The dictator was right about history. But so are we — we are not off his hook yet.
History’s shadowboxing with Ferdinand E. Marcos did not cease on February 25, 1986. One could posit an initial claim that with the late dictator being dead for three decades already, his death because of lupus erythematosus had swept any issues and matters that he might have still had with history under the rug – for good.
But such is not the case, not when the battle for his history remains an ongoing one because his kin stubbornly inches their way through his hollow heroism.
Marcos uttered in a recorded interview back in Hawaii during his first years of self-exile: “history is not made with me yet.”
The dictator was right about history. But so are we – we are not off his hook yet.
Four years ago, a chopper that bore his waxed corpse flew from Batac, Ilocos Norte to Libingan ng mga Bayani to punctuate, in a sneaky way that portrayed his thieving memory, a “hero’s” burial that had to be kept and conducted away from the public’s eye to avoid meriting enough rage to have that same body exhumed from the cemetery in a manner as fastidious as was his burial.
It’s not a stretch of logic or imagination to perceive why the Marcos family, with all the expansive power it wields over Ilocandia, would risk mass actions that would block their dictator-patriarch’s way into Libingan only to insist on achieving something like a chance for that burial that Marcos’ own tyrannical life had forfeited: the whole masterplan of their return to Malacañang would have the resurrection of their vile legacy at the apex, where Marcos’ burial signifies his brand as a “hero.”
Didn’t Marcos’ ouster in 1986 during the People Power uprising settle his designation in the long-running course of our history once and for all? His furtive burial as a fake hero ascertained that to be a naïve hypothesis. While People Power’s historical judgment in EDSA was clear – that the Marcos dictatorship was so intricately evil, so incorrigibly despicable, that a mass uprising had to be the country’s way out of his dictatorial appendages – the officialdom of that judgment was not.
Or until Rodrigo Roa Duterte won the presidency.
Duterte was not the first president to honor the Marcos family’s graces in exchange for the dictator’s “hero’s” burial. When Joseph Estrada won the presidency in 1998, his regime opened up the chance of the dictator’s burial in Libingan. However, by some quirk of fate, Estrada’s ouster through the recurrence of the People Power movement that originally dethroned Marcos also threw that chance for him out of the window. The next two administrations, especially that of the son of Marcos’ arch-nemesis, dimmed any hopes for the Marcos clan – until the 2016 elections, particularly Duterte’s victory, puffed up another chance for the dictator to finally earn that glorious historical culmination that he so clearly does not deserve.
And here the Philippines is, once again: faced with Marcos’ history long after his ouster and demise.
The late tyrant’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani was not the sole signifier that Marcos’ history unfurls again before our stage of historical spectacle. Duterte’s unfolding as a nosy dictator who would not have qualms about killing off thousands in the name of his unholy wars or his repetitive allusions about constructing a dictatorship as his Final Solution for the country’s social malaises is one ample evidence of our continuing saga, our continuing tussle, with Marcos and his legacy.
Suppose there is one arena in which the People Power uprising that turfed him out of the dictatorial throne had failed. In that case, it is in extricating the country of remnants of Marcosian legacy and influence. Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino’s brand of liberal democracy – punctuated by farmers’ blood spilled in Mendiola and hollow reforms that culminated in mere cosmetic reforms without substantial revolutionary alterations in Filipino society – strived to rid the bureaucracy of Marcos’ malignant spirit. Cory’s former justice secretary, Franklin Drilon, dubbed it as “de-Marcosification.”
But that project failed, and miserably at that – specifically when Cory’s first order of business in the immediate aftermath of her ascension to the presidency was the reinstatement of two key personalities inflicted upon thousands of dissenters the fascist wrath of martial law. A huge number of cronies and associates who benefited from the Marcos regime’s thievery of the nation’s coffers remained scot-free through the six post-Marcos presidencies, and no less than the dictator’s widow still relishes liberty even as a conviction hangs over her consciousness. State power, influence, and wherewithal were all exploited to polish Marcos’s “heroic” legacy by aiding the Marcos family’s return to the political battlefield and evasion of prison’s justice and law – at the expense of the tyrant’s victims.
Duterte’s presidency did no more than placating protests against the revivification of Marcos’ discredited legacy with his endorsement of festooning Marcos’ corpse with a “hero” tag – and with his revival of a Marcos-like political dispensation marked by despotism, nepotism, and populism. Where killings and state violence once characterized the Marcos martial law’s atrocious heritage, Duterte’s legacy is awash with the blood of more than 30,000 people killed by his Marcosian brand of fascism; where Anti-Subversion Law and a host of other legal arsenals once aided Marcos’ pursuit of silencing his critics, Duterte’s Terror Law and a task force whose role does not extend beyond the confines of state-sanctioned McCarthyism and witch-hunt of activists embellished his scheme of stifling dissent – the idea for which Duterte merely borrowed, if not inherited, from Marcos’ tyrannical blueprint.
In other words, we are forced to face the ghost of Marcos and historical retrospect not only because his history is undergoing serious threats of revisionism from his family and their entire machinery of apologists and troll armies – but more so because Duterte’s tyranny resuscitates Marcos’ very history. In fact, on almost the whole spectrum, Duterte’s record had already outdone Marcos’s intensity. But that matters little, for one fact remains: Marcos’ history, as it is being rewritten by vile actors seeking to impose his family’s political vengeance, is being played out in Duterte’s character again.
And so, here we stand, once more staring straight at a dead dictator and his farcical legacy – with another dictator honoring his idol by securing him a sacred place of burial and by repeating, if not improving to stentorian levels, the model of his dictatorship. History shadowboxes with Marcos again – in the attempt to diminish his fictional airbrushing of history to his favor and the anticipated legitimization of this revisionism by Duterte’s resuscitation of the Marcos dictatorship on his own.
Three decades after his dethronement, our history’s biggest enemy is still Ferdinand Marcos, only taking on new forms and avenues of distortion.
It’s only a matter of choice on the people’s end to finally put an end to history’s apocalyptic rendezvous with a dead dictator’s legacy by relegating Marcos (and Duterte) to their proper places in history: on the footnotes of national memory, buried under national oblivion, consigned to a pantheon of monumental shame where reviled despots deserve to be conferred with dishonor and utter degradation.
Karl Patrick Wilfred M. Suyat
Karl Patrick Wilfred M. Suyat has been a campus journalist and writer for almost seven years, and a political activist for three years. Currently, he sits as a provincial coordinator of the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines, a member of the Institute for Nationalist Studies, and a contributor for a host of publications. Email Karl at: email@example.com.