The lessons of history

The late poet-philosopher, George Santayana, said, “He who does not heed the lessons of history is condemned to repeat them.”

Condemned is a very strong word but it is apt, especially in the experience of our nation, a nation so young and yet so easy to forget.

History keeps repeating itself but few heed its warnings.

Despite our Martial Law experience, many Filipinos have yet to hear the message, it seems. Or maybe we have… but refuse to listen to it… because it is more convenient to forgive, forget and just move on.

Perhaps the quest for justice is just too tiring and disappointing. Hence, as Santayana said, we are condemned to repeat the lessons of history.

But the younger generation of Filipinos turning out in droves in political rallies nowadays gives me hope.

When more of our young people choose to participate in political activities, they are more likely to remain in the country, active and engaged in Philippine society, willing to have a stake in the future of this nation.

Perhaps in the near future, we would have a more educated electorate, which in turn can only lead to a more vibrant and sustainable Philippine democracy.

Many of our youth are not entirely clueless about the dark days of the dictatorship.

Indeed, we should make it a tradition to remember and pass on formative events in our history in the same manner that the Jews maintain and transmit the memory of the Holocaust to future generations.

Contrary to the “moving on” refrain that we commonly hear the political camp with huge skeletons in their closets has been singing, we should actually help our people remember and never forget.

There are very few things that aggravate me more than the repetitive call to “move on”.

In my opinion, this only gives corrupt leaders a mandate to do whatever they want with the country, because our people would always “forgive and forget” anyway.

Why should we dump history like unwanted baggage when there are valuable lessons we need to learn from it?

Winston Churchill said: “The further backwards you look, the further forward you can see.”

Looking back at Martial Law in the Philippines gives one many lessons even about today’s politics. Especially about today’s politics.

Are we so dense not to see history repeating itself? In a political culture increasingly dominated by historical revisionism, we need to heed the lessons of history.

How could we as a people have let this happen? How could we let the antithesis of our hard-won democracy have the chance to return to power so easily?

Where is the outrage? Why such indifference from a people who brought about not just one but two people power movements to topple corrupt and oppressive administrations?

It has come down to this today. That those who wish to exercise their rights under our democratic republic are faced with the huge task of choosing the right leader at this very dangerous crossroads in our country’s fate.

Last night, I just came from a rally so huge and so animated by the democratic spirit, the likes of which I have never seen since I was a naïve 16-year-old political rally newbie in 1986. The huge Makati rally included our kids, Jacob and Gabby. It made me a bit nostalgic, even tearful, marching and chanting with so many young kids.

I believe most Filipinos do have the courage to make the right choice.

I have seen the same phenomenon before, when I was a lot younger, when a silenced and subdued citizenry got tired of being sad, angry, just plain fed up—and decided to do something about it.

Thirty-six years ago, Filipinos chose to make a stand for truth, freedom and democracy.

I believe we were all the better for it, despite what anyone says.

Since we toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, we have worked hard to revive and rebuild the institutions of democracy.

Sure, we have failed many times, and perhaps are still failing.

Sure, our civilian leaders as well as our institutions in the post-authoritarian era have been weighed and have been found wanting.

But democracy always gives us hope. The fact that we can vote and choose the right leaders, the better leaders, still gives us hope.

And hope is the best thing for this hungry nation.

I still believe Philippine democracy is not a failed experiment.

Let us hope our votes tomorrow prove it so.