Memory as resistance
The villains of our country take comfort in the fact that people easily forget their misdeeds. “Magpalamig ka muna,” they are told, with the confidence that “lying low” for a few years, or even just months, is enough for people to move on to other issues, after which they can fade into comfortable obscurity. Or, should they wish, they can resurface in the government, eliding the legal and political liabilities of their past.
Perhaps the most glaring example is the political rehabilitation of the Marcos family, whose scions now occupy the high echelons of power, and not just the lifestyle section of publications. Like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s neck brace, their political handicaps have dissipated like a passing cloud, and they are now close to reclaiming political glory with the dictator’s son aiming to rule the country his father ruined, and with the agency tasked to recover their stolen wealth on the verge of abolition.
But no dictatorship, no corrupt government, is made up of just one person or family. If the Marcoses had to wait for decades for their comeback, their supporting cast — the cronies, the “Blue Ladies,” the “Rolex 12” — had a much easier time. Today, hardly anyone remembers Querube Makalintal, Fred Ruiz Castro, Antonio Barredo, Felix Makasiar, Felix Antonio, and Salvador Esguerra — the Supreme Court justices who in 1973 voted to uphold authoritarian rule. “Tomorrow, history will judge you,” Ninoy Aquino said of the high court, but alas, many decades later, his prophecy is yet to be fulfilled.
Thus, wayward law enforcers are fired, only to be “reassigned” after the furor over their misdeeds has subsided. Thus, officials mired in scandal resign, ostensibly out of delicadeza, only to be reappointed in some other government agency. Thus, plunderers and drug lords are jailed, only to be released, their cases dismissed, the gravity of their crimes forgotten.
Thus, the Harry Roques of this world are encouraged to betray the principles they once held, thinking that very few will remember their treachery. Only their names will remain, along with the recognition, the familiarity, the viability once more for high office and electoral success.
Reflecting on the tensions between memory and forgetting, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur speaks of the “general trend to destroy,” and goes on to cite Aristotle, who said “time destroys more than it constructs.” That even the Holocaust can be cast as a figment of the imagination speaks of the tenuousness of memory, the natural tendency to forget the past.
Even so, if our collective amnesia is instrumental in the impunity enjoyed by those who have exploited us, then we have, as Ricoeur calls it, “a duty to remember.” We must keep remembering, and retelling, the injustices of our time, and the people that enable them. Not just the dictator-in-the-making, but his sycophants and trolls. Not just those in the government, but those who, cloaked in their priestly garments, judicial robes, or academic togas, provide moral, legal, and intellectual support to an oppressive regime.
There are creative ways to remember, and remembering itself is a creative form of resistance. Amid the rise of fake news, our literature and arts — from “Noli Me Tangere” to “Citizen Jake” — remind us that fiction can be truth’s last refuge. If our educational system will not take it upon itself to do it, then we ourselves have a duty to reach out to young people. And tell them of how a 17-year-old student was shot to death in Caloocan, even as he begged for mercy. How our islands were lost because of a president’s ways. And how a “legal abomination” was made law because of a Court whose majority acted not just against one of its own, but against the Constitution itself.
Only with a sense of history can history be the judge that is immune to the seduction of power and the eroding influence of time’s passage. And herein lies our comfort: For as long as we bear the memories of injustice, the hope of a fair verdict remains.
And so does the hope that the villains of our land will, at long last, be put in their proper place: neither in oblivion nor in glory, but in infamy.
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