to "clarify" her father’s legacy—a regime marked by killings, abuse, and censorship.
An official statement from the Presidential Museum and Library said the website is merely undergoing updates and all content is intact. But fearing that this incident was a precursor to more widespread erasure of Martial Law era content, many individuals and groups enlisted the help of technology to take matters into their own hands.
Redacted and Tampered
The Marcos family has spent the last decade denying their crimes, downplaying criticisms against their late patriarch Ferdinand Marcos. Despite the solid proof of the Martial Law atrocities, many loyalists still deny those had happened. The denial comes as a result of coordinated attempts to distort history, wherein online posts posit false claims about the Marcoses. These kinds of content spread rapidly on social media, gaining millions of engagements.
The cycle of disinformation owes its success to social media, where historical accuracy plays second fiddle to clicks. The Marcoses were able to change the narrative about their family, utilizing everything from bizarre urban legends to falsehoods aimed at their critics and rivals. It was a long game for them, one that they cunningly played until they delivered a checkmate last May 9.
The persistence of fake news happened even with a plethora of Martial Law resources available online. There is the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani website, which is also undergoing a revamp. The Bantayog page carries an extensive collection of information about the martyrs of the regime. Ateneo de Manila University also has an online Martial Law Museum containing educational resources about the Marcos regime.
With more people believing what they see on social media, people started putting up more Martial Law archives online for easier access. These initiatives are among the few instances where social media users lead efforts to fight disinformation. At least one publicly accessible Martial Law archive has been up since October 2021. The Google Drive folder, dubbed “The Marcos Years,” was shared across the internet. Since then, several initiatives have followed suit.
While not as organized as mainstream media’s continued fact-checking efforts, thousands of users have participated in or created their own archives. These folders cover a wide range of topics, from the more novel anecdotes, as in Marcos Sr.’s affair with Dovie Beams, to the more spine-chilling, vivid documentation of the torture of the late dictator’s critics.
In their raw form, these archives almost seem like mini-community libraries. Much like donating books, users can contribute by uploading PDF files or sharing video clips. Even the larger archives, like the Martial Law Chronicles Project and Developh’s Martial Law Index, also accept volunteer submissions.
Building these archives was a spontaneous process fueled by none other than people’s desire to share knowledge, one much appreciated due to the limited access to physical spaces because of the pandemic. The archives act as a stand-in for physical libraries. The availability of resources is also a massive opportunity to correct misconceptions, one analogous to the bite-sized fake news prominent on digital platforms.
How the public receives fascist history depends on the iconographies associated with it, media scholar Kris Ravetto-Biagoli discussed in The Unmaking of Fascist Aesthetics. One of the hallmarks of the Marcos public relations machine is its usage of mysticism and trivialization to color the regime. For instance, the Tallano Gold conspiracy is imprinted in the public consciousness, even after having been debunked multiple times. The Nutribun USAID project was also framed as a tasty snack rather than a sign of widespread malnutrition.
Without factual information to correct these ideas, the public remembers the bloody regime less for its atrocities and more for falsehoods and mundane aspects. If archives like the Malacañang website disappear, it is likely that the current consensus on the Marcos regime’s atrocities will be relegated to an alternate interpretation of historical events.
The civilian archives were made in anticipation of a sanitized section about the Marcos regime replacing previous content on the Malacañang website. Should this happen, it’s easy to imagine that the other government agencies carrying documents about the era will get whitewashed or purged altogether. These include the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
“As president, Marcos Jr. has the power to appoint key administrative positions like the Department of Education, which was recently given to Sara Duterte. He also has the power to appoint the chairperson of the NHCP,” says Francisco Guiang, an assistant professor of history at UP Diliman. “The latter will be crucial because he will have the means to dictate a perspective of Martial Law history that will be favorable for their family even if it means disregarding important historical facts.”
The NHCP has a series of online materials at the Martial Law Museum. The commission also objected to the burial of Marcos Sr. in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in 2016. Initiatives like the Museum seem directly incompatible with the precedence set by the Marcoses, in which they whitewash well-documented cases of abuse and killings during the Martial Law period.
The civilian-led archives are an alternative to these projects, although additional steps must be taken to ensure that they do not go down easily.
Duplicate and Disseminate
It will take more than enthusiasm and a stable internet for these archives to survive outside cloud storage. Replicability is important to ensure their survival, while widespread dissemination is important to ensure that these links have a life outside the volunteers’ news feeds.
If books can be burned or shredded, downloaded files can be nuked through corruption or hacking. Even with their supposed immortality, digital files are always at risk of extinction if backups don’t exist. Volunteer group Developh recognizes this as a potential problem for their Martial Law Index, which is why they have already set up a backup website for the project.
“We want to create many digital mirrors and preserve files in physical media formats. We want the website itself to be reproducible so that in case our site goes down, two more rise,” said Chia Amisola, Developh’s founder.
Besides ensuring their continued existence, there is also the challenge of letting these materials propagate beyond the echo chamber. The support page of the Martial Law Chronicles Project contains a similar message. Marked as “an inconvenient truth,” the page posits that their initiative is just a David to the Goliath that is the Marcoses.
But despite these challenges, many of these volunteers are committed to using technology to continue upholding Martial Law history. The key to rebuilding public trust may be cultivating engagement with the information, as posited by a 2021 paper led by Jesper Strömbäck and other media scholars. Rather than forcing them to participate with mainstream media institutions they find polarizing, civilian initiatives like the archives come without that baggage.
These archives are a demonstration of how technology and volunteerism can go hand-in-hand. But although a step forward, Martial Law archival efforts are not the solution to the historical distortion problem. There must be more vigilance in the coming months, as we wait and see how the incoming administration will frame the history of the Marcos regime. In the same way that volunteers put together these archives, the public also has the responsibility to ensure their survival against purging.
It is not enough for these archives to exist in the cloud. We should read, share, and keep backups. These community-driven initiatives are a reminder of our combined strength, a power capable enough of upholding Martial Law history online and offline. ●
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