History is studied, not gossiped

By Kristian Timothy Bautista

Cartoon by Lairah Nadine De Guzman

Barely a month in his term, the newly-elected President's supporters have been ubiquitous in defending his family all over social media platforms. From false narratives portraying him as a "strict boss" in their cabinet meeting to praising his son for instantly filing 10 bills (when other progressives in the congress have filed more than 20), it is as if his camp has its social media bubble romanticizing every single thing the Marcoses have done. Even so, probably the most conjuring affair that sparked his defenders to safeguard the family was when multiple netizens, including multi-awarded historian Ambeth Ocampo, criticized the statement that history and tsismis are interchangeable.

When the media asked a particular actress about the lessons she learned after portraying Irene Marcos in the dramedy film "Maid in Malacanang" directed by controversial director Darryl Yap, Ella Cruz got flamed for comparing history to "tsismis," uttering there are instances where history has its fair share of biases. Whether the 25-year-old actress' statement was intentional and a PR stunt, a bait that caught many of us stunned with her take on History vs. Tsismis to driving us into talking about the dramedy film she is starring in; it is hard to not argue that, in a way, her statement makes sense (well, kind of?).

If you are like me, gossiping with friends is inevitable—a condemned form of socialization for many. It is not necessarily a bad thing; instead, it is somewhat neutral and, in rare instances, a good thing—and there are articles to prove it. A meta-analysis conducted in 2019 found that 75 percent of the gossiping done by 467 subjects was neutral and "not salacious and negative" at all. Going around with friends to talk about this and that, and then someone drops the giddy bomb, "Uy, may chika ako!" It indeed revitalizes and stirs the conversation. 

While gossiping is perfectly fine in the psychology world as long as intentions are right, it can do invasive things for severe matters like studying history—and it is inappropriate for people to interchange learning history with something light like spreading tittle-tattles. It poses a risk, warping the minds of those who listen to them. People who hear gossip are bound to believe in them, especially since the act of spreading tsismis seems to be more striking and believable rather than reading about the actual events that occurred. Through rumors, many believe that the "tallano gold" is real and the Marcos family owns it. Despite the numerous organizations debunking this claim, it took Marcos Jr. himself to inform his supporters (31 million as of the final tabulated election results) that he was not aware of his family inheriting the conspired gold.

Dissecting whatever Cruz' (who got slammed in a now trending video of her wrongly describing the history of a temple in South Korea) uttered word-for-word in her viral statement, she describes the structures of a tsismis from gathering data (imagine groups of Marites forming a circle) similar to collecting information needed for history. She also remarks on history being biased like tsismis, and there is no argument. Even associate professors Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost argue in their article that gossiping is "not only an important subject of historical inquiry but also a legitimate category of historical evidence." It provides people perspectives and viewpoints to look at, a "counterhistory."  

I can see Cruz describing "history," specifically history during the Marcos administration, as tsismis because she wants to empathize and see the good during the Marcoses. But this doesn't justify comparing tsismis with history because it only sparks a whole other conversation on why we should not see the good in power-hungry and corrupt politicians. Throughout history, the concept and motives of rumor-mongering in a political aspect remain the same – destructive. The art of tsismis is why we are in a Marcos administration. Whether we like it or not, the Marcos camp did (and dare I say) historical distortions in rehabilitating their shattered reputation, alongside questionable sources of funds for such machinery to even be executed in the first place. Disinformation and gossip can only do so much that the country has gone from ousting a dictator to electing the said dictator's son more than 30 years later. With the help of tsismis, Filipinos saw the Marcos family as victims of the EDSA People Power Revolution. 

Admittedly, as the famous saying goes, everything thrown at Marcos Jr. was "just the facts." He wasn't just being thrown under the bus and grilled on the podium Alan Cayetano style (circa 2016 Vice-Presidential Debates). Learning about the atrocities and downfall of his father's regime is not mere tsismis. There is no point in looking at two sides of the coin when it comes to the Marcos administration because that would only serve the sole purpose of enhancing and reinforcing their shattered reputation. It is historical revisionism in broad daylight. The tragedy of the Marcos dictatorship, which has been globally studied and backed up with years of accumulated research, journal articles, and documentation (and even made an appearance on the latest season of Netflix's hit show Stranger Things), is not tsismis. The EDSA revolution, led by millions of Filipinos (and not a certain yellow political party), to oust the Marcoses out of power is not mere tsismis. It was historic. Hope for a better tomorrow, a better Philippines.

Comparing tsismis to history disrespects historians' profession and diminishes history's vitality in a nation, or to stretch, the world. In contrast to spreading rumors that can quickly be done anywhere at any time (made even more effortless in the digital age), studying history involves multiple tedious procedures for verifying information presented in our textbooks today. Historians source numerous texts on a single topic to verify the information they publish in our history books. They even go the long way of discussing and arguing with other fellow historians to collectively validate them. Mindlessly a more arduous work than spreading hearsays that can now be done simply through posting or tweeting. 

So, to Ella Cruz, Darryl Yap, and everybody who thinks history is like gossip, just to set things clear and straight: history may be biased, but it remains factual and accurate because historians have examined, interpreted, and validated them. As quoted by historian Ocampo in a viral Facebook post, "Real History is about Truth, not lies, not fiction." 

The Plastics from Mean Girls owning a burn book full of nasty banters and petty rumors of their schoolmates is an excellent example of tsismis. But studying Philippine history, most importantly, the Marcos dictatorship is not tsismis. History is a field carefully studied with extensive methodologies. There are no sides of the story with his dictatorship because it was fueled by abuse of power and corruption that historians thoroughly researched to agree with. And you wouldn't dare to call a historian a "tsismosa" or a "Marites," not when studying history is a globally-recognized branch of study.

However, if there is one thing we can learn from the whole "tsismis and history" discourse, Filipinos love a good storyteller and narrative. The Marcos landslide victory only proves that the nation is bound to face a disinformation crisis and is susceptible to historical revisionism. His victory is why Philippine history should be taught at all levels of education, to remind the nation to never forget. But even if Philippine history gets reinstated in the books of high school students, proactive measurements and modes of teaching should also be modified to ensure that students are not only memorizing dates of historical and vital events but rather comprehending, criticizing, and analyzing them. If teaching history ala-tsikadora style is the only way for the youth to ingrain in their minds that the Marcoses have a debt to pay for the Filipino people, then so be it. But the initiative sounds heavily unlikely as Marcos Jr. selects tandem partner vice president Sara Duterte as the new DepEd secretary. The outnumbered Filipinos who resist the Marcos presidency can now only hope for a miracle to happen or continue the long fight to revive the nation from an unpromising political climate.

With Marcos Jr. known for side-stepping debates and avoiding statements on his father's term, are we even certain he is not bound to repeat his father's atrocities? History about Martial Law can easily be accessed but so have been rumors twisting the very information historians have documented. Now that he is in authority but has yet to acknowledge the injustices during the so-called “Golden era,” his family is to be blamed for fueling disinformation camps in distorting history and allowing our fellowmen to believe in stories with no logical explanation whatsoever. 

With no grounded punishment and substantial bills implemented for fake news peddlers, the Philippines is doomed to be a nation run by oligarchs daunted by facts and feeding its citizens with disinformation. For now, the journey to climb out of the rabbit hole the country has fallen into looks rough.
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