A Question of Truth and Accessibility: Public Education in The Philippines

Over the past weeks, controversies and “unseen” raw footage involving the Marcoses have surfaced again online after Toni Gonzaga interviewed Bongbong Marcos, the son of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos on her channel. The endless circulation of these hullabaloos, commentaries, and conspiracies fueling furies between the fanatics — both the dilawans (Aquino supporters) and Marcos loyalists/apologists, as they say, power social media debates until they widen into a chronic dialogue during the 49th anniversary of Martial Law declaration; and now it deepens as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Philippines open the filing of candidacy for the 2022 elections from October 1-8, 2021.

Scholars, historians, professors, activists, and various human and civil rights groups air their dismay over the alleged revision of history by whitewashing the abuses of the Marcoses by narrating the late strongman as a father figure in the discussion — urging Toni to interview victims of martial law in a statement posted by the Ateneo Martial Law Museum to verify claims Bongbong have mentioned.

In the decadence of the controversy, Facebook posts and TikTok videos enumerating the so-called “projects” of the Marcos regime during his era were disseminated — arousing another sequence of public discourse after Bongbong Marcos confirms a possible presidential run under Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), a political party founded by his father.

It appears social media users were convinced with the circulation of these posts — citing that the 2022 elections must favor the return of another Marcos in Malacañan, to make the Philippines as great as his father did. Because of this, the call for public education is widely encouraged especially now that the election season is about to peak. It is also reiterated to the public to stay educated and only acquire information from verified channels. Experts and history critics have already corrected the unverified information posted and shared online. However, the credits were already certain: that it’s the Marcoses who built everything we find lucrative on our community today — even those established before his reign, like the World Bank. Despite the corrections given, citizens blame the press and history books for not including the “real truth” of the Marcos era.

But the “real truth” is: disinformation networks are engineered to influence those who are incapable of obtaining historical data found in legitimate sources — making public education a hard-to-reach dream. With the acquisition of technologies by less media literate Filipinos whose data plan only offers free Facebook promos, it allows them to believe what they read on Facebook as ‘fact’ and verification as ‘least’ of their options. They’ve made Facebook the only source of information aside from television news. As a result, it restricts them from accessing educational sites containing the ‘absolute truths’ during the dark era of Philippine democracy.

The problem with public education is not the availability of the resources, but the ‘certainty’ that these educational resources will be accessible for public consumption regardless of their mode of acquiring them.

In the Philippines, these resources can only be accessed freely if you are a university student or a scholar subscribed to research journals. While some of the books can be downloaded for free, another dilemma concerns the majority. Some educational materials contain distorted facts and manipulated content which reduces the quality and credibility of these resources. However, if a material has to be paid, for a below minimum wage earner, paying for peer-reviewed research or books is not their priority, especially if they can hardly provide their children’s needs at school or survive their families during the current health climate.

Nevertheless, what’s worse than the inaccessibility of historical data and books is not the social media debate structured with poor pieces of evidence, but the perpetuation of misinformed opinions led by the educated, powerful families whose influence is greater than the efforts of academicians and historians. For a consumer of information on Facebook, a netizen would highly believe in a powerful individual with a higher reach than an unknown scholar trying every inch of his best to educate the public using his platform.

This is what happens when we neglect to recognize public experience in the cycle of education: we are abandoning their right to explore beyond what these powerful families are telling them to believe as the “real truth.” They magnify ignorance to engineer a network of hatred, divisive political environment, and uncorroborated debates and carry that disinformation to pass on another less fortunate Filipino deprived of informed opinion — until the cycle continues to prevail, until we forget what “real truth” is about — and what it is for.