Desperately Seeking Antigone

by Ninotchka Rosca

The young heroine of a Greek tragedy elected to bury her younger brother, despite the king’s edict that he should lie dead and exposed to the elements.

Not burying the dead is violating their primal right: to lie buried, undisturbed– Requiescat In Pace.

This was the core template for one of my short stories: Earthquake Weather. I wrote it in honor of several friends killed by Marcos’s military and left exposed in front of various town halls. Being left unburied was one of the direst punishments inflicted under martial law; the other, ironically, was being buried in unmarked mass graves.

What to make, then, of the phenomenon of the dictator himself refrigerated since his death in 1988. Occasionally, through the years, I’d wonder how much it cost, in equipment and power supply, to turn him into a corpsicle. In a country where 80% of mothers cannot afford to refrigerate milk and baby food, this human jerky was symbolic of the excessive self-adulation of the Marcos regime.

Freeze-dried or mummified, dead is dead. Let the corpse return to the elements.

It has also become expressive of the politics of absurdity in the Philippines as recently, following a court-ordered compensation to victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, the dead’s clan, cronies and supporters have pushed for his burial in the Heroes’ Cemetery.

One would think that the senators, congressmen and governors of the Marcos family infrastructure would have better things to highlight: good works done, nice legislation passed, lives of constituents made better. But no, it has to be about keeping alive the myth of Marcos and hence, ruling class invincibility, maintained by thought control, historical revision and an undercurrent of a message that tells the Filipino people they’re too stupid to pass judgment on someone like Marcos.

This view is that of a supremely malleable nation (i.e., stupid enough) to swallow hook, line and sinker even the most overt lies that would maintain authority, power and privilege for a few. We’re already seeing reverberations of this mental shifting: reversals of rulings which had seemed indelible acts of justice in the Vizconde case, Lacson redux, etc.

The Geneva Conventions actually provide for respectful treatment of even the dead: “honorably interred…their graves respected…properly maintained and marked…”

In 2002, a French court decreed that Raymond and Monique Martinot, whose bodies were refrigerated by their son in their chateau’s basement, should be given proper burial – based on the timeless principle that the dead is entitled to Requiescat In Pace.

So the Philippines need an Antigone and frankly, I don’t care how she does it — float the corpse on a raft in the ocean and give it to its fellow sharks, shove a blasting cap up its behind and disappear it like so many disaparecidos of martial law years, toss it down an unmarked grave in a ravine and let weeds and worms have it.

Just end this necrophilic obsession so everyone can start thinking about the politics of living.

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