The Long View: Lost Generation

September 20, 2004

The Long View: Lost Generation

by Manuel L. Quezon III

THE British writer H.G. Wells wrote that when Queen Victoria died, it was as if a large paperweight had been lifted off a desk, resulting in a lot of papers being blown about in confusion. A similar image comes to mind, when it comes to martial law: the dictatorship was like a heavy paperweight that kept everything in place by virtue of its oppressive weight; and once it was gone, the country was like papers scattered in confusion by the wind.

Martial law was a great divide; it separates all that came before, from all that has come since. Our history before 1972, when yu think of it, represents the profound influence ideas and intellectual can have on a nation. The history of the Philippines since martial law has been the steady bankruptcy of ideas and those who propagate them in our society.

The ideas –and ideals- of the propaganda movement; the motives and motivations of the revolution; the adaptation of the heritage of both in our attempt to reclaim our independence; the great thoughts that tried to give meaning and relevance to independence once reestablished in 1946: our country’s story has been the story of thoughts, of ideas, that moved the sectors that constitute our nation.

But after 1972, ideas and the intellectuals and ideologues who make them, have increasingly been sidelined in the story of our national life: not least because so many intellectuals sold out or were deluded into supporting the dictatorship. The dictatorship, too, in wrecking the economy and turning us into a nation of overseas workers, virtually liquidated our middle class as a moving force in national development, and guaranteed that fewer and fewer Filipinos would have the capacity to be inspired, much less motivated, by ideas. Even People Power, as we have seen in the twenty one years since Ninoy’s assassination, has never been fully formed, made truly workable, as a motivational idea. We have tried to make people power part of our lives, but its principles are so vague, its applications so unclear, that we have gotten to be unsure if it was ever a real thought at all. People Power was –is- perhaps, more of an emotion than a genuine idea.

Why haven’t we been able to come up with ideas that can move us, help us make sense of our national condition, and improve our country? The answer may lie in the way martial law put an end to the intellectual development –the rise of ideas- that previously characterized the evolution of our nation. From the generation of Rizal, to that of Bonifacio and Mabini, to Aguinaldo, Rafael Palma, Osmena, Quezon, and Roxas and Recto, Ramon Magsaysay and on to Macapagal in politics, from the propagandists, the the first Filipino Socialists, and then the new generation of Communists in the 1960s and the reformers who came of age also in the 1960s: the development of ideas in our country was constant, its most obvious manifestation being the steady replacement of one generation by the next in both political and intellectual matters. From 1972, to 1986, however, only one man and his pretensions to ideas mattered for most Filipinos: that of Ferdinand Marcos. Those with contrary thoughts, with possibly worthy ideas, were either imprisoned, on the run, in exile, or put to death during that period. And as the thinkers were put on the sidelined, those who might have received those ideas were off to work abroad, or receiving an increasingly inferior education at home.

When you think of how Ferdinand Marcos’s generation (he was born in 1917), was poised to be replaced by Ninoy Aquino’s generation (he was born in 1933) as long ago as 1972; and how it took until 1998 for another member of Ninoy’s generation (Joseph Estrada, born in the same decade), you get to appreciate just how the hand-over of leadership from one generation to the next was delayed due to martial law. Although Cory Aquino also belonged to Ninoy’s generation, her rise to power was not accompanied by a transition to young leadership, but instead, the delayed assumption of power of those who were poised to assume it in 1972 but were forced to wait: with all the exhaustion -spiritually, mentally, and morally- that characterizes such a delay.

Whether in retrospect they were naïve or inspired, the fact is, during the First Quarter Storm, a transition from one generation to the next was in the works, while the generation to follow that was poised to begin exercising its creative energies preparatory to eventual leadership. Instead of this natural transformation being allowed to proceed, Ninoy’s generation was made to wait; the generation of young radicals in turn has had to wait too. Too much waiting cannot do any good, because in such a situation, by the time a person of ideas is finally allowed to try to make a difference, the ideas that motivated that person have either become irrelevant or been tainted by the bitterness of delay.

The sterile, poisonous triumph of martial law can be measured in the way that, despite the dictatorship’s being eventually overthrown, the false date it chose for the beginning of martial law, September 21, is the date even its enemies and survivors commemorate. The big lie that was the antedating of martial law to this day, obscures the actual signing on September 22, and the arrests in the dawn of September 23.

But beyond the enduring falsity of martial law, the billions stolen, the thousands killed, it is the way our country’s growth since then has been robbed of the power and influence of ideas, that we should truly mourn. We are a nation so pillaged we can no longer think.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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