Burying the past

Our problem with the corpse of Marcos has less to do with the question of where to bury it, but with whether we can sustain the demonization of his legacy with the passage of time.  It is a problem because, 11 years after its overthrow, we have not validated the dark narratives of his dictatorship by affirmative acts of prosecution and conviction.   What shall we teach our children about the Marcoses when the exuberant memories of Edsa have faded?

Ms. Imelda R. Marcos, now the representative of the first district of Leyte, carries with her, whenever she faces media, an interesting set of documents.  One is a certification from our own Commission on Human Rights, simply stating that, to its knowledge, no case for human rights violation has ever been filed before it against the Marcoses.   Another document contains excerpts from the decision of a court in New York dismissing the case against her for racketeering and corruption.  The US court refused to do for the Philippine government what, in effect, it was being asked to do – enforce the latter’s own laws.

By these documents, Ms. Marcos means to tell us that this country has wronged her family because it has failed to prove any of the crimes that public lore has ascribed to them – theft, corruption, torture and murder.  This recollection of events is selective of course.  Ms. Marcos does not tell us about the conviction of Bongbong for tax evasion, nor about her own conviction for corruption in connection with the PGH foundation.  She does not tell us about the successful prosecution of a civil case against the Marcoses in Seattle by the families of two murdered Filipino union leaders.

These cases are important to the extent that they validate and legitimize the political upheaval that led to the ouster of  Marcos in1986.  They are symptomatic of the grave abuse of power that we have come to associate with the Marcos regime.  But, we must ask in all candor: is this all that we can prove?

The case against Bongbong is almost laughable for the magnitude of the unpaid taxes for which he was charged and found guilty, which amounted to less than ten thousand pesos!  Imelda herself was found guilty of graft in a case which clearly benefited the Philippine General Hospital; but whether she personally profited from this transaction remains uncertain.  The Seattle civil case was a landmark case because it set the model for the later successful prosecution of the class suit, also a civil case, filed by victims of human rights violations in Hawaii.  But these are civil complaints filed before American courts. The type of evidence required to secure compensation in a civil case is not the same as that demanded in a criminal case.

Meanwhile, the more than 30 cases of graft and corruption and unexplained wealth filed against the Marcoses before our own Sandiganbayan remain unresolved.  We refused to try Marcos before our courts while he was alive.  The Aquino and Ramos governments have been more successful in sequestering and selling properties suspected of being “illegally-gotten” than in proving their fraudulent origin.  In our hearts we know these assets are fraudulent, but future generations, who will view Edsa from a distance, will require a confirmation of this belief beyond political rhetoric.

Right now, our collective memory continues to refuse to yield to this man, who has changed our political landscape like no other Filipino politician.  But, I expect,  our people’s sentiments will soften, as they have, through the years.  When historians begin to assign context to the Marcos years, and describe those events that now continue to divide us from the standpoint of a new vocabulary, the future may be kinder to Marcos.

Our people hear and understand Imelda when she makes a plea to bury her husband with dignity.  Our religious beliefs and our culture are on her side.  They are arguments that become more forceful with every year that passes that we are unable to document and demonstrate the guilt of the Marcoses.

This may not be an object of worry for our present leaders.  They will say that, after all, the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship is a political fait accompli; and that it is doubtful if any of the Marcoses can ever return to power again in the same way.  The pragmatics of power may lead our present politicians to think therefore that it may be prudent to leave things as they are, and not be bothered by the disparity between what we do as a nation and the story we tell about ourselves.  This is especially so for those who were themselves deeply involved with the Marcos regime.

But if this chapter of our political history is not decisively closed, according to the standards of our own legal system and political culture, the meaning of what we did at Edsa and what we do now will forever remain unstable.   Our generation will be perceived as one that resolutely avoided substantiating its own consciousness.

It may be easy to bury a man in an unmarked grave.  But to bury the past without identifying it – that, to me, is an act of folly.


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