Essay Issue 22


Jayeel Serrano Cornelio

The faint heartbeat of outrage

High Chair claims “outrage is not dead.” Perhaps it is not. But one thing is clear: it is dying. The desire to confront historical revisionism has to contend with the fact that a new spectre haunts us today. The ghost of nostalgia for the glorious ruins of the Martial Law is already ever-present. And to simply claim that outrage is dead is not going to exorcise it. The Charismatic practice of casting out demons will not suffice.

Precisely because the ghost has taken on flesh. All it took was three decades for the dead to come back to life. In a survey run by SWS and the Ateneo de Manila in 1986,1 majority agreed that Marcos was “a deceiver or a liar”, “a thief of the nation’s wealth”, and only “cared for friends who enriched themselves by pocketing government funds.” In the same survey, only 30% agreed he was the “defender of the poor and oppressed.” Was he “true to the duties of a patriotic president?” Only 41% thought so.

The state of today’s public discourse about the Martial Law would have been unimaginable for Filipinos then. This of course did not happen overnight. In a survey in 2005,2 Pulse Asia reported that only 36% of Filipinos favored People Power I, a far cry from popular sentiments in 1986. In other words, the tide of opinion started to turn (at least a decade ago) against the merits of People Power I. More importantly, the biggest proportion of those who favored People Power I came from NCR (45%) and class ABC (55%). Only a minority from the regions and lower social classes shared the same opinion. This reinforces the impression that the 1986 Revolution was based only in Manila and driven by the middle class.

Today, popular rhetoric is that the country needs someone who can restore order. This in effect resurrects the adage of the past—discipline is necessary for our society to progress. Its permutations are unyielding. Human rights activists have been recast as enemies of the state. Critics in the media are either biased or bought, or both. To question the administration has become an unpatriotic act. The deaths we see around us are dismissed as collateral damage. The morality of Philippine politics is now black and white, a feat that even the Catholic Church can only be envious of.

In other words, the memory of the past has been hijacked. It upholds the merits of the day and paints the future on a canvass of imagined hope and brutal change. In this sense, the rise of a popular regime that condones death is very well a mirror of our national past under the greatest president the Philippines has ever had, at least according to revisionists.

What space is then left for outrage? It is narrower by the day and increasingly an echo chamber among the same critics, academics, and activists. We are convinced we are on the right side of history. But at the same time we cannot deny that our collective voice is drowned out by what comes across as a cacophony of curses, nostalgia, and ignorance. How then shall we live? We can simply wait for a pivotal moment that one day vindicates our convictions. This wait-and-see attitude is common especially among those who want to give discipline a chance.

But perhaps to be outraged is the disconcerting privilege of being in the minority. Injustice, after all, is most flagrant to the one who sides with the oppressed. And because intellectual pursuits are necessarily political, academia—the world I inhabit—must side with the oppressed. Our task, in the words of C. Wright Mills, is “to make clear the elements of contemporary uneasiness and indifference.”3

In the name of order, many have now become indifferent to the virtues of democracy. This is the heaviest revisionist blow. And because of this blow, ours is a most opportune time. The heartbeat of outrage might be faint. But we must not give up on this nation for which a martyr once said it is worth dying.

1. Mangahas, Mahar. 2016. 30 years without the dictator. Available from

2. Pulse Asia. 2005. Nationwide Survey on People Power. Available from

3. Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.