Kids taught to defend Edsa birthright
Today’s kids may not have any idea of what the 1970s-era video games Pong and Space Invaders were about, or how treats like Nutribun tasted. But students at a Quezon City school somehow know how Filipinos felt living through that decade when martial law was imposed throughout the country and basic rights and freedoms were trampled upon.
Since the fall of the dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos three decades ago, the government, as well as academia, have tried but failed in their efforts to better inform children about the wrongs committed during one of the country’s darkest periods.
For one thing, several history books used in schools have either glossed over or altogether skipped discussions of the abuses and excesses of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family and cronies.
This has led many Filipinos to forget the lessons learned from the country’s struggle against the dictatorship.
Over the past seven years, teachers at Raya School—which prides itself as a nationalist and progressive elementary and junior high school—have resorted to simulation exercises to help their students better understand why and how events in our country’s history had turned out the way they did.
Rather than simply reenact the events in the days leading to the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, what the school administration does each year is to take a leaf from the dictator’s playbook.
Once, teachers slowly denied the students their rights to talk to their friends, play and even draw. That was meant to dramatize the dictatorship’s utter disregard for the people’s rights and freedoms. Some students were also recruited as “spies” to rat on their classmates in a bid to quell any effort to rise against the teachers.
One form of “oppression” used by teachers is to intentionally ignore their students. That was a jarring experience for the young ones who were used to their teachers being nurturing and attentive.
Two to three days into the simulation, some “erring” students were “detained” for an hour for no reason at all.
According to Raya School director Ani Almario, the simulations were meant to make students feel how it was to live through a time when you were stripped of your basic rights.
Through such activity, she said the younger generation would see “the need to do something if ever our country’s democracy comes under threat again.”
To be clear, though, Almario—the daughter of National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario and wife of former Innovation Council head CP David—said the simulations were not meant to glorify any administration or personality other than the Filipino people.
“During the simulation, nobody acts like a savior. The students only feel that someone impinged on their rights, and as a people they rose up. There’s no glorification of any sort. It’s always: ‘Because we were united, we were able to overcome those who oppressed us,’” she said.
As the simulation was an annual activity “dreaded” by students, Almario said school authorities made it a point to always change the parameters so the students would not be able to anticipate the scenarios. The Inquirer is cooperating by not disclosing this year’s settings.
Ending with revolt
Almario said that since the simulation always ends up with a raucous revolt—last year saw hundreds of elementary and high school students barricade the faculty room—teachers make it a point to debrief the students and together process what had happened.
More than change a student and by extension his family’s possible bias toward Marcos and his administration, Almario said the objective of their activity was to “open and start the conversation” about the authoritarian regime.
She pointed out that for their students to be able to develop critical thinking, they do not deny that Marcos did build various infrastructure projects during his two-decade rule.
At the same time, they inform students of the fact that Marcos also ran the country’s economy to the ground and committed gross human rights abuses.
Nuanced view of history
By presenting these facts, students like Gabrielle Alexa Quintos are given the opportunity to have a more nuanced view of Philippine history. The Grade 5 student told the Inquirer in an interview that Marcos “could’ve been a good President if only he did not get addicted to power.”
She added that while there could always be a legitimate reason for resorting to martial law, this extreme measure should not be used to amass wealth and abuse people.
While Raya gives special attention to the Marcos dictatorship, Grade 9 student Isabel dela Cruz maintained that the school administration “does not impose their beliefs and morals on us.” She noted that the school only guides them to become more inquisitive about various social issues.
In this age when the truth is under fire, Almario said that activities like the simulation exercise allow teachers like them to do their part in better fighting the lies and propaganda being spread on social media.
While she expressed optimism that such an initiative is never too late to be adopted by other schools, she wished that they had done this much earlier, when Filipinos had not yet grown complacent and had forgotten the abuses committed by the dictatorship.
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