Addressing something as important as the issue of the burial of Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is difficult, challenging to say the least. Narratives and counter-narratives abound around even minor flash points in history; what more something as monumental as the establishment, prosecution, and fallout of Martial Law and the social and political upheaval that came post-EDSA.
The burial of Marcos in the Libingan is another example of the iniquities of Martial Law: The wishes of the Marcos family, abetted by their grasp of the levers of power, taking precedence over national interest.
The tension and antagonism, the give and take, between liberal and loyalist narratives surrounding Martial Law and Marcos have consumed us. The impact and influence of Martial Law was not reset in 1986, far from it. Instead we have been embroiled in rebuilding from what can charitably be called a colonial period (yes, Martial Law was colonialism by any other name) and counter-revolutionary attempts to redeem and resurrect Marcosian rule. And moments like this, centered on the mooted burial of Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. in the Libingan ng mga Bayani are flashpoints in in that continuing tension. These moments provide ample opportunity to examine the foundations of our society: Ethics and civics. Collective narratives and shared memories. Private wishes vs. National imperatives.
People Power in 1986 was a revolution and it was a civil war, this is not in doubt. Just as it should not be in doubt there has been a systemic attempt to reduce its import and undo its effects. It toppled a dictator in all but name, a man who systematically reworked the Philippines for his aggrandizement. Revolutions such as this are civil wars—they represent a cleaving between the powers that be and those who suffered under its iniquities.
People Power in 1986 was a revolution and it was a civil war, this is not in doubt. Just as it should not be in doubt there has been a systemic attempt to reduce its import and undo its effects.
Yet, there will also be those who adhere, who supported, the previous regime. And, even with the successful prosecution of a revolution, they remain. They still share the same public space as those who deposed, who rose up to tear down a corrupt government. More often than not they wish and dream, plan and scheme, for a return of their ideology, for the redemption of their vision for a country.
The narrative given by proponents of burying Marcos in the Libingan is that it will provide collective closure; it will put us on the path towards reconciliation. To the contrary, the burial of Marcos in the Libingan is another example of the iniquities of Martial Law: The wishes of the Marcos family, abetted by their grasp of the levers of power, taking precedence over national interest. This is not reconciliation, but their redemption at our collective expense. And more, we now risk undoing the narratives of Martial Law and the national ethical imperatives to avoid authoritarianism and sustain democracy at all costs.
Burying Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. at the Libingan ng mga Bayani provides the Marcos family with a clear and resounding win in their battle to redeem the memory of their patriarch. For them, it is the period, the exclamation point, in their attempts to rehabilitate and return to national prominence. In their strident defense of the iniquities of Martial Law—the attempts to whitewash the deep and abiding failures of that period—they have become complicit in its sins. The sins of the father may not visit upon the children; but when the children continue to benefit from the fruits of those sins, when they demean those harmed by the policies of the father, and when they actively seek to rewrite our collective history in his favor then the sins become theirs as well.
Placing Marcos in the Libingan, something his family has long sought, provides them with an omnipresent rebuttal to any criticism of Marcos: He was a President. He was a Soldier. He served his country and, thus, was a Hero. On the surface, these "facts" on record are indisputable: Ferdinand Marcos was a President. He was a soldier. Digging deeper into his record, studying his actions during his presidency, reading the reports of the US Army of Marcos’ war record paint a different picture: He may have been a soldier, but he did not serve his country. He served his interests. He assumed the Office of the President, but his actions systematically repudiated the oaths he swore: He became a dictator. Public service fell by the way. Personal interest became paramount.
He may have been a soldier. He may have once been a president. But, in one case he became a war profiteer and in the other, he reworked our entire political and economic order for his and his cronies benefit. That is not worthy of emulation, nor does offering a pathway to redeeming those actions serve public interest.
Instead of learning from one of the darkest periods in our history, we are honoring the architect of our national tragedy.
This is not a legal argument, nor is it even a political argument. It is a historical one. Our relationship with history, both the distant past and the near present, is fraught with problems. Taking a step back, understanding the role of history in the public sphere and the formation of nationhood is an imperative. This flashpoint aptly demonstrates such.
Instead of learning from one of the darkest periods in our history, we are honoring the architect of our national tragedy. We are failing to fully acknowledge the thousands murdered and left in the streets; the tens of thousands illegally arrested and tortured; the billions of dollars stolen; the millions forced into poverty; the tens of thousands of Filipinos killed during his war in Mindanao, and millions of Filipinos displaced. We are not recognizing and understanding the dangers of giving up a little civil liberty for the illusion of security. Nor are we concretizing for ourselves the understanding that national interest is informed by the protection of human rights for all, for everyone.
Instead, the powers-that-be have sought to acknowledge President Ferdinand E. Marcos as a hero. A man worthy of emulation. A President. A Commander-in-Chief. A soldier. But not a dictator. Not a profiteer. Not a man undone by his own ambitions, who in the process unraveled a nation.
