Deadlocked over the dead
At their second debate, the presidential candidates had to declare their stand on a policy issue—silently, by a simultaneous show of hands. On permitting the burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Jojo Binay and Digong Duterte raised their hands in approval. Mar Roxas and Grace Poe did not.
The outcome was not surprising. Roxas probably shared and would respect P-Noy’s opposition to a Libingan interment for Marcos. After the backlash against the suggestion that she was open to the idea, Poe backtracked and issued a clarification. Duterte had been open to taking Bongbong Marcos as his running mate.
Vice President Binay’s position requires some explanation. In 2011, P-Noy asked Binay to make a recommendation on the issue. Binay said he surveyed the views of various sectors, including the political parties. None of the 130 parties accredited by the Commission on Elections responded. Binay did not reveal the results of the text and e-mail survey, but offered a compromise: burial with full military honors, but not at the Libingan.
Not surprisingly, the compromise met with resistance. The historical record argued against burial with full military honors. In 1986, based on previously classified documents, the New York Times exposed Marcos’ claims of wartime heroism as “fraudulent,” “preposterous,” and “a malicious criminal act” (http://www.nytimes.com/1986/01/23/world/marcos-s-wartime-role-discredited-in-us-files.html?).
Marcos himself declined invitations to respond to the story.
Marcos had sought the United States’ recognition of his Maharlika guerrilla unit—allegedly counting as many as 8,300 members—to qualify him and his men for back pay and benefits. US Army Capt. Ray C. Hunt, who directed guerrilla operations in the province of Pangasinan, dismissed Marcos’ account of Maharlika exploits throughout Luzon as “a cock-and-bull story.”
Investigators further concluded that a number of people claiming Maharlika membership engaged, not in combat, but in black-market sale of war commodities to the Japanese.
What then changed Binay’s mind in 2016? Forget the plunder charges against Binay, which precluded using Marcos’ own record of plunder as a reason against a Libingan burial. Prescind from calculations the votes of Marcos followers. Allowed to explain his new stand, Binay would likely have echoed Duterte’s rationale: the need to move beyond the Libingan issue to promote peace and unity in the country.
But elections magnify the cleavages created by conflicting political loyalties. Because of Bongbong Marcos’ attempt in his vice-presidential campaign to burnish the Marcos legacy, a Libingan burial will more likely divide than unite people. Bongbong had aggravated an already deep fracture in Philippine society arising from the martial law experience.
This fracture needs healing. But it cannot be mended by the band-aid of a lie. As in other countries devastated by periods of brutal authoritarian regimes, healing requires truth-telling.
After seven years of military rule (1976-83), a restored democracy in Argentina established the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons. Its 1984 report, “Nunca Mas” (Never Again), documented the abduction, torture and death of over 7,000 individuals and estimated that nearly 9,000 of the disappeared had yet to be found.
The 1991 Rettig Report of Chile’s National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation reviewed nearly 3,000 cases of human rights violations during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It recorded over a thousand known to have been killed outright by the regime and nearly an equal number arrested and “disappeared.”
These commissions of Chile and Argentina gave priority to truth-seeking. The Rettig Report affirmed that Chile’s “moral conscience” demanded the truth about the grave violations of human rights perpetrated by the military dictatorship as the necessary foundation “to meet the basic demands of justice and create the necessary conditions for achieving true national reconciliation.”
For Argentina, the truth was “an absolute, unrenounceable value.” To ensure that the country would not repeat the tragedy it had suffered, the people must clearly know what had happened that must never happen again. While the truth will not necessarily secure justice, it may end for many the continued injustice of “an anguishing, endless search” for the disappeared.
Marcos’ acclamation as a national hero with a Libingan burial would perpetuate the lies about the Marcos war exploits and martial law legacy that Bongbong Marcos now wants written into our history. The casualty count of martial law compares with the number lost in Chile and Argentina. But we have thus far failed to establish our own Truth Commission—and, arguably, allowed an environment that tolerated continued human rights violations beyond martial law.
Bongbong Marcos has unwittingly performed a public service in compelling us to confront our past: to acknowledge that we have not yet really recognized the injustice suffered by the victims of martial law. Their bodies, and not only that of Ferdinand Marcos, also await proper burial.
Edilberto C. de Jesus (email@example.com) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management. Prof. Rofel Brion’s Tagalog translation of this column and others earlier published, together with other commentaries, are in http://secondthoughts.ph.
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