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Monuments and the battle for memory

opinion / Columnists
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Looking Back

Monuments and the battle for memory

Monuments are erected to commemorate historic events and persons. They are supposed to make people remember.

But from experience I have seen that monuments can also make people forget. Worse, monuments can be read in many ways—sometimes with a narrative different from that intended.

As time passes and memory dims like Fidel Ramos’ ability to re-do the iconic “Edsa jump,” the monuments to Edsa 1986 on Edsa are having different narratives, “detours” that have taken a life of their own.

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Edsa 1986 is about unity of purpose, unity of people. But 31 years after, its so-called “spirit” has been hijacked by varying viewpoints, different agenda. Cory Aquino Yellow was shed for Black, the color of mourning, for the rising number of victims in the bloody war on drugs, who were executed without trial. Black it is for the dead, but one corpse in particular, the crowd wanted exhumed from the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

And there was one rally on Edsa, another was in Luneta, and inside a camp was a simple commemoration starring the walking relics of 1986.

Edsa has been fossilized in bronze and stone in two atrocious monuments that tell the same story from slightly different points of view: The Virgin of Edsa on the corner of Edsa and Ortigas, and the People Power Monument at the corner of Edsa and the street that leads to White Plains.

Virginia Ty-Navarro designed the Virgin in her image and likeness; the Virgin’s mantle is adorned with crudely fashioned Doves of Peace that some people have mistaken for “garapata” or ticks. On this spot the Mother of God is supposed to have stopped tanks on their way to Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame to finish off Fidel Ramos, Juan Ponce Enrile and the men who holed up for a fight to the death; until they were saved by the warm bodies called in by Jaime Cardinal Sin or the crowd that surrounded the camps and caused what has always been described as a “bloodless revolution.”

In 1986 the Virgin held her palm out in a gesture of protection that stopped tanks; in 2017 the irreverent see the same gesture in MMDA traffic enforcers; or the Virgin telling motorists in this choked artery of the metropolis to stop and go. Oh, that she can make traffic move.

The other monument, by Eduardo Castrillo, shows a huge crowd of various types of people symbolizing what has been hailed as “People Power.” This is the secular version of the story of a united people that overthrew a dictator, restoring freedom and democracy to the Philippines. I don’t know what other narratives motorists see in this monument, the sight of it alone is an added vexation to people caught in traffic. A statue of Ninoy Aquino was added to this ensemble, and I wonder if a budget would be allotted for Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin to join the tableau.

The military version of the story is yet to be commemorated through a monument. That we have yet to see.

Fidel Ramos proposed the erection of a museum and library to remind people of the lessons of Edsa. There is a suggestion that the Department of Education include Edsa in the curriculum. All this sounds good but often fails in practice. Take the Rizal course required of all college students. The intention of the law drafted by C.M. Recto and J.P. Laurel is for the youth to read the “Noli me tangere” and “El Filbusterismo” and to draw from them lessons on love of country and what it means to be Filipino. Few read the novels in full; even fewer appreciate Rizal and his continuing relevance.

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In recent times there have been calls not just to revisit the Rizal Law but also to add Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna into the curriculum, and to include martial law and Edsa in the curriculum. The real challenge is in delivery—what story will be told? Whose point of view? Contrary to popular belief, history is contested territory and, as seen recently with the various appropriations of Edsa, what we should appreciate is the continuing battle for memory and history.

What do we remember? Why do we remember? Historical questions are not meant to be answered because the questions may be the key to understanding where we are, where we came from, and the story of how we fail to be the nation we can be.

Comments welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: EDSA, History, martial law, monument, opinion, People Power
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