A hero’s burial?
by Jon Joaquin
I was born in 1966, a year after Ferdinand Marcos was elected president for the first time. As such, I am what you would call a “Marcos baby;” someone who grew up knowing only Marcos as president since he would hold on to power for the next two decades. One of the peculiarities of my generation is that many of us were not really aware of what was going on under the Marcos regime. This was because he had a complete hold of information: TV and radio stations and newspapers were all under his control, and no one could write or broadcast anything against him. The people were afraid to talk about the abuses they knew were happening for fear of being arrested. For much of my childhood and teen years I actually believed Marcos was the best thing to happen to the Philippines.
I was six when he declared martial law in 1972, and 14 when he “lifted” it in 1980. I actually thought martial law was a good thing because the TV showed that people were more disciplined. “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” [“For the advancement of the nation, discipline is necessary.”]. The TV showed that those who did wrong were promptly punished. It showed footage of curfew violators cleaning up the streets. (Speaking of curfew, we kids thought it was some kind of monster who ate up people who stayed out late at night, which in turn made me think that all activities done at night were bad.) Since there was no way of knowing otherwise, I thought all was well in the Philippines as I was growing up.
It wasn’t until about my third year in high school that I became aware of what was really happening. Copies of the so-called “mosquito press” found their way to our school: WE Forum, Mr. & Ms., and Veritas — the last no doubt brought in by some of the nuns who helped run our school. In these papers my schoolmates and I began to learn about the abuses of the Marcos regime, about the victims of martial law, about the cronies who monopolized businesses, about those who had disappeared, and yes, even about the womanizing ways of the dictator.
It was also through these small newspapers that we learned that what we had been taught about Marcos — especially that he was a be-medaled hero of World War II — was not true. We had been made to believe that Marcos received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and the Order of the Purple Heart, and there was even a movie, titled Iginuhit ng Tadhana [Marked by Destiny] starring Luis Gonzales as Marcos and Gloria Romero as Imelda, which showed Marcos’ exploits during the war. But the mosquito press questioned these, and we young ones began to see that the feet of our hero were made of clay. The person we had idolized turned out to be a dictator.
So by 1983, when Ninoy Aquino was shot dead, my generation was more than ready to stand up against the dictatorship. And by 1986 many of us were in EDSA, joining the thousands who were facing down tanks and soldiers armed with M16s in order to oust Marcos and his family. Our generation was angry that we had been fooled for so long, and we took the first real opportunity to get rid of him.
This is my way of saying, no; let’s not bury Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) [Cemetery of Heroes]. My family and I may not have been direct victims of martial law, but the fact remains that Marcos had not only lied about his war record, he also made a mockery of it all by using a lie to win the presidency and keep himself there. And even if he were a war hero, he threw it all away by every inhuman thing he did while in power. Many of his victims are still alive today — ask them if Marcos deserves to be buried in the LNMB.
I get it that a lot of people — including Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison — are pointing out that the LNMB is not a heroes’ cemetery because in it are also buried many people who had actually betrayed the Philippines. But that is not the point. Most of us attach a certain meaning to the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and for us Marcos does not fit the definition of “hero.” And even if the cemetery has not lived up to its name, there is no point in sullying it any further by burying Marcos in it.