The story is told that he could walk without leaving a single footprint.
The military men called him a renegade. His people called him a hero. After Mexican troops massacred his family, he eluded capture for decades, resisting colonization, demanding his people’s freedom, disappearing into his beloved Sierra Madres even as 5,000 American soldiers thundered in pursuit. His small band of warriors stood as the last line of Apache resistance against white America. His name was legend long before he surrendered in 1886. They called him Geronimo.
More than a century after, another American leader watched over the capture of his own Geronimo. For 40 minutes, America’s first black president waited as several special operations teams invaded Pakistani airspace on a mission targeting America’s most wanted criminal. President Barack Obama heard the announcement at the same time as his team of aides and advisers did. “Visual on Geronimo.”
Later, word came that “Geronimo” had been killed. The news reached the President as “Geronimo EKIA”—Enemy Killed In Action.
Geronimo was the name the US military gave to al-Qaida’s Osama bin Laden.
It is now the naming of Geronimo that has cast a pall over America’s national triumph. The Native American minority protested the move, calling it “deeply insulting” for the Obama government to compare their ancestor to a terrorist responsible for the murder of thousands. For a people whose history is bloodied by violence, death and subjugation, whose names were taken away and replaced with the names of white men, the affront runs deep. Their Geronimo was a hero, and America made him a terrorist.
“Right now Native American children all over this country are facing the reality of having one of their most revered figures being connected to a terrorist and murderer of thousands of innocent Americans,” said Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser.
They say he was the last of the statesmen. At a time of murder, torture and abduction, he challenged a dictatorship whose one policy was survival.
The government called him a communist. The people called him a hero. After martial law was declared by a dictator in 1972, he continued as one of its staunchest critics, earning him imprisonment and eventual banishment. The story is told that he knew of his fate long before the day he fell bleeding on Manila’s airport tarmac. His assassination became the catalyst for a revolution that destroyed a tyranny and returned hope to a much-abused people. His name became part of a myth that defined the best of the Filipino. His name was Ninoy Aquino, and they called him a hero.
When his son ran for the Senate in 2007, he promised the same fearless leadership that had killed his father and made his mother an icon of freedom.
“We have to be different from those that we are opposing or replacing, otherwise we’ll just have a merry-go-round, and nothing will really change.”
Asked how he felt knowing he would sit across men who had once threatened his life and that of his family’s, he said although he would work with them, “If they stand up for something which I think is wrong, I will oppose it as far as I can in all legal ways possible.”
This is the same man who ran for the 2010 presidency using the mythology of good against evil, reminding the country in every speech and every commercial that his name is Aquino, his father was Ninoy Aquino, martyr and statesman, his mother was Cory Aquino, saint and leader. He won the presidency on the strength of naming—he was the son of heroes, and his name was Noynoy Aquino.
Aquino said his family celebrated the Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986 because this has been the “defining moment of the country’s departure from the darkness.”
They say he was a tyrant who was once a good man. It was greed that turned him. For many years, the country suffered under a leadership whose generals lived like kings while millions went hungry. In 1986, the people overthrew him, after the death of Ninoy Aquino and the rise of yellow-clad Cory. His name was Marcos, and now he is to be named hero.
His son, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, thanks the 190 congressmen who support the resolution seeking to allow Ferdinand Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. His father deserves it, says the senator. It is a debt the nation owes.
The Marcos children have denied their father’s involvement in the abuses that occurred during the dictatorship. They say their father was a hero, that his name has been demonized by enemies of progress. They are victims of injustice. Imelda Marcos, the woman they once called the Iron Butterfly, whose lavishness has made her name synonymous to unnecessary extravagance, now lends her name to a line of jewelry and to the congressional seat of Ilocos Norte. She calls herself a patron of human rights. This after a decision, 25 years coming, that awards compensation to the 7,526 victims of torture, enforced disappearances, rape and abduction who suffered under martial law.
Before he was elected president, Noynoy Aquino committed to maintaining the standard of heroism that his father began and his mother continued. Men like Ferdinand Marcos did not have the right to aspire to the name. He said the country continued to suffer from problems that were created under Marcos’ rule.
“Why should we honor him by burying him at the Libingan ng mga Bayani?” he said. Aquino’s campaign manager Florencio Abad Jr. spoke for both his candidate and the party.
“That is reserved for heroes and we do not concede that Marcos is a hero. We still have to find closure to many abuses our people suffered in terms of political repression, the conjugal hypocrisy and many other issues.”
Now, one year after, the son of heroes has little to say. He has refused to make the decision that his own mother made in 1986 and Fidel Ramos made after, passing the controversial decision instead to his Vice President Jejomar Binay. Aquino says he is unwilling to make a decision because of his biases, forgetting perhaps that Binay himself has long been an Aquino loyalist, a man who had risked his life in the ’70s against Marcos and his men in defense of human rights. Perhaps he also forgets the presidency is not about objectivity, it is about principle—one he promised a nation that believed in his.
Surveys now say 50 percent of the public supports the Marcos burial—a reasonable result, granting also that the generation surveyed believes Marcos is a billboard model and Aquino is the brother of an actress with STD.
His name is Ferdinand Marcos, president, tyrant, thief and hero. He will be a standard for what is right and just. His sins will be the sins of the next generation of heroes.
When the story is told, the story is this: once there were heroes, until they lost their names.
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