Last week, the Edsa People Power Commission mounted the People Power Experiential Museum in the grounds of Camp Aguinaldo. The museum is based on a novel concept, allowing visitors to experience critical moments in our history such as the fear and oppression during the Marcos dictatorship, the atrocities of Martial Law, the struggle of our people for national liberation from a despotic regime, and of course the four days of the People Power revolution when citizens took to the streets around the Edsa military camps to reclaim our democracy.
Through this innovative museum, the EPPC wanted young Filipinos to experience the stories of our compatriots who suffered, endured, fought and eventually won against the injustice and oppression of Martial Law. But the Experiential Museum is not just for the youth. My wife and I were just as moved as the young people (my sons and a friend of theirs that were with us when we visited museum last Thursday.)
Visitors are guided through 10 halls, which, as the EPPC describes, “bring together elements of theater, cinema, photography, and other allied arts to recreate the experiences that awakened Filipinos, and sparked the Edsa People Power Revolution.” Each hall represented not only periods in history, but also themes that underscore the enduring narrative of Martial Law and the People Power Revolution of 1986.
The first hall is the Hall of Restless Sleep which represents the lulling of our nation to sleep by Martial Law and the suppression of our freedoms. As described by the EPPC: “Visitors will enter a hall with bound people, sleeping on army cots. On the walls, the announcement of former President Ferdinand Marcos, declaring the imposition of Martial Law, is repeatedly shown. The visitors will notice that some cots are empty. But when they look at those cots, they will see mirrors reflecting their own faces.”
To me, the first hall also represented the first days of martial law when many people were arrested and detained in makeshift facilities in several camps.
The second hall of the Experiential Museum is the Hall of Hidden Truths where you could peek into the party of the Marcoses and witness their friends, the privileged few of the “New Society,” revel in extravagant festivities. This is contrasted with beggars roaming the streets of our society. An operatic version of “Dahil sa Iyo” is played repeatedly in this hall to evoke an atmosphere of absurdity.
The Hall of Orphans follows. Here, museum goers encounter the orphans of Filipinos who were abducted, tortured, and “forcibly disappeared” by the Marcos regime. Real child actors and actresses play the orphans and only cynical and stone-hearted men would not take pity on these young ones.
The fourth hall is aptly entitled The Hall of the Lost. This hall provide visitors with photographs and stories of the desaparecidos of the martial law era. Statues carrying faceless picture frames confront you in this hall, one of the most haunting in the Experiential Museum.
Of course, there is a Hall of Pain in a museum on martial law. As I entered this hall, I was reminded of my colleague Tina Montiel’s recounting last Tuesday of the various torture methods inflicted on political prisoners during martial law. Among others, the use of electrocution was called Meralco and drowning the detainee in water was called Nawasa.
The sixth hall, the Hall of Forgotten Martyrs, was the most powerful experience for me. Lorena Barros, Edgar Jopson, Evelio Javier, and Macling Dulag are featured in this hall, with actors portraying these heroes and how they died. The performance ends with unedited footage of the last few minutes of Ninoy Aquino’s life as he was interviewed in the plane, arrested, and walked down to the tarmac where we hear shots fired.
It was the Jopson scene that made me cry. I still remembered the day Edjop died. I saw the news in the newspaper in Cagayan de Oro and I ran to the chapel to pray. I cried a lot that day for a lost leader—I truly believed that Edjop, like Lean Alejandro, later on was going to be president of the Philippines. I remembered this last night and I could not help but shed tears.
As it happened in real life, the portrayal of the Aquino assassination is followed by the experience of the confetti protests that characterized the growing resistance against the Marcos dictatorship. The Hall of Awakening is the right name for this hall in the Experiential Museum.
In the last hall, the Hall of Action, visitors will find memorabilia and symbols from the Edsa People Power Revolution. The EPPC asks these questions: “Do these symbols still mean anything to you?
What would you do if, like the Filipinos who experienced Martial Law and People Power, you are also called to sacrifice and defend our country’s future? May you be surprised by your own response.”
Overall, the concept, design and execution of the People Power Experiential Museum was very good. It could be improved further if there is a hall celebrating the resistance by the basic sectors, especially farmers, workers, and the urban poor, (indigenous peoples are represented by Macling Dulag).
Nevertheless, the Experiential Museum is worth its cost and should be mounted all year long. It will definitely be a good educational tool so that our young people will not forget what happened in that period of our history. Although Quezon City has offered a permanent space for the museum, I told Boy and Maria Montelibano (the latter is a member of the EPPC and a moving spirit behind the Experiential Museum) that eventually Congress should appropriate the necessary amount for this. Costs should not matter where remembering our history is concerned. What we lose is much more if we forget.
In the Hall of Action, we were all requested to recite the Panatang Makabayan, the pledge of allegiance we all learned in elementary school but probably has forgotten. But the words came back, and the young and more mature people with me all exclaimed the pledge with feeling. Maybe there is hope for this country yet.
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