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Never Forget: A new generation of activists is confronting the Marcos dynasty

Filipino and Filipino American activists rally in protest of the historical revisionism and continued attacks on human rights under Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, who spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 20, 2022. His address comes one day before the 50th anniversary of Executive Order 1081, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s proclamation of Martial Law in the Philippines. Courtesy: Northeast Coalition to Advance Genuine Democracy in the Philippines

“He was the best public speaker,” my mother remembered fondly.

It was not the response I had been hoping for when I asked how it was living under Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. I was in my third year of college, enrolled in a class studying Philippine history and its connections with the Filipino diaspora. I had also recently joined Anakbayan-USA, an overseas chapter of a grassroots youth organization whose origins take root in the long history of anti-fascist struggle in the Philippines. Needless to say, after the gruesome details I learned about the Marcos dictatorship from these spaces, Marcos’ eloquence was not the first thing that came to mind when thinking about his more than 20-year reign.

In hindsight, my mother may have had a point. The Marcoses have excelled in public speaking. But the goal of their rhetoric since returning to the Philippines in 1991 has been to distort facts and revise history. The narratives that have saturated public consciousness are not of the tens of thousands of people extrajudicially killed, arrested, and tortured under martial law, but rather, the so-called "golden years" under the Marcos family. The stories emphasize the roads and infrastructure built but ignore the plundering of billions of taxpayer dollars from the national treasury that were supposed to pay for it. They herald the new Marcos as a leader who will spread hope and unity throughout the country, but overlook the family's culpability in further dividing the country between the rich and the poor.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator, claimed the highest seat of power this past May in arguably one of the dirtiest elections in Philippine history. Already, we see the dangerous continuity between the administrations of father and son. Under the guise of a “Unity Budget,” Marcos Jr. plans to continue prioritizing funds for debt servicing, counterinsurgency, and the financial gain of the few. This amounts to staggering figures of over 11 percent of the national budget going toward debt payment, P28.9 billion for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict — an agency notorious for red-tagging even former Vice President Leni Robredo — and over P621 billion in easily-corruptible presidential “pork barrel” funds.

Filipino and Filipino American activists participate in actions across New York on September 20, 2022 in protest of the Marcos-Duterte administration. Courtesy: Northeast Coalition to Advance Genuine Democracy in the Philippines

And while Marcos Jr. has not declared martial law, political repression remains a staple for the new administration, with over 800 political prisoners currently behind bars; the disappearance and arrests of Indigenous activists like Steve Tauli and the Pangadas brothers; the rearrest of Adora Faye de Vera, who was originally detained, tortured, and raped under Marcos Sr.’s martial law; as well as Marcos Jr.’s intent to continue former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

My studies in college and with Anakbayan about the Marcos regime now blend with the present day. But on the opposite side of this dark history is the courageous people’s fight that toppled a dictator. This is the truth that we young activists — together with our elders — must bring to the fore, especially as the Marcos Jr. administration goes all-out to defend the martial law years.

Today’s generation of activists is stepping into a pivotal moment in history. We have the responsibility to learn the lessons from the decades-long fight against the Marcos regime and bring them to the current day: the militant street protests of Kabataang Makabayan and other organizations in the First Quarter Storm in 1970; the radical vision of the Diliman Commune in 1971; the linking of arms between the youth and the working class exemplified by the La Tondeña strike in 1975; the unshakeable solidarity of Filipino American labor leaders Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo, who were martyred by the Marcos regime in 1981; and, of course, the broad unity forged in the People Power Uprising in 1986.

Filipino and Filipino American activists participate in actions across New York on September 20, 2022 in protest of the Marcos-Duterte administration. Courtesy: Northeast Coalition to Advance Genuine Democracy in the Philippines

We are not starting from scratch. When Marcos Jr. was on the campaign trail, Anakbayan-USA and people’s organizations from across the United States, launched national days of action to protest the return of the Marcos dynasty. We united again under a manifesto to reject the regime, holding mobilizations in response to his inauguration and first State of the Nation Address. In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Marcos Sr.'s declaration of martial law and Marcos Jr.'s visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly this month, we will once again mount national protests.

We know that more work must be done to strengthen and grow the mass movement against historical revisionism and for genuine democracy in the Philippines. That work begins with our commitment to remembering history and those before us, continuing the fight, and demanding that the atrocities under the Marcos regime never transpire again. When future generations ask, "how was life under Marcos Jr.?" we will answer with the truth.

Adrian Bonifacio is the National Chairperson of Anakbayan-USA. To learn more about Martial Law at 50 Commemoration activities, visit

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