Laurels At All Cost

by Juan L. Mercado

Come September 21, it will be 39 years since Ferdinand Marcos clamped on rule-by-bayonets.  Martial law would save the Republic from collapse, he perorated without blinking.  A 14-year dictatorship followed.

Filipinos will get a voice in shaping policies, asserted Presidential Decree 557 of 1974. How? Barrios were renamed  barangays. Filipinos should mark every  September 21 thereafter as “National  Thanksgiving Day.”

People Power shredded this “thanksgiving“ charade in February 1986.  But Imelda, and cronies, insist, for over four decades now, that we fall on our knees  for “the most democratic period in our history.”

Marcoses and allies badger President Benigno Aquino, to authorize burial of Marcos corpse in Libingan Ng Mga Bayani.   Sub-rosa work on a LIbingan masoleum had been aborted. Protests erupted that it fractured a pledge,  given to then President Fidel Ramos, that Marcos remains would be buried, days after arrival of the coffin  from Hawaii.

The resistance of families, many with kin in Libingan graves, hasn’t subsided. The Marcoses now accept the “Jejomar” formula, for an Ilocos Norte tomb, Vice President Binay told  media in an August visit to Laoag City.  

What Binay calls, without blushing, his “Solomonic” formula, stipulates laurels at all cost.  Whether in LIbingan or  Ilocos, there must be military honors.  Bogus war medals, extra judicial murders and massive human rights infractions to  governance rot, will be smudged over

Marcos’ children  “want to foist their father on us as a hero”, Inquirer’s Conrad de Quiros groused. “It Is not a matter of geography, it is a matter of principle. Ilocos Norte has not yet become a “sub-state” of the Republic, free to make its own rules, its own laws, its own interpretation of history.”

There is, however, the more pernicious “sub-state” of the subservient mindset. It would not recognize truth anywhere.

Under Marcos what was theft in Manila morphed into a financial bonanza in Batac. Suppression of dissent, on  college campuses, was seen, by folk in Sarat, as trouncing  communists. “The will is deaf and hears no heedful friends,” Shakespeare rued.

Today’s squabble for pre-burial laurels is best summarized in these two concise paragraphs:  “There may be some who consider it necessary  that we should praise to one another the dead…(We see) the kind of posthumous deification,  sometimes accorded to those who die in the possession of public power.

“This is the tawdry privilege of the despot, to be given at burial, as a pure formality, with tongue in cheek,  ‘the honors of a god’. It cannot bring anything but shame…to (those) devoted to the democratic way of life…”

These lines were, in fact, written 41 years before Marcos’ demise in 1989. These paragraphs come from  the April 24, 1948  homily, delivered by  Filipino historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ, in Washington, D.C. Fr. de la Costa concelebrated a requiem mass, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, for the late President Manuel Roxas.

Unplanned, Fr. de la  Costa’s discourse provides criteria for today’s Ilocos controversy. “He stands now, this man to whom a sovereign people entrusted the high exercise of sovereignty,”  he wrote then. ”He stands alone. No one avails to speak for him or against him. He is beyond our praise or blame. He is alone with God.

“(His) record stands for every citizen to scrutinize, to weigh, and as he deems it good, to approve or to condemn. Let it stand, then, without embellishment or diminution. Let it stand as he had left it, the record of a man who had served them well or ill.

“There let us leave him, bathed in the serene and shadowless light of Truth. The final reckoning of what he was and did belongs to keener eyes than ours; far keener eyes, yet also beyond measure kindlier, for they are the eyes of Him in whom justice and mercy are not only inseparable, but one.“

Will the principles that De La Costa sketched, in broad strokes, be equally relevant for future interments?  Like all of us,  Joseph  Estrada and  Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, will one day return to the dust from which we all came.  Open  Libingan’s gates, from heroes to include, without exception, former Presidents, suggest former Rene Saguisag. That’d head off future quarrels.

Fr. de la Costa died in 1977. He didn’t see how Corazon Aquino would ensure peaceful transfer of power. His 1948 homily provides an apt preview.

“Civil authority is not personal but public. It belongs to no one, either by right of birth, or in virtue of some real or  imagined excellence, over other men, whether it be wealth, intelligence or power.

“It belongs to the people, who may entrust it to whomsoever they freely choose. Neither does it endow the man, to whom it is entrusted, with any special gift of impeccability or infallibility. He may not claim thereby ‘the divinity that doth hedge a king’.

“His is a burden, not a privilege. He must spend himself in the public interests as though they were his own. Yet he may not derive any personal profit from his position. He is held accountable always for the authority  he holds in trust.

“When his mandate is revoked, he must be willing to relinquish that authority and return, a private citizen, to the ranks from which he came. Let him not expect any reward but the consciousness of having done his duty and served his people and his God.

“Often he will get no reward but this. Nay, he may find in the end his name vilified,his motive misrepresented, his deeds misjudged. Austere are the laurels of the republic.”


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