We are failing to fully acknowledge the thousands murdered and left in the streets; the tens of thousands illegally arrested and tortured; the billions of dollars stolen; the millions forced into poverty; the tens of thousands of Filipinos killed during his war in Mindanao, and millions of Filipinos displaced.
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History informs identity, which in turn creates the foundations for a just and equitable society. History and identity, as intertwined as they are, form the core of what it means to be a member of a country. Moments like EDSA, events such as throwing off the shackles of colonialism, are the flash points that inform and form national identity. They are teaching moments, about respecting human rights, about fighting against tyranny, about sustaining and protecting our hard fought democratic space. They help illuminate, shed light, on who we are as a country and who we want to become as nation.
When thought of those in those terms revolution, civil war, breaks within the social and political fabric of society, and anti-colonial efforts, the difficulties in "moving on" become all so apparent. A quick review of our last thirty years aptly demonstrates how loyalist politics, our own failures at acknowledging the gross iniquities of Martial Law, extracting the necessary apologies, institutionalizing the moral and ethical implications of giving up civil liberties for a little peace, and seeking appropriate pathways to national reconciliation with our dark past has kept us fractured as a body politic. At the same time, we need to reconsider our understanding of the last thirty years, and every subsequent election since 1986, within new frameworks to understand how we have ended up where we are. Viewing the proceeding years post-EDSA as an ideological civil war, a continuing battle between Loyalists and adherents to Marcosian forms of leadership and what we can charitably term proponents of liberal democracy, offers one such path. To put it another way: While we have had EDSA II, we are still gripped in the throes of EDSA I. We are still dealing with revolutions and counter-revolutions; we are still trapped within that civil war and the process of decolonizing the effects of Martial Law. These are the ghosts of the past that haunt our nation.
We have not faced our past. We have not reconciled ourselves on a grand scale with what occurred during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos.
We have not faced our past. We have not reconciled ourselves on a grand scale with what occurred during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos. There are, as is typical, myriad reasons for this. That failure though, our inability to come to grips with Martial Law, to institutionalize lessons from it, and develop pathways to move forward is our shadow, a demon haunting our imagined community. Martial Law is our shadow: It is our ghost, and our cross to bear. It haunts us in the present and burdens us as we try to understand our future as a nation. Reconciliation and rehabilitation on a national level require facing down those shadows. It needs us, collectively, to exorcise the demons through recognition, through acceptance and acknowledgement of the iniquities of the period and our collective complicity in its establishment. That is the reckoning we need and have been denied. Haruki Murakami touched on this very idea when he said, "At times, we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts, or else, try forcibly eliminate those aspects...No matter how much we rewrite history to suit us, we just end up damaging and hurting ourselves."
Rewriting history for benefit and redemption of a colonizer is not only dangerous, it is destructive... And no, we cannot just move one. We cannot just get over it. That is the language of colonizers, of abusers: They do not have the right to tell victims when or how to mitigate the pain.
Rewriting history for benefit and redemption of a colonizer is not only dangerous, it is destructive. It strikes at the very heart of national narratives; the history that informs our identities and binds us together as a nation. One of the hallmarks of post-colonialism are the attempts to assert new identity, new visions of nationalism and what is possible moving forward. This is undone when the wishes and perspectives of the colonizer are not only raised above their former subjects, but imposed upon them. It undermines and undercuts any gains in crafting a new national identity and developing a sense of social cohesion. And no, we cannot just move one. We cannot just get over it. That is the language of colonizers, of abusers: They do not have the right to tell victims when or how to mitigate the pain.
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These are the ghosts that haunt us: The trials of our colonial past, both recent and distant, and our failures to reckon with them. To grow from them. We talk about standing up and saying we are Filipino. Of being a nation founded on dignity and respect for others and each other. That was the wish of men like Jose Rizal and so many others who raged against oppression throughout our history. That was the dream of those who fought against our colonial shackles, imposed by foreign and domestic rulers alike. That was their wish. That is supposed to be our light. It still can be and it will be. Yet, our inability to find our way is a continuing failure. We are failing to acknowledge our shadows and drawing national strength from that process of reconciliation. Instead we are emboldening our ghosts. We are strengthening our demons. We are darkening the shadows that dog our every step. These are the specters that haunt us.
In burying Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani we are not truly burying the past. That can never happen. You cannot bury history like a wax cadaver.
In burying Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani we are not truly burying the past. That can never happen. You cannot bury history like a wax cadaver. History is who we are: We live it each and every day. No matter what the Marcos family may hope, no matter how important this burial may be for their historical narrative, eventually national imperatives win out. Our history aptly demonstrates this: Colonizers and empires fall. Their self-aggrandizing narratives become undone. The Filipino stands tall. Every time we freely vote, each time we exercise our liberties through speech and assembly, every moment we rail against attempts to abrogate our hard won democratic spaces, Filipinos win. And our former colonizers are repudiated; buried under the weight of our hard-earned historical narrative.