POLITICS

How do you bury a dictator?

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Holding a mask bearing the face of former president Ferdinand Marcos, a participant in barong gamely poses for a photo and thereafter walks around the park, making the thumbs-down sign, at the citizens’ assembly on August 14 against the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Photo by ANNA BUENO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It was as if all of nature conspired against the citizens’ assembly held in Rizal Park last Sunday, August 14, 2016. A week before, the call was made to protest former President Ferdinand Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani: hallowed ground where, apparently, all sorts of heroes are interred — a national artist, a fallen soldier, a rogue activist, a dog. The gathering was set at the Lapu-Lapu monument in Rizal Park, Manila. The call was fervent, but at around 8 a.m. of the day of the assembly, it was easy to lose heart. The mud stuck to your shoes, the rain threatened from the clouds, the wind blew relentlessly, the stage was empty, and the crowd was yet to come.

To participate in the assembly, one requires a raincoat, umbrella, and a willingness to stand in the rain. Photo by ANNA BUENO

The weather, like the president’s firm stance on the issue, was unavailing. It was not a question if it would rain; it will, and it did rain. As soon as former Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Etta Rosales, wearing a raincoat in stage, acknowledged it — “Ang langit po ay kasama natin ngayon; siya ay lumuluha tulad natin, sapagkat ayaw niya na ilibing si Marcos sa Libingan ng mga Bayani!” — the rain, as if in agreement, poured in torrents, as the sound of simultaneously blooming umbrellas momentarily cut through Rosales’ fiery speech. Rosales, among those tortured during Martial Law, soldiered on. “Wala namang korte na lalaban para sa amin,” she said. “Pero isa lang ako sa libu-libong napakarami, doon sa Davao, si Karen…ano nga ba ang pangalan niya? Teka muna, basang-basa na ang aking papel!”— a light moment where the audience laughed — “Si Karen, isang batang aktibista, pinaslang ng mga sundalo sa Davao mismo.”

There are thousands more like Rosales and Karen. Rosales stated that there are 75,700 claimants tortured, killed, and kidnapped by the dictator, all of whom should be evidence enough that he was not a hero worthy of interment at the Libingan. Seventy-one-year-old Hilda Narciso is one of the 75,700. She stood at the back of the crowd, her silver hair held tight in a bun, her smile radiating a bit of warmth amid the chill brought by the habagat.

Before the program started, Narciso had been interviewed by two journalists, supposedly from Finland. They asked her why Marcos is not a hero. She contemplated for a while on her answers. “Infrastructures lang ang nakikita ng millennials, ‘di nila nakikita ang context…pero ang ‘di ko nasabi doon [in the interview with the Finnish journalists], tignan din nila kung bakit may Human Rights Commission, kung bakit na-itayo iyon. At kung bakit merong PCGG.”

Hilda Narciso (right), a Martial Law survivor who was repeatedly tortured and raped based on a mistaken accusation during the Marcos regime, is a healer. She says: "I believe when I heal myself, I also heal others, and when you heal others you also heal the land. If you heal yourself, ourselves, then we heal the cosmic universe as well. But at the same time, I do healing in terms of relating with the human rights victims." Photo by ANNA BUENO

To ask those questions is to delve into Narciso’s own history. Narciso was a church worker and a teacher. As music played from the stage, and a sizeable crowd began to build around the Lapu-Lapu monument, she relays, clearly, what happened to her on March 24, 1983. “I was arrested, together with other owners of the house…I was just a visitor in the house, I was a mistaken identity, but I was the most abused, physically, emotionally and psychologically, although a lot of them also were abused…It was a kind of torture that was difficult to just accept [at that time].”

It is difficult not to falter when she goes into detail about her experience. “Isa ako sa mga nakulong, na-torture…parang palagay ko, head of the raiding team ang nag-rape sa akin, tapos pinagtulungan ka pa, kasi hiwalay ‘yun sa room, tapos pinalabas niya lahat ng mga militar, tapos noong inilabas ako after ng rape, ni-rape ako [ulit], multiple rape. Iba-ibang penis ang isinusubo sa iyong bibig, minamasa ang buong katawan mo, habang ang iyong vagina, fini-finger nila. Lahat ng bahagi ng katawan mo, nilamutak nila, hindi ka na tao talaga. Iba sila mag-deal sa tao na tingin nila kalaban. Kahit na wala [silang] batayan, parang pinapatay ka na lang nang ganoon, nang unti-unti.”

A few drops of rain drip from the tree where Narciso was standing, and on cue, we both open our umbrellas. Someone important might have been speaking onstage, but for that moment, it was Narciso’s story that made the early morning trip into the seeming eye of a typhoon matter. Her case, for alleged conspiracy to commit rebellion, was dropped after two months, yet she stayed in prison for six painful months. “I was still in jail because of the PCO [Presidential Commitment Order], only the president can allow the release…kahit na may batas na, hindi niya pinapakinggan ang batas.”

