Blank Slate

by Juan L. Mercado

Wednesday is the 30th anniversary of former-senator Benigno Aquino’s murder at Manila International Airport. What do you remember?

“They’ve killed Aquino”, screamed co-passenger Rebecca Aquino.  ”Why are you not crying?’, Time magazine  reported. “Col. Vicente Tigas yanked “the crying lady away and whispered: Don’t talk. Or you’ll get in trouble’.”

Eight hours later a wan President Ferdinand Marcos ailing from lupus disease that eventually killed him, pledged to investigate.  Before probe details were set,  he released its “conclusion”:  A hitman, on orders from Communist Party chairman Rodolfo Salas, killed Ninoy. Truth, too, was cut down.

South Africa, in contrast, created a Truth Commission which  confronted it’s apartheid past. It made amends to victims, like Nelson Mandela who, after 27 years of imprisonment, became president. Chile, Brazil, Argentina to Bosnia created truth-seeking mechanisms.  “The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from.”

The Philippines cringed from confronting  reality. We belatedly crafted Republic Act 9492  which mandates “Ninoy Aquino Day”. Can that reverse amnesia? Eight out of 10 students, barely recall “Ninoy,” a survey found.

Our cook is  64. Nita  remembers the stunned silence after Manila ’s gunshots. Our helper is 28, and a third year college dropout.  Airen is clueless about  Wednesday’s rites.  Tabula rasa is  how historian Ambeth Ocampo calls  this blank slate on the past.

“We have little collective memory of the past,” Ateneo de Manila University’s  Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., told the  “Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship” conference. “We tend to live in a perpetual present. Thus, we cannot see well into the future.”

“Punishment is not revenge or even justice”, Fr. John Carroll, SJ told that gathering. ‘It is the community rising to reaffirm values seriously violated. Not to react as a community would be to reduce a ‘common conscience’ to personal preference—and invite collapse.”

“Willingness to forget Marcos’ crimes reflects weakness of common conscience. Unless, the nation rises up to eaffirm those values, it may be condemned to wander forever in the wilderness of valueless power plays of the elite.’

Come  August 21, over the last three decades,  the same question resurges: Is  the Ninoy murder  a closed issue?  Is it  worth pursuing? Or will amnesia finally  smother the question?

The killing  is  a “closed book”,  declared  sisters of  Benigno Aquino III  was sworn in as 15th Philiipine president.  “We  know who was’ behind it”., said  Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Cruz and Aurora “Pinky” Abellada, But we’d  rather see Noynoy devote his time to serving the people. Our  parents  got  the love of  our countrymen. “Parang tama na siguro ’yun (“We think that should be enough”).

Does forgiving smudge a  bitter past?  “A healed memory is not a deleted memory”, we are reminded. “Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates new ways to remember. We change memory of our past into a hope for our future”.                                     

Pope John Paul II pardoned  Mehmet Ali Agca for shooting him thrice at St Peter’s Square on May 13,1981. The pontiff visited Agca in prison in 1983. But he did not intervene in the judicial process. Agca thus mouldered 29 years in prison. 

Isn’t that in the unsolved Aquino murder? President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pardoned the 13 convicted enlisted after they 26 spent years in jail. Three died in prison earlier. The mastermind was never identified.

“I  pardoned and prayed” for those convicted”, Corazon Aquino  said. But she wished the main plotters be unmasked,  “even if they could no longer be brought to justice.” Such knowledge would help prevent a similar tragedy.

Communal amnesia would expunge all “New Society” crimes. “The Marcos family never expressed any  remorse,” Inquirer’s Randy David points out.  “They do not seek forgiveness.” They saw the plan (HR 1135)  –  sanction burial of  the dictator’s  mummy in Libingan Ng Mga Bayani —   “as a vindication of their innocence. They want the nation to revise its remembrance of the past.”

This would  reverse  the verdict of People Power.  It’d shove, into an Orwellian memory shredder,  crime  from shell foundations in Lichtenstein, bogus  war medals, the confiscated 60-piece Roumeliotes jewels. Add 3,257 persons “salvaged,” 737 desaparecidos, plus thousands detained without trial, under the “New Society”.

The  Marcoses meanwhile  perfected art of the blank stare. Asked about  the 2016 preidential elections, Sen.  Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. played  coy. “If  the situation is right,”  Junior said, dodging queries on . US federal court ‘s  $353.6 million contempt fine for trying to smuggle out precious artwork.  Right is when amnesia blankets, not only the Ilocos but  the whole country?  That  would  be tabula raza for a whole people.

Many who figured in the Aquino murder are dead. “Imelda Marcos and Eduardo Cojuangco are alive,” notes San Francisco-based lawyer-journalist Rodel Rodis. “They know who ordered the hit on Ninoy.”

Both zipper their lips Does that  preclude ante-mortem statements? Today’s battle for memory defines tomorrow for our grandchildren Ranks of  Filipinos, who felt the whiplash of martial  law, are  thinning.

“Soon, we  too  will be gone”  muses   the nun in   “The Bridge of San Luis  Rey” , the 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning novel  by Thornton Wilder.  “(But) even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”


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