We should have seen it coming when, after then President Fidel V. Ramos allowed the dictator’s remains to be repatriated and buried in the Ilocos in 1993, the Marcos family announced that the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte, would be but a provisional resting place for the former president. Insisting that this was not the burial it had in mind, the family preserved the body in a glass encasement above ground. People who have seen it believe that the waxen figure behind the glass is no more than a representation, and that the real remains lie in a crypt underneath. But that is not the point.
The point is that the Marcos family wants nothing less than a state funeral for the Ilocano patriarch—a burial befitting a great president and hero of the Filipino nation. Therefore, the issue is not just whether Marcos deserves to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The issue is whether the nation, which rose against him and ended his abusive and corrupt regime in 1986, has awakened from its dreamy state and is now ready to give the former leader an honored place in its memory.
We should have known that something like this would happen once the euphoria of the Edsa people power revolution has completely dissipated. It is not just because time heals all wounds. It is also because one typically wakes up not just to the harsh reality of failed expectations but also to an inclination to idealize a recovered past.
The Marcoses knew this. They were prepared to wait for one generation (1989 to 2016), continually testing the waters while keeping the successor on standby. With their considerable stolen wealth intact—away from the hands of the postrevolutionary state—they quietly slipped back to power. The Ilocano homeland proved to be easy pickings for Imelda and the Marcos children who alternately occupied the governor’s office and Ilocos Norte’s second congressional district. And, as in the elder Marcos’ time, the whole region served as a solid base from which the son could project his national ambition.
Bongbong Marcos’ first attempt to capture a senatorial seat came in the midterm elections of 1995, nearly a decade after the Edsa uprising. It was a failure; the young Marcos landed in No. 16, far from the winning circle of 12. Returning to the Ilocos, he successfully ran as governor of Ilocos Norte in 1998. It took another 15 years before he would make another attempt for the Senate. He made it the second time, placing seventh in the 2010 senatorial race.
The Senate is traditionally the right place to be if one is eyeing the presidency. And perhaps no one was more obsessed to see Bongbong retake Malacañang than Imelda who, in her advanced years, never gave up the thought of giving her husband a hero’s burial. It meant the whole world to her because it would signify a nation finally making amends for what she regards as the great injustice done to her husband. After a House resolution in 2011 failed to resolve the Marcos burial issue, she realized that only a Bongbong presidency would put the issue to rest.
The Marcos burial issue is indeed, in the final analysis, a political question. It is the struggle of one vision of governance against another—one, which highlights institutional leadership, and another, which puts great value on forceful personal presence. One democratic, and another feudal; one modern, and the other traditional.
After 30 years, we have come full circle as a nation. We are once more in the grip of a fascination with strongman rule. Despite his family name, Bongbong Marcos lacks the requisite personality for this mode of governance. Having failed in his attempt to win the vice presidency, he now draws affirmation from the phenomenal success of Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 presidential election. In his view, by electing Mr. Duterte, the nation has at last awakened from its stupor.
But there is another awakening apart from the one the Marcoses have long wished for. It is the waking up to the real. We don’t just wake up from the illusions of a detested period; we also wake up to the even more terrifying reality of the present. In his book “Defacement,” the anthropologist Michael Taussig puts it this way: “And what is crucial to ‘waking’ as revolutionary force in the modern world is its blending of prehistoricity with a sudden awareness as to the bizarre, unmasked face of the real, pitching one into a future … Waking is unmasking, revealing the surreal nature of the real.”
What, indeed, can be more surreal than seeing an average of 13 dead bodies lying in our streets every single day, and becoming desensitized to the sight of murder victims as though they were no different from the unremarkable remnants of casual road kill? What can be more bizarre than for an entire nation to believe that it can win the war against the global business of illegal drugs by killing drug dependents and pushers?
Just as the “New Society” was an illusion foisted by the Marcos dictatorship on a people that had been made to believe lack of discipline was its fatal weakness, so also is the promise of a drug-free nation secured by the terror of extrajudicial killing. No one ever said that our problems are easy. But we should work our way through these problems with open eyes, if we are to avoid drifting from one illusion to another.
Burying Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani has never been the issue. The question is: How much violence against history must we commit to redeem the illusions of the dictator’s family?
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