Today is the 39th year of the declaration of martial law. It’s a day that ought to have for us the significance of Pearl Harbor for Americans, a day of infamy, a day when someone launched a sneaky attack on this country. It ought to, but it doesn’t. I doubt many of us still remember.
The gap between 1971 and 2011 is the gap between 1921 and 1962. That is not a gap, that is a chasm. That is the difference between foxtrot and the Beatles, that is the difference between the typewriter and the Internet.
I said much the same thing early this year when we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Edsa. The difference between 1986 and 2011 is the same difference for my own generation between 1945 and 1970. That is the difference between Liberation and Woodstock. The terrors of the Japanese Occupation we knew only from what we read in books, seen in the movies and heard from the old folks. Veterans of that War we regarded only the way people normally regard veterans: ancients who clung to the past, regaling those willing to listen to them, or have no choice, in drinking places with tales of their exploits.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, for us, Ferdinand Marcos would soon plunge us into a world very much like it.
It’s not easy to remember what happened 25 years ago or, worse, 39 years ago, particularly for a country in the throes of perpetual amnesia. But remember it we must, if only by repeated cajoling, if only by repeated exhortation. Our future rests on it.
At the very least that is so because the Marcoses are back, in case you haven’t noticed. They won three seats in the last elections, an unthinkable thing not so long ago, which is also the clearest sign Edsa has waned in memory. Imelda Marcos is now a representative, Bongbong a senator and Imee the governor of Ilocos Norte. And they want Ferdinand buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Bongbong is even gearing up to run for president in 2016. Although I’m not worried about this. For reasons that have nothing to do with this country’s forgetfulness. They have to do with the fact that Bongbong does not only lack his father’s relentlessness, or indeed ruthlessness, he lacks his father’s ability to create a mythical stature for himself. Marcos became president long before he ran for it by creating the myth of being the bravest, most decorated soldier, of World War II. It didn’t just make him president twice; it made him dictator afterward, the generals being in awe of him as the quintessential warrior. Bongbong doesn’t have that. He can spend all the ill-gotten wealth they’ve amassed, but he still won’t make it (back) to Malacañang.
What’s more worrisome is their attempt to turn Ferdinand into a hero, by the not very subtle route of his burying place. Of course much of the public is still against it, even if most of the congressmen are not. But that is little comfort. Not too long ago, that suggestion could never even have been made, let alone supported by the majority of Congress. Time is on their side, not against it. The memory of martial law recedes farther and they will put Ferdinand in the Philippine version of Valhalla. Opening the door to the wholesale revision of history, opening the door to making Filipinos love their chains.
But far more than that, we may forget martial law only at the cost of repeating it. That is a truism that happens to be true, and holds the most enormous consequences for us.
We don’t have to look far to see it, it’s not hypothetical: We have repeated that history by forgetting it. That is in the form of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s rule, or at least the second part of it, an illegitimate rule that produced tyrannical consequences. True enough, history repeats itself first as tragedy and second as farce, though no one is laughing in the case of the second.
I won’t repeat my arguments about why the Arroyo regime was an echo, though not a very faint one, of the Marcos one. I’ve done it repeatedly in the past. More to the point here, which has enormous implications for the future, is how one party to both the Marcos and Arroyo regimes has escaped notice, or vilification. Indeed, has managed to reap accolade afterward. That is the United States.
It was instrumental in propping up both the Marcos and Arroyo regimes.
The first far more patently in Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger warmly endorsing martial law from the start, an endorsement then Vice President George Bush rammed home when he toasted Marcos’ “adherence to democracy” in 1981. It wasn’t till the mid-1980s when Marcos looked finished that the US changed its tune and helped roll the curtains down. For which pains, it turned from conspirator to liberator, Paul Laxalt being toasted afterward for advising Marcos to “cut, and cut cleanly.” Not unlike MacArthur with his, “I shall return.”
The second was less patent, Kristie Kenney smiling her way into the Filipinos’ hearts. Thanks to WikiLeaks we know now that smile was as real as the “smiling authoritarianism” Marcos wanted martial law to be known by. Kenney in fact would supply the perfect image, or metaphor, for American presence in this country, a smiling face masking the duplicitous one behind it. The US propped up Arroyo just as it propped up Marcos for much the same reason: to keep its military presence in the region. But thanks to WikiLeaks too, the US may not find it so easy to turn from conspirator to liberator this time around, Kenney maligning the true hero, though an unwitting one, of this saga, who was Cory, behind her back.
Truly, those who do not heed their history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not learn from their past will have no future. Those who do not remember anything will never rise to the cusp of victory.
They will always teeter on the edge of infamy.
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