Thirty years ago today, a peaceful revolution brought an end to the most violent and oppressive presidency in Philippine history. But over the years, some Filipino millennials have come to believe that life under Ferdinand Marcos represented a ”golden age.” One thirty-two year Manila resident even calls the dictator the ”best president” ever. “That was when the Philippines was the leader of Asia. We were respected,” Richard Negre told the New York Times.
To set the record straight and dramatize the real life horrors of the Marcos regime, a new “experiential museum” opened in Manila today (Feb 25). The government-backed temporary exhibition vivifies the over 75,000 cases of human rights violations filed against Marcos and his cronies.
“At this turning point in our history, we pass on the torch of social change to the millennial generation: a breed of young innovators, informed netizens, proactive volunteers, and social entrepreneurs who enjoy the freedom and democracy that our heroes fought for throughout the dictatorship and won back at EDSA in 1986,” organizers explained in a press release. (EDSA stands for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, the main thoroughfare where People Power rallies were held.)
Like the play, Sleep No More, (minus the fancy drinks), the People Power Experiential Museum, as it’s called, is an immersive theatrical production. Along with photography and video projections in seven themed halls, a cast of actors amplify the emotional punch of the displays. Visitors see blindfolded bodies in stiff cots in the “The Hall of Restless Sleep”; beggars swarm visitors as they peer through holes on the wall into an extravagant ballroom in “The Hall of Hidden Truths;” and wailing children hold photos of their parents behind barbed wires in “The Hall of Orphans.”
The history lesson comes in light of the campaign of Marcos’s son, BongBong, to be elected the country’s next vice president on May 9. A recent poll shows him leading the race.
Philippine president Benigno “NoyNoy” Aquino III, whose own father’s assassination triggered the events leading to People Power, is scheduled to inaugurate the exhibition.
Marcos’s presidency is remembered by some as a time of economic prosperity, glamorous parties and cultural festivals, usually convened by his luxury-oriented wife Imelda. For those who lived through martial law from 1972–1981 and years following, nightmares remain about rampant torture, abductions, private armies, executions, graft, corruption, theft, censorship, curfews. During Marcos’s reign of terror, the word ”salvage,”even took on a new meaning. Demonstrated in gruesome photos in dailies during that time, it became a shortcut for the regular abduction, torture and murder of over 10,000 Filipinos critical of Marcos.
So benign is the Marcos brand today that David Byrne even created a hit Broadway show glorifying Imelda’s rags-to-riches biography through disco. The former first lady has a seat in the Philippine congress and their daughter Imee poses for fashion magazines.
The museum is open to the public from Feb 25–26, but all tours of the two-day exhibition have been sold out as of this writing. Organizers say that there are seeking a permanent location for the museum. The committee has also developed website to commemorate this momentous era in Philippine history.