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Of Monuments and Memories

By Emil Guillermo
First Posted 10:12:00 08/22/2009

Filed Under: Cory Aquino, Inquirer Politics

Here?s the biggest laugh heard around the Global Pinoy world. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in an act that practically sounds Marcos-like, has ordered the immediate construction of a monument to Cory Aquino.

It would have been better if the overall ?actions? of the Arroyo administration were a tribute to the memory of Cory and her assassinated husband, Ninoy. But unfortunately, Arroyo?s accomplishments barely provide the material to complete even the metaphor.

In fact, there was no more prominent a critic of Arroyo than Mrs. Aquino herself, who called for Arroyo to step down when the 2004 election results were alleged to be rigged, and then again more recently when Aquino took to the streets in protest of Arroyo.

Calling for a monument takes some real gall. Arroyo must have the bladder to process it. Perhaps that should be enshrined at a later date.

Clearly, Arroyo sees a Cory memorial as a kind of penance for the error of her ways. It?s Arroyo rewriting history. Memorializing your critics neutralizes them. How could Cory not like Arroyo? Arroyo has put Cory in stone.

That move is as see through as my barong.

Now the debate is over where Arroyo should put her monument.

Can that be printed in a family paper?

Tandem Cory/Ninoy?

There?s also talk of creating a tandem monument to Cory and Ninoy, perhaps where the existing Ninoy statues are. That could be appropriate, since who thinks of Cory without Ninoy?

The City of Manila has already planned for a Cory statue in Rizal Park adjacent to an existing Ninoy statue. So will Manila and PGMA set off dueling plans? Soon, I suspect monument politics will take over. And then we will go from Arroyo?s transparent act in building it to what size should it be? (Bigger than Lapu-Lapu but not Jose Rizal? And then not bigger than the memorial in waiting for Arroyo). What will it be made of? Stone? Marble? Rice? And, of course, what will the figure memorialized be doing? Fingering out the Laban sign? Saying a rosary? Scolding Arroyo?

In America, we?d have no issue. The person would be on a horse.

That?s just the way it is.

But in the Philippines---Cory on a caribou?

A nice diversion

The politics of memorials is a nice diversion from the central memory of the week.

It was about a generation ago in 1983 that Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. returned home after years in America, ready to challenge the dictator Marcos.

But on Aug. 21 the homecoming turned into tragedy. As news cameras rolled for his arrival, Aquino was gunned down by military personnel after de-boarding his jet. He was face-down on the tarmac for all the world to see. The hero/liberator shot to death.

Who ordered the hit? Does it matter? Placing blame may satisfy those in need of certainty, or a nice debate over a few beers. But certainty isn?t required. The assassination set into motion the beginning of the end for martial law under Marcos?the Philippines? dark ages. Marcos and his Imelda may have been able to run the table. But the martyred image of Aquino on the tarmac was enough to empower and sustain a people seeking their freedom from a bully.

At the time, I analyzed the video of Aquino?s final moments for viewers on KRON-TV in San Francisco. It was like the Filipino version of the Zapruder film, that home-made film of the JFK assassination, a staple of conspiracy theorists everywhere. Sensing how the Aquino story would only get bigger, I was compelled to follow it to the end.

My news director at the time wasn?t sure. He had no consciousness of the Filipino population in San Francisco, let alone the rest of America. Imagine that in 1983, Filipinos were still often mistaken for Latinos. I practically had to pull out Census data to show him how strong the presence was in the Bay Area, many of them watching me, at the time the only Filipino American on a local network affiliated station.

My bosses relented. I got my ticket ?home.? When I arrived, I couldn?t believe what I saw.

I?m not in Daly City anymore

From the sky, the archipelago was so green. But on the ground, martial law cast a khaki pall, the color of soldiers? uniforms. They were never far, lurking, watching. I didn?t get out of the airport without being detained for a few hours for a thorough equipment check by authorities. In 1983, it was already ?Post-9-11-style? in the PI.

As we drove out of the airport, the sight of cardboard on the sidewalks was amusing. A trash problem?

No, these were the roofs of make-shift homes for the poor. You don?t waste good cardboard on a sign like the ones you might find in the U.S. today that read, ?Will work for food.?

It was my first glimpse of the Third World, where I?d encounter interesting juxtapositions of extreme wealth and poverty.

I only saw a real cross-section of the public in two places. The first was at the funeral mass of Aquino at the Santo Domingo Church. The second was the procession, as the casket of the late senator made its way through the streets of Manila, attracting more than a million people.

It was an indication of how widespread the hope people had for Ninoy, and the first sign of ?People Power,? which we would see come to full-bloom by 1986.

That memory of walking on the streets of martial law freely, among the huge crowd liberated by its mourning, is the most Filipino I?ve ever felt in my life.

Now In one generation, we look back and appreciate the changes that have taken place. But we regret the e squandered opportunities to change what may be unchangeable in Philippine life.

That?s the sadness of this week. If you were out on the streets for Ninoy?s funeral you know that real life events subsequent just have not lived up to the hopes and dreams forever memorialized in head and heart that week.

Self-described as an American Filipino, Emil Guillermo is an award-winning print, TV, and radio journalist based in California. (E-mail: emil@amok.com. Updates at www.amok.com.)

Copyright, Aug. 21, 2009 all rights reserved.

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