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Unethical nation

The phrase goes: “Over my dead body.” I would have said it if they told me the definition of a hero could be changed.

But apparently, the joke’s on me, and countless others who are enraged.

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I was at a forum when the news broke. I pity the final presenter at the event, whose audience was suddenly glued to mobile screens, whispering and exchanging glances when they learned that the corpse—or wax replica—was about to arrive at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

I wanted to drown my frustration in the superb lunch that followed the forum, but even the best dishes diminished my appetite. An old professor from Leyte was also seated at my table, quietly eating. A good friend, beside me, asked if in their university, they held protest actions.

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“Some do,” he said. “But not as strong as the ones here in Manila.”

He went on to tell us that as a professor, he knew firsthand how our educational system had failed. Why do so many hail martial law? Our history teachers do not know what happened, and so they cannot tell the story the right way. “What can I expect from those who teach at such a young age? If they themselves do not have a strong background of the Marcos era?” To tell what really happened, one has to be conscious and deliberate, he said.

And he told his own story. He was a young man who lived in the mountains. His family had encounters with both the New People’s Army and the military, but they were more scared of the latter. “In Leyte, they cut off heads and kicked them around, bloody, like they were playing football.” I covered my mouth, revolted.

He nodded. “Staring could get you killed, hija. They would detain you because you looked, because you had shoes, or because they didn’t like your haircut. We were afraid. You cannot imagine what it was like.” He said the violence that came with martial law exists to this day, in the far-flung towns of their region. His face was sad. “People have short memories.”

That’s something I ponder on these days. I see many broken friendships now, disproving the “national healing” and promoting more divisiveness. But even if I’ve cut ties with acquaintances who refuse to argue logically, I keep as friends those with whom I’ve shared good moments and contrasting opinions. There’s a chance that I will learn from what they stand for, and there’s a chance that they will listen. It would be a loss to give up on education, no matter how heavy the journey, and no matter how cancerous the comments sections.

Religious comments have been spewing lately, too, playing safe, taken out of context the way theology would teach. So by your own style and teaching, this I say to you: Jesus did not like a lukewarm standpoint either; it sickened Him and He says you do more harm than good in that cannot-comment manner.

And then there’s this popular line of forgiveness and moving on. I’m not one to quote the Bible, but really, it’s not for anyone to say that. Not to women who have suffered trauma and cannot speak about what they experienced until this day. Whose genitals were electrocuted, mutilated and burned with pepper. Whose virginity was taken, despite their tears and pleas. Whose sanity was damaged and removed from their being. Who were forced to give birth. Who were denied medical examinations.

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No, you do not say “Move on” to indigo children who have never experienced the joy of having a family. It is not up to anyone to say “Move on” to the families of the tortured, who saw the bodies of their loved ones strangled and bestially beaten as if they weren’t human. These crimes are what apologists are forgiving and from which they are denying justice. But no, you cannot command people to instantly heal and simply forget.

Especially to those who have not sought forgiveness, stop rewriting history. And if you have not bothered to research and read about it, we are all free to speak. But it will just show how uneducated our nation still is after all these years. It shows what kind of political favors we are still willing to pay. It shows how we cannot define what a hero is, despite our revolutions and blood spilled against oppressors.

We should be improving our history books and curricula, which skim through martial law as a beacon symbolizing development. We have a subject that requires a whole semester of Rizal’s life and works. Perhaps in-depth teachings about one of the Philippines’ darkest eras and a review of “Dekada ’70” would also do us good, whether we think as a student or stand on presidential stature.

It’s so easy to say how victims’ tragic stories are made up. But there are ways to validate, not from a dancing blogger, but from credible sources. There are such things as recordings, documentaries, transcripts, books. Read Primitivo Mijares. Read Raissa Robles. Watch the dramas of playwrights that open a window into the 1970s. Visit the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. Speak with victims. There are too many reliable accounts to be ignored, to just be given a blind eye, because it’s convenient, or because it’s easy to refuse education.

I joined the rally, yes, like the “temperamental brats” they refer to, who are supposedly overly outspoken without knowing what they’re fighting for. Sticks and stones, names and bones. They say UP students are just “rally-istas” who cause traffic jams (because traffic is much more important an issue than rape and torture). Perhaps you haven’t experienced a rally. When you’re in one, you are with people you do not know, standing for the same cause. You repeatedly say a statement, like a chant, like a prayer. Because it is a truth you believe in. No different from when Christians repeat “Hail Mary” on rosary beads, or when “Ohm” is chanted in meditation to find peace.

That is the same conviction we have when we go out into the streets. It is not because we just want our photos taken, or we crave the spotlight. We come together and take action because victims’ rights and lives do not deserve less than being defended with honor. We rally because we think critically and rise to protest injustice.

But then again, many citizens and justices of this unethical nation would compromise the dignity of human life for infrastructure, pseudo-regionalism, personal privilege, 13th month pay, and a poster-boy savior. How cheap the value of life is for you, by saying you do so. I bet you wouldn’t say that when a pistol is pressed to your head, when you have to watch your loved ones barbarically mangled, or when your nation is sold for 30 pieces of silver. Or Chinese yuan.

And by the way, I am writing well beyond the years when a grade-school badge was sewn on my navy blue-white uniform. My position on martial law has never changed since I wore that uniform more than a decade back.

I raise my fist to this day. No to martial law. Never again. Marcos will never be a hero.

Ragene Andrea L. Palma, 25, is an alumna of UP Diliman and St. Scholastica’s College.

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TAGS: Hero, Libingan ng mga Bayani, marcos era, martial law
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