“Isa ako sa mga nag-testify sa court, sa Hawaii, in 1992, and then after that there was a verdict that Marcos was guilty of human rights violations. Sa labas pa ng bansa, hindi magawa dito sa ating bansa. Bakit? It’s an irony no?” Hilda Narciso says. “Para bang deprived ang Filipino people sa sarili [nilang] bayan.”

Narciso was eventually released, but she decries the lies the regime perpetuated. According to Narciso, on September 11, 1983 — former President Ferdinand Marcos’ birthday — he lined up a few names for release from prison, including Narciso’s, for “humanitarian” reasons. Yet Marcos allegedly included 30 other names, names of prisoners already released, as part of the list he gave to the media. “Ano ba ‘yun? Lokohan. Anong klaseng president ang ganoon? Nagsisinungaling sa harap ng tao. I mean itong klaseng tao na ito, is he worth na ilibing sa Bantayog ng mga Bayani? I would honor the K-9 na ‘andoon. That he will be there. Nakakainis. Diba? ‘Di ba ‘yun nakakainsulto sa amin?”

Like so many others in the assembly, Narciso also asks: why would Marcos be buried in the Libingan while his family is yet to recognize the history of human rights violations during his regime? “Isa ako sa mga nag-testify sa court, sa Hawaii, in 1992, and then after that there was a verdict that Marcos was guilty of human rights violations. Sa labas pa ng bansa, hindi magawa dito sa ating bansa. Bakit? It’s an irony no?” she says. “Para bang deprived ang Filipino people sa sarili [nilang] bayan.”

The estimates are uncertain, but the crowd that gathered beneath Lapu-Lapu's monument was big (and loud) enough to let themselves be heard across the park. Photo by ANNA BUENO

To bury the past

Just the night before the assembly, former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III averred to a deal signed by the Philippine government and the Marcoses in 1992. As reported, the deal allows the return of Marcos’ remains to the Philippines, straight to Paoay in Ilocos Norte; that he may be given honors befitting a major of the Armed Forces; that his remains would not be paraded in Manila; and that, most significantly, his burial will be done in Ilocos Norte, and there will be no burial in Libingan.

For Cristina Rodriguez, executive director of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, this apparent reminder of what transpired in 1992 was telling. Rodriguez unequivocally stated that Bantayog, as an organization that was a direct fruit of Martial Law, cannot take any other position except to continuously resist the attempts of any administration to have the dictator buried in the Libingan. “The Libingan ng mga Bayani, whatever you say, is a government property paid for by our money, maintained by our money, so that we could have a face to show the world of who our heroes are,” she says. “And those heroes are what helped define us as a nation, as a people. We celebrate their courage, we celebrate their commitment to our common ideals — that is what we look for, that is what we want to teach our young.”

Rodriguez notes, in relation to the compromise in 1992, that the strong position was not to let Marcos go back. “If you enter a compromise, and you don’t follow it…now we are being asked again to find another compromise. The compromise really is for the Marcos family, [they] must bury their dead. The law does not say that all presidents must be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani… The law does not say either that all presidents must be honored in the Libingan.”

Aside from that agreement, there is no other compromise, Rodriguez thinks, which may be reached on the issue of the burial. “The only compromise is, kung ayaw nila ilibing, ‘wag nila ilibing…Ginagawa ng Marcos family na political capital, ‘di nila pinapatahimik. Twenty-three years na siya ‘andoon, bakit hindi nila ilibing kung gusto talaga nila patahimikin? So ang gusto nila, makuha ‘yung honors sa Libingan…that is what they want. And that is not acceptable.”

“Have you seen the Marcos bust [on the way to Baguio]?” Rodriguez asks, her brown eyes wide in disbelief. “On a human level, if I were somebody from the Marcos family, and I want a final resting place for Marcos, I wouldn’t choose Libingan, it’s so public and so easy to vandalize…So what will happen, is it will be tightly guarded. We will be paying our soldiers to guard Libingan, so that it will not be vandalized by people who still remember how abusive the regime was.”

Citizens were encouraged to do the "unlike" (or thumbs-down) sign to show opposition against Marcos' burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Photo by ANNA BUENO

What for?

The news was replete with joyful accounts of the people’s spirit, but there was no reassurance that when the thousand-strong crowd surrounding the Lapu-Lapu monument dispersed at noon, the president would change his mind. In fact, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar even released a statement directed at the citizens’ assembly the same day, stating that “the President’s stance…remains firm: There is clarity in the regulations governing the late President Marcos’ burial.”

But winning over those who will allow the burial of Marcos in the Libingan was not the desired outcome. Bong Banal, a cheerful freelance advertising creative who helped organize the coalition that led to the assembly, says the goal was to reach a compromise. “Sa huli, magkakasama din naman tayo…gusto lang natin mapakinggan lahat tayo, kumbaga isang bahay tayo. Sino ba ngayon ang medyo dapat alalayan? Sino ba yung medyo nagtatampo ngayon? Sino ba ang nasasaktan sa mga anak natin ngayon? Sino ba ang dapat pakinggan ng tatay natin?”

Banal calls for the president — as the father of the nation, as he says — to listen to the people, as he did when he assigned Vice