The sight of three prominent pro-Duterte bloggers together with the Marcoses and their cohorts in recent photographs—all smiles, as if their victory in the next elections were all but assured—is surely enough to wrench one’s guts in disgust insofar as one remembers who the late dictator Marcos was and what he did to the Filipino people.
History such as ours—writ as it is in the blood of our heroes (I speak of the true ones, like Macli-ing Dulag, like Rizal and Bonifacio, like Lorena Barros and many others upon whose sacrifice we enjoy whatever little freedom we have now, until now, but maybe not for long, God forbid)—is no laughing matter.
Such people who take delight in cheering with the Marcoses do so in complete disregard of the weight of history, in total insensitivity toward the martial law victims, and in blatant disrespect for the memory of those who died fighting. They tell those of us who refuse to forget that we are stuck in the past and that we should move on.
But these are the very same people who chose to be frozen in time, like the refrigerated body of the dictator Marcos that until late last year lay in a mausoleum in the north, refusing to move on with history. They are the same people who wish to remind us of the good things the dictator supposedly had done for our people, such as this highway or that building.
It is clear, therefore, that everyone wishes to remember, and everyone wishes to forget. What sets us apart is what we choose to remember, and what we choose to forget. Just as every city is known by its monuments and memorials, so, too, individuals are shaped by the memory they choose to keep. Tell me what you choose to remember, and what you choose to forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.
We can assume that Hitler must have done some good things and endeared himself to some people. But that is not what by which the Germans choose to remember him. Deniers of the Holocaust try to remind us that credit is due Hitler for the creation of the famous German autobahn, built twice as thick as American highways, with such precision that Germans are known for, and touted as the only highway in the world with a fan club. But apparently even that is a myth (see the 2012 Deutsche Welle online article “The myth of Hitler’s role in building the autobahn”).
In any case, myth or not, that is surely not how the Germans choose to remember Hitler. For one, his book, “Mein Kampf,” was banned in Germany until only last year, when after 70 years its copyright expired. And even those who chose to reissue the book did so with the thought that its study will precisely help in preventing a repeat of that dark chapter in German history.
At some point the Germans were also faced with the dilemma of whether they should keep the concentration camps or turn these into beautiful parks instead. The people of Dachau, for instance, lament the fact that their town—otherwise a typical charming little German town with its own beautiful places of attraction and regular festivities—will be forever associated with the concentration camp that up to now stands there as a memorial, reminding them of something terrible and ugly, and forever weighing heavily on their hearts.
One would have perfectly understood the Germans if they chose to convert every one of those infamous camps into beautiful parks. But, no, the Germans chose to keep them. They know what to remember, and they know what to forget. Not only that. Many, if not all, German cities have chosen to preserve the marks of mortar fire and bombs that were left on some of their buildings. They could have covered them, but no, they chose to keep them, and keep them in order not to forget.
Thus, something like the equivalent of a Bongbong Marcos becoming a senator and now attempting to become the vice president and later the president would have been completely unthinkable for Germany (let alone Imelda and Imee). The same with honoring Hitler by having his remains buried in a heroes’ cemetery, or a highway named after him, or a holiday declared in his memory. All of these would have been unthinkable for the Germans today.
But it’s only unthinkable for people who think. For them, it is unthinkable to forget what should not be forgotten because it should not be repeated. That the German words for “think” (denken) and “remember” (andenken) are so closely related can perhaps tell us something very important: Thinking demands us to remember, and choosing what to remember and what to forget demands us to think. Neither is to be taken lightly, let alone as a laughing matter.
In the Dachau concentration camp, just outside the gas chambers, these words are engraved on a stone: Denkt daran wie wir hier starben—“Remember how we died here.” It is a wonder how Germany managed to rise from that dark part of their history, completely defeated, with their cities destroyed and flattened and their leaders rightly punished and condemned the world over, and later become not only one of the world’s leading economies, but recently also considered (however a matter of debate it is) to be one of the last bastions of the free world.
However they must have done it, they did it not at the cost of forgetting what should never be forgotten. They moved on, for sure, but they did so keeping the memory of what should never, ever be forgotten.
It’s been more than 70 years, and the Germans are as determined as ever never to forget. It’s been only a little over 30 years, and many of us Filipinos already want to forget what should never be forgotten.
Ironically, one of those in the recent photographs shown cheering with the Marcoses likes to call himself “thinking” and “Pinoy.” Our heroes must be turning in their graves.
Is the unthinkable about to happen? Has it in fact already happened, and only more unthinkable things are to come?
Should the unthinkable happen, those of us who choose to keep the memory of those who bid us to “remember how we died here” will know what to do.
And we will know that it will only be an honor to carry their memory.
Remmon E. Barbaza, PhD, is associate professor at Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Philosophy.