How do Filipinos Remember Their History? A Descriptive Account of Filipino Historical Memory.

AuthorDulay, Dean

How do Filipinos remember their history? This seems like a straightforward question, but to date it is a question with no systematic answer. Knowing what Filipinos think about their past is a necessary step in any serious attempt at understanding Filipino political identity and attempts to reconstruct or re-imagine that identity. As a matter of practical politics, it is also clearly important. The 2022 presidential elections saw the re-emergence of the Marcos family at the pinnacle of Philippine politics, with Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. retaking the presidency his father once held. Explanations for the Marcoses' rehabilitation have naturally considered the attempts by the Marcos family and its allies to re-frame the period of martial law, and the changing perceptions of Filipinos towards this era. Opposition candidates and supporters have attempted to "reeducate" Marcos voters, under the premise that historical misunderstandings and informational deficits are to blame for the Marcos resurgence. (1) The political past is thus a battleground for the country's political future. But beyond such events' functionalist importance to politics, an understanding of the Philippines' major historical events is a potentially important component of a shared national identity. As much as one cannot conceive of US politics without the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War, or a South African identity without apartheid, or a Singaporean identity without Lee Kuan Yew, colonialism, martial law and People Power are major parts of the Philippines' political history.

This article provides quantitative, descriptive results from two nationally-representative surveys that show how Filipinos currently view three of the country's major historical events: the Spanish colonialism of the Philippines (1565-1898); martial law under President Ferdinand Marcos (1972-81); (2) and the 1986 People Power Revolution. (3) We do not attempt to explain why Filipinos view these events and people the way that they do in this article. That is work for future research. Instead, the authors hope to establish a baseline of facts, as well as some initial potential interpretations and takeaways, that future work can then draw on for further theorizing about how history shapes contemporary politics, society and, ultimately, collective national identity. (4)

It is worth noting at the outset that this exercise comes with some limitations. First, these descriptive accounts are snapshots taken at a certain point in time. Furthermore, these surveys were conducted in January and February 2022, relatively close to the May 2022 presidential elections. The election campaign may have shaped opinions on historical events such as martial law and those opinions might change after the elections. Those opinions may also differ from opinions one, three or five years ago. Given this possibility, we also explore views about Spanish colonialism, an event that was not politically salient during the last election. (5) If the views we captured in these surveys are merely an ephemeral product of electioneering then we would expect to see a different pattern of responses in assessments of martial law and People Power vis-avis Spanish colonialism. Second, it is possible that answers that tend towards indifference (when respondents answer something like "neither agree nor disagree") are the product of a lack of attention or effort on the part of respondents rather than ambivalence. To address this concern, we compare the distribution of attitudes regarding our events of interest with attitudes towards President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. (6) If a lack of effort or inattention drives indifference, we would expect to see similar levels of ambivalence towards the drug war.

Despite these limitations, this exercise has merit. Snapshots are exactly that: they provide descriptive accounts of attitudes at a given point in time. This exercise is thus a first step, which will serve as a baseline by which we can compare descriptive data in succeeding years. To elaborate, this exercise produces a set of baseline results regarding the historical memory of Filipinos towards some of its major historical events. As we will show, this simple exercise is also sufficient to complicate or rebut some widely held presumptions about the enduring legacies of politically relevant events such as martial law and People Power. Indeed, in both cases, we find indifference to be the modal response among our respondents. Examining the perceptions of Filipinos towards Spanish colonialism also allows for a deeper understanding of public perceptions regarding the country's colonial past. Finally, we hope that this analysis will lead to future work that will allow us to more deeply understand how Filipinos view their past, how memories of the past are re-imagined and reconstituted over time, and how such memories shape political attitudes and behaviours in the present.

Collective Memory and Politics

While an immense body of scholarship has examined the nature and role of collective memory in society, it remains a contested concept. (7) In this article we focus on collective memory as "collected memory", or "the aggregated individual memories of members of a group". (8) In adopting this approach to studying collective memory, we recognize that not all members of a group have equal influence within their society and that the remembrances of some can garner greater attention than those of others. (9) Indeed, our goal in this study is not to suggest that there exists a single collective memory for Filipino society, but rather to map out the landscape of remembrance among a representative sample of Filipinos regarding certain pivotal events in their country's history.

Existing research into the political behavioural legacies of historical events often assumes that a given historical event is salient in a specific way (i.e., viewed either positively or negatively) within a population. This assumption of a prevalent collective memory within the population is usually the necessary precursor for expectations of enduring historical legacies. However, empirical work in this space does not always explicitly assess how individuals within the population perceive such historical events. For example, we might not expect to recover a meaningful enduring legacy from a traumatic historical event if the population is largely ambivalent towards the said event or if the population no longer views the event as traumatic. Even if an enduring legacy is recovered, it might be driven by only a particular segment of the population, or perhaps a smaller-than-imagined segment of the population--insights that might be hidden if we rely on common assumptions instead of mapping the collective memory landscape. Similarly, the success or failure of a politician's attempts to evoke a specific historical event will also depend on the continued salience of the event for the electorate. We address this lacuna by explicitly mapping how the Filipino population views pivotal events in their country's history.

Data Sources and Analysis

We use data from two waves of nationally representative surveys conducted by Pulse Asia, one of the Philippines' leading survey research firms, in January and February 2022. Together the two survey waves yield a dataset of 2,400 total respondents, 284 from the National Capital Region (NCR), 1,060 from the balance of Luzon (the rest of Luzon outside of the NCR), 560 from Mindanao and 496 from the Visayas. The sample consists of 1,200 male and 1,200 female respondents. (10)

Following standard procedures and best practices for public opinion surveys, Pulse Asia employed a multi-stage probability sampling for its surveys. (11) The first stage involved a decision on the sub-national areas and the distribution of the total sample for each of these areas. The sub-national areas are NCR, the balance of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

In the second stage, the team randomly selected cities/municipalities in each of these sub-national areas. For the NCR, all the cities and the single municipality were covered in the survey. For the other sub-national areas, a total of 15 cities/municipalities were allocated to the regions in proportion to household population size. Sample cities/municipalities were selected without replacement and with probability proportional to household population size.

In the third stage, the survey team randomly selected barangays (villages) in the probabilistically identified cities/municipalities. The allocated number of barangays were distributed among the sample cities/municipalities in such a way that each city/municipality was assigned a number of barangays roughly proportional to its household population size. However, it was ensured that each city/municipality was assigned at least one sample barangay. Sample barangays within each sample city/municipality were randomly selected without replacement.

For the fourth stage, within each sample barangay, five households were selected using interval sampling. In the sample urban barangays, a random corner was identified, a random start generated and every sixth household was sampled. In rural barangays, the designated starting point could be a school, the barangay captain's house, a church/chapel or a barangay/municipal hall, and every other household was sampled.

For the last stage, in each selected household, a respondent was randomly chosen from among household members who were 18 years of age and older, using a probability selection table. To ensure that half of the respondents were male and half were female, only male family members were pre-listed in the probability selection table of odd-numbered questionnaires, while only female members were pre-listed for even-numbered questionnaires. In cases where there was no qualified respondent of a given gender, the interval sampling of households was continued until five sample respondents...

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