FILAM STAR (November 4, 2011)
Feelings of anger, bitterness, and a desire for revenge can often be traced to the distant past, a past that has incorporated all the moral paradoxes, existential complexities, and material dimensions that reach their apogee in modern contemporary life. For Filipinos, a strong factual argument can be made for being justified in maintaining a historical memory that lends itself to antagonism and resentment.
But as Filipinos take up their places in our globalized era, they remain in so many respects alienated from the past. Let’s not kid ourselves; there is nothing new in this about Filipinos. I myself have frequently expressed this disappointing sentiment in my own writings. Filipinos imagine that they have more or less gotten along without having to bring both the wounds and the inspirations of their collective history and its constituent parts back into the fold of their national consciousness.
The message is clear: Filipinos who have locked their sights on prospering at the level of at least a median income don’t like living in the past. However, living in the past and remembering it in order to learn from it are two different things. Filipinos though, fail to make this distinction. This drawback has had a profound effect on Filipinos as they try to overcome the obstacles of daily life. By paying little heed to the edifying presence of history, Filipinos have, and will continue to, incur socio-economic and political traumas and deprivations.
Sitting at the heart of this perspective is the untimely death of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino in 1983. His assassination revived the collective Filipino conscience and consciousness and with the 1986 People Power revolt, swept democracy back into the Philippine political landscape. Filipinos honor Ninoy’s martyrdom for democracy with yearly celebrations and by reserving a lofty station for him in their memories.
But paying absolute homage to Ninoy is not just about remembering him. It is also about learning from his example and from what his sacrifice meant to his people. As the years have passed since Ninoy’s death, the moral and self-effacing model he set has been met by large numbers of Filipinos with indifference and a deluded equanimity. That is why I want to thank documentary producer Tom Coffman for making “Ninoy Aquino and the Rise of People Power” which recently appeared on PBS.
A keen observer of Ninoy’s life leading up to his demise, Coffman tears down the curtain of complacency that diverts Filipinos’ historical consciousness from percolating into a deluge of social indignity and vigorous activism. Coffman’s documentary reminds Filipinos of Ninoy’s travails and tribulations, the travails and tribulations that enabled democracy to thrive again in the Philippines.
What Ninoy achieved in life and in death turned the tables on the Marcos dictatorship and articulated a new, righteous vision for the Philippines. For awhile Filipinos looked to Ninoy’s groundbreaking exercise in courage and determination to guide them. But like a star that loses its luster, Ninoy’s passion play faded into the background of the larger reality of everyday survival and the scramble to meet the imperatives of a capitalist society.
Their hopes and plans for a flourishing future well in hand, Filipinos chose to move on from Ninoy’s guiding light. Two things happened as a result: corruption as a broad norm became an expected norm. And the Marcoses made a political comeback on the basis of a partisan presumption (or distortion) of innocence.
From claiming to be victims of human rights violations to practically insisting that the body of their despotic lord and master Ferdinand be buried in a national heroes’ cemetery, and to attempting to outlast the Philippine government in recouping allegedly embezzled monies belonging to the Filipino people, the Marcoses have made a mockery of Ninoy’s sacrifice. To add insult to injury, there is serious talk of Bongbong Marcos becoming president one day. You can bet thousands of votes are already booked solid for him if you know what I mean.
Filipinos have to shoulder the responsibility for taking the Marcos hypocrisy and criminality in stride. Instead of taking their cues from the historical past, Filipinos are just putting themselves through a perpetual ordeal in which Philippine history’s worst experiences recur to catalyze the reviled yearnings and investments of the Marcoses and their breed. It’s only fitting that Halloween just passed because Ninoy must be turning in his grave.