People’s history

Protesters raise their clenched fists as Coritha sings ‘Bayan ko’ suring the Million People March in October 2013. (Photo by J. Ellao /

The official history of what happened in the recent past will be written soon and this should not be left in the hands of professional apologists of the status quo. Those of us who lived and struggled hard to survive the last two decades should start compiling records, chronicles, narratives, and testimonies of history makers, change agents, and people living in the margins.

If we fail to do this, the truth about the events that unfolded in our time will be seen through the lens of ruling parties and corporate powers. We remember how nationalist historians had previously argued that the story of the nation was written mainly by our former colonial masters and it took us some time before we realized that our ancestors left a more meaningful legacy but this was distorted in the accounts of Spanish friars and American civil servants.

Learning from this traumatic experience, we can’t allow the people’s history of the early 21st century to be equated with the notorious regimes of Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, Noynoy Aquino, and Rodrigo Duterte. History should not be reduced into an archival study of the official gazette of Malacañang Palace. We also can’t allow the business exploits of the rentier class and their imperialist sponsors to define what is good and progress in our nation.

We want the future generation to have a more comprehensive understanding of our recent past instead of simply leaving them with no access to alternative history other than the official records and memoirs of former presidents and dummy tycoons.

History textbooks will certainly devote several paragraphs or chapters for each government that rose to power in early 21st century. We will not contest this fact but we will also argue that there are other perspectives worth preserving and narrating for the benefit of the next generation.

Our country underwent numerous transitions in the past century which saw the rise and fall of winners, losers, heroes, villains, oppressors, and the oppressed. Which of the contending forces emerged triumphant and what was its impact on society? Rather than amplify the mainstream version of history, our role is to find the voices which were dismissed by those in power as noise, nuisance, and irrelevant chatter. We have to assert the need to record and popularize this history from below.

It is a departure from the dominant pedagogy of enumerating the prominent names in history and their supposed legacy to the nation. The people’s history is focused on naming the nameless, celebrating ‘lost causes’, and destroying well-entrenched narratives. The movers and shakers are not just presidents but the people themselves, the ordinary masses whose collective mundane actions are shaping the present and future of society.

Our veritable guide in building this narrative is the social movements that have deep ties to the grassroots. They are activists whose comprehensive critique of the social and political system provides a counterpoint to the official lies peddled by state propaganda. They lead us directly to the source where citizens are both witnesses and makers of history. Their political struggles, whether documented or not, provide ample evidence of the failures of elite-led politics.

It is inevitable that the internet will be mined for reference by students of modern history. This is a database filled with tidbits of information, both relevant and spam. Filtering content is already a daunting task colored by ideological bias. Another major challenge is the digital gap in society which translates into the exclusion of many individuals, events, and interactions from the virtual nation-building process.

The ‘parchment curtain’ that made it difficult to write history from the Indio point of view during the Spanish era is similar to the problem posed by the ‘digital curtain’ – history divorced from realtime streaming, citizens cut-off from virtual conversations, and events missing or erased from the clouds and digital archives.

People’s history is retrieving what is lost in the media platforms. Articulating the point of view of those logged off from the medium is the message.

There are many stories to share and they will all compete for public attention and institutional support. Amid the frenzy of narrative building by various political forces, we remain committed to the goal of pursuing the people’s history. It is a radical historiography because it endeavors a study of history made by the masses and at the same time, it advocates the making of new history. The early 21st century is soon over but the century is still not lost. We have a lifetime to win this struggle. (

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email:

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