Rehab by Amnesia

by Juan L. Mercado

A “penniless” Imelda Marcos got cloying front-page coverage by hosting a  five-star hotel  standing-room-only bash for her 80th birthday. Girls tossed roses as she made a bejeweled entrance, followed by violinists.

“Imelda had a penchant for luxury”,   Lee Kwan Yew recalls in his memoirs.  “When  (the Marcoses) visited Singapore,  they came in  two  DC-8s,  his and hers…Like Hollywood melodrama,  these could have only have happened in the Philippines.”

“Who can doubt that (the  Marcoses) political and historical vindication (was) finally achieved,” wrote  Manuel  Quezon III in the party’s wake.  ”Their being a political issue has been laid to rest.”

In “The Marcos Restoration” column (PDI/ July 6), Quezon  analyzed previous controversies:  Federalista versus Democratas of the 30s;  World War II collaboration  and  the 1992 elections.  “The process of rehabilitation seems to comprise about a generation”,  he estimates.

He  factored in “the youth  bulge”.  For Filipinos below 40  Imelda is a mere celebrity.  Can  young voters “summon the imagination required to capture the feelings –  the lessons – of those times?  That’s next to impossible,” Quezon  believes.

We’re “entering the post Marcos era.  (We) simply take notice of such things, observe and chronicle them. By so doing, “we usher in what is, and no longer what once was.”

Rehabilitation by amnesia is the rule then?. It was the yardstick yesterday.  Only 156 were  sentenced  from  over 5,000 cases lodged against  World War II  collaborators. Amnesty blurred  the  difference  between  Mirabilis or guerrillas, historian Frank Goalie noted.  A generation later,  Joseph Estrada didn’t spend a day in prison, despite conviction for plunder.

Are  these  a preview of  tomorrow?  Curtains will have fallen on the longest serving ever Macapagal-Arroyo administration.  “No matter how long the procession, it must return to the church,” the Pampango proverb says.

Recall deficits, of course, don’t hold before conscience. “Values that endure after the sun goes out” do.  But  this is, a country where “everything is infinitely negotiable’. Amnesia   guarantees access to the social register.  The pecking  order here is set by jewels, bank balances, car model, even sex videos.

“Our collective memory seems a blank slate for the powerful to write on”, Ateneo University’s Alfredo Bengzon  noted.  “Truth frequently becomes whatever pleases the powers that be…We Filipinos must  tell our story… ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,’ Czech novelist  Milan Kundera once said.

The cost of  forgetting is  extortionate.  Who were held accountable for the 3,257 salvaging  victims  and 70,000  prisoners of the “New Society? Can you think of any, except  the fall guys in Ninoy Aquino’s  murder?  Thus, impunity results.   And this  guarantees repeat of abuse.

“Hello Garci” replays Marcos’ rigging the 1986 snap elections Erap’s shell Muslim Youth Foundation cloned those of Marcos in Lichtenstein and other fraud havens.  Lt. Panfilo Lacson of  the notorious Military Intelligence Security Group  became, under Estrada, the General Lacson enmeshed in the Dacer-Corbito  murders. The 737 desaparecidos  of the “New Society”  were replicated in  disappearances of Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Capada under President Arroyo’s watch.

“Torturers of the Marcos era continue to rise within the police and intelligence bureaucracy”, Alfred  McCoy  noted in his book: “Closer Than Brothers” – a study of the  Philippine military. “Under impunity…culture and politics  are recasting the past, turning cronies into statesmen, torturers into legislators and killers into generals.

On surface, the Philippines is a restored democracy. Behind the façade, it suffers the legacy of the Marcos era: an  ingrained institutional habit of human rights abuse. No nation can develop…without a sense of justice,” he added.

Countries that shucked off dictatorships use various methods to keep from forgetting:  trials, amnesties, documentation, as in Chile, Guatemala and Argentina, truth commissions like South Africa to even skulls of Pol Pot’s victims in Tuol Sleng museum in Cambodia.

The past  is impossible to ignore, they  say. Justice based on truth demands accountability. And  remembering  creates  deterrence.  Nunca mas. ( “Never again.”)  Confucius put it more succinctly:   “I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Israel meanwhile  chose to enshrine  memory of  President Manuel Quezon’s  1939 decision to save Jews fleeing the Gestapo. “Open Doors” memorial, opened last June in Israel. It recalls Quezon earmarking 10,000 visas for Jews escaping the Holocaust.  Footprints of three survivors are carved into monument’s floor. They symbolize 1,200  refugees saved from the gas chambers.

Those who shashayed  till dawn, at Imelda’s bash, are  the visage of a nation locked into perpetual denial. We  must, of course, “take notice of such things, observe and  chronicle them,” as  Manolo Quezon rightly counsels.

That need not deter Filipinos from remembering. “Darkness does bring out what people have allowed themselves to become,” Senator Jose Diokno wrote from his Fort Bonifacio prison.  But “some will sing (because) they are their own light, and they dare the darkness to put it out.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )


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