Manuel Luis Quezon and Sukiyaki

Manuel Luis Quezon and Sukiyaki

September 27, 2014

A different prism on martial law came, over the weekend, from a Filipino who grew up in Argentina. To mark the 42nd anniversary of Marcos’ saving “democracy by bayonets,” Bino A. Realuyo wrote about “my belated awakening (that) came mostly from a Buenos Aires education.”

A poet and novelist, Realuyo worked as community organizer, then as educator. He recalls “seeing historical parallels,” while studying “La Guerra Sucia”: Jorge Rafael Videla and Ferdinand Marcos were “great architects of repression.”

In Argentina’s “dirty war,” thousands of dissidents were kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Under Marcos, 3,257 were “salvaged” and 737 disappeared or were made “desaparecidos.”

“Marcos was the only Filipino president I lived under. Books and news were sanitized even then. I remember curfews, power outages, little else. My love for books began in readings of history and encyclopedias. I joined and won history quiz bees in high school, my young mind having the capacity to memorize dates and facts. But there was little understanding of why history happens.

“I didn’t know I lived in a climate of repression. People like us lived too far from the inner circles of politics, as many Filipinos do even now. Luckily, my international education allowed me to become more critical of the world around me, search for truth, and increase capacity to understand.”

Why did martial law happen? How did it impact the country? Why does the Philippines continue to be beleaguered by graft and corruption?

Some answers came years later. Realuyo today reluctantly accepts that Filipinos don’t grasp the power of these two words: “nunca mas” (never again).

Many Filipinos confuse (Catholic) Forgiveness with these two wrought sisters: Denial and Powerlessness. That “history repeats itself” axiom was nurtured in the Philippines is beside the point. Perhaps, it is totally moot at this historical impasse: “There is very little room to move in this discourse. History is tight, and fast.”

Fact: the Marcoses have been back in office for years. Fact: Many are rallying to revise historical truths, creating heroes and fairy tales out of the 14 years of Marcos (abuses). Fact: Many of the new generation of Filipinos, in the motherland or beyond, don’t understand a drop of the martial law concept, much less its corollary.

Realuyo’s prism, however, skips over, say, mothers of the “disappeared” in Argentina.

Every Thursday, since 1977, desaparecido mothers, in white headscarves, walk around Plazo de Mayo. How do they differ from mothers of still unaccounted for activist Jonas Burgos, and UP student leaders Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño? Both groups are aging, their ranks dwindling.

His prism throws no light on Chile or El Salvador. Is there relevance between the paramilitary killing of Bishop Oscar Romero and Fr. Fausto Tentorio who served indigent tribal people in North Cotabato for 39 years?

A UN commission later established that death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson ordered a sniper to kill Romero who had denounced junta abuses. The probe into who gunned down Tentorio in October 2011, stalled as the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Eastern Mindanao Command washed its hands.

Tentorio “sought justice for lumad or indigenous people, dispossessed of their land, harassed by armed men, when government seemed to abandon them,” Kidapawan Bishop Romulo de la Cruz recalls. Siding with the oppressed “can earn you enemies who go after even the kindest of men.”

“Punishment is not revenge or even justice,” the late Jesuit sociologist John Carroll wrote. It is the community reaffirming values seriously violated. Not to react as a community would be to reduce a “common conscience” to personal preference—and invite collapse.

Willingness to forget Marcos’ crimes reflects weakness of common conscience. “We forget at the cost of betrayal…. Unless (the country reaffirms) those values, it may be condemned to forever wander in the valueless power plays among the elite.”

Is there a middle ground between tragic sentimentality and common sense, asks

Realuyo. Is there a place where people who don’t think and those who do, and the many who don’t care, can meet?

The Philippines is a country of either rain or shine. A day after Sept. 21, we move on to a next topic. Celebrity controversies have more lasting power in our conversations than issues of national interest. “No lessons learned. No real life applications.”

How can we move the populace out of poverty and bring them to the educated middle class with power and decision-making? The powerlessness of the poor is the root of social putrefaction. Indigents are meaningless to the powerful few and the so-called Catholics who live off them.

We see this reenacted in Filipino movies all the time. Except that it is not fiction. Like other dictatorships in the world, Marcos’ “New Society” was all about using the poor as pawns. The bigger the poverty, the longer the party.

Granted that the Marcos years deserve to be relegated to the evil sections of history, what has really happened since? Have we had great leaders? Have we improved governance? Or have we bred more crooks, more thieves, and more corrupt officials?

Joseph Estrada became the first Philippine president ever to be convicted of plunder. Former president Gloria Arroyo is in detention, facing corruption trial. Former presidents Fidel Ramos and Corazon Aquino, as well as incumbent President Aquino are perceived to be personally clean.

“The Marcos clan returned because they know they could,” Realuyo notes. The question is not, why did they? It is, why would they not?


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