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Marcos and our social memory

/ 03:54 AM June 02, 2011

THERE IS a growing ambivalence, moral and political, about the issue of whether or not Ferdinand E. Marcos deserves to be interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Reviled as a tyrant who plundered the nation a quarter of a century ago, Marcos today is on the verge of being reincarnated as a hero. A resolution passed by the House of Representatives, citing Marcos’ services as a former president and wartime soldier, urges President Aquino to allow the strongman’s burial at the cemetery reserved for national heroes.


The House resolution, supported by three-fourths of its membership, apparently reflects popular sentiment. A Social Weather Stations survey taken in March this year indicated that 50 percent of Filipinos want the former dictator to be entombed on sacred grounds.

What explains this turnabout in the echelons of our policymakers and the seeming public indifference on this issue, an issue that should have been settled 25 years ago at Edsa and by the ensuing events that restored our democracy?

The incessant efforts of the Marcos family and demographic changes have been advanced as factors, but these cannot account for this tectonic shift in our social memory. Perhaps there is such a thing as moral fatigue—the erosion of ethical and moral convictions by our lack of resolution, by apathy, and by mental sloth.

Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero, who authored the resolution and served as a minister during the martial law regime, contends that Marcos, as a bemedalled war veteran and a former president, is qualified for a niche in the hallowed grounds. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has weighed in by asserting that any Filipino who fought for this country deserves to be laid to rest at the Libingan, “medals or no medals.”

If history and the examples of older and more disciplined civilizations are taken into account, both Escudero and Enrile would be wrong. Bemedalled heroes who abandon their sworn oath and betray the public trust are bound to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Gen. Augusto Pinochet won Chile’s highest military medals and honors. But as a military dictator from 1973 to 1990, his authoritarian government suppressed political parties and systematically persecuted and killed dissidents to an extent that was unprecedented in Chile’s history. In October of 1998, several years after he stepped down, Pinochet was charged with numerous counts of murder, torture and kidnapping. Death claimed the old and ailing former dictator in 2006 when further charges were brought against him. When his body was cremated on Dec. 12 that year, the armed forces of Chile refused to allow the dictator’s ashes to be deposited on any military grounds.

France set two examples. One involved Pierre Laval who was twice minister of justice, a senator, and a prime minister. He was elected four times as president of the Council of Ministers of the Third Republic. Following France’s armistice with Germany in 1940, he served twice in the pro-Nazi Vichy Regime as head of government. After liberation in 1945, he was charged with plotting against the security of the state and collaboration with the enemy. He was arrested, found guilty of high treason, and executed by firing squad.

The other was Philippe Pétain, chief of state of Vichy France from 1940 to 1944. Because of his outstanding military leadership in World War I, Petain was proclaimed a Marshal of France and a national hero. Yet when he, as premier, was disgraced by his collaboration with Germany, he was condemned to death. On account of his great age (89), the verdict was never executed. Nonetheless he was stripped of all his military ranks and honors except that of Maréchal, a distinction conferred by Parliament which a court cannot withdraw under the separation of powers principle.

Closer to home are the antecedents established by South Korea. In 1995 former President Chun Doo-hwan and his successor President Roh Tae-woo were imprisoned for mutiny, treason and bribery. Their terms as chiefs of state and career soldiers, including their high military decorations, did not absolve them of the abuses and rapacity they committed in nearly three decades of authoritarian rule.


Like the Chileans and the French, the Koreans believed that immense political power and latitude must be balanced by extraordinary restraint and rectitude. For moral good and moral harm, as William Bennett points out, “can come to society by what it esteems and what it disdains.”

Our problem is that Marcos and his minions were never credibly prosecuted; no one went to jail because of the timidity or corruption—or both—of our leaders and institutions. Successive administrations after People Power were far more preoccupied in recovering stolen wealth rather than in rendering the justice owed to Filipinos and to our dignity as a nation.

As a result, we have enormously undermined the principle that no one, not the strong or the weak, is above the law. The norms of conduct to which we hold ourselves and our leaders have been dangerously eroded, as evidenced by the mounting cases of massive corruption and plunder in public office today.

Somehow, we must find the resolve and the imagination to keep alive the painful truths about the martial-law regime in our social memory, the way Israel and its gifted people remind the world about the Holocaust through persistent narratives in literature, historical documents, films and memorials.

The attempt to revise history and count Marcos among our fallen heroes is an assault on our memory. It exacerbates the soul’s despair that the novelist John Updike describes: “the pain of feeling that we no longer live nobly.”

Rex D. Lores is a member of the Center for Philippine Futuristics Studies.

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TAGS: Augusto Pinochet, cronyism, dictatorship, extra-legal killings, Ferdinand E. Marcos, forced disappearances, Graft and Corruption, human-rights abuses, ill-gotten wealth, kidnapping, Libingan ng mga Bayani, Media killings, murder, plunder, Political killings, Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero
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