‘Tao lang po!’
That was the excuse University of the Philippines president Danilo Concepcion invoked to explain away his joltingly insensitive appearance at the reunion of the Marcos youth arm Kabataang Barangay (KB) at UP Diliman’s Bahay ng Alumni on Aug. 25. It was mere human frailty, he explained: “My desire to be with old-time friends I had not seen for decades, no matter how briefly, made me overlook its effect on the sentiments of the UP community.”
Concepcion—who, it turned out, was a former KB-Metro Manila president—added that he “deeply regrets the pain” his attendance at the Imee Marcos-led affair had caused.
Former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo was among those who swiftly scored not only Concepcion’s presence at the event, but also the fact that the “reunion” was held at UP itself. It was a “perversion” and an “insult” to the activist history of UP during martial law, she said, and to the “families who, up to now, have no closure because their loved ones were disappeared by the fascist police and military forces of the Marcos dictatorship.”
In a statement, the group No Erasures, No Revisions—a broad alliance of UP staff and students—also said they felt it their obligation “to remind President Concepcion of the role and power of history. Now more than ever, we hold fast to the lessons of our peoples’ resistance to the Marcos dictatorship because the same atrocities are being repeated by the Duterte administration… President Concepcion’s attendance at a Marcos event is dangerous and might be misconstrued as UP’s official stance. He ought to be reminded that his public actions and words reflect on the university.”
Concepcion does appear in need of strong reminding, because even his words of regret are notable more for what they failed to say. There was, to be clear, no apology in the statement, only an attempt to soothe the wounds reopened by the startling sight of the UP president flashing the triumphalist Marcos “V” sign alongside the dictator’s eldest daughter.
What comes off Concepcion’s words, in fact, is a profound unreflectiveness not only about his responsibilities as caretaker of an institution with a hallowed tradition of activism, but, more gravely, about the very national history and memory that many of his old pals in that soirée are systematically working to undermine, if not erase altogether.
It’s been over 30 years since the Edsa Revolution; the Marcoses’ pillage of the country is part of the historical record. Concepcion is UP president, an exalted position that presumes he has had a far more extensive education and training in critical thinking than ordinary citizens. Yet, in explaining his attendance at the KB reunion, Concepcion would frame it as mere nostalgia for “old-time friends I had not seen for decades.”
Was his early dalliance with the dictatorship’s youth cadre wrong in any respect? Perhaps it was an association he regretted now as a mature, conscientious Filipino—especially after everything that has come to light about the KB and its bloody history?
Surely, for instance, he is familiar by now with the story of Archimedes Trajano. On Aug. 31, 1977, during one of the KB fora at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, the 21-year-old Mapua student questioned Imee Marcos’ appointment as KB national chair. Witnesses recalled how Trajano was subsequently seized and dragged by the presidential daughter’s bodyguards and how, days later, his body was found on the street with marks of severe torture.
Trajano’s mother had to wait until after the Marcoses were ousted before she could file charges of “false imprisonment, kidnapping, wrongful death, and a deprivation of rights” in a Hawaii court. She later won the damage suit.
Does Concepcion regret having been, in any way, part of such an organization? He didn’t say. He expressed regret only for hurting his UP constituency, but not for his membership in what amounted to be the youth brigade of the Marcos dictatorship. Until now, it appears, he sees nothing wrong with the KB.
The implication disturbs: Even as the cream of the country’s activist youth was being decimated by the martial law regime, was Concepcion perhaps having the time of his life as part of Imee Marcos’ national posse, such that, decades later, all he can apparently summon of that dark period is his halcyon memories of youthful friendships made in that privileged cocoon?
It must be asked of the UP president: Is that dangerous obliviousness still there?
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