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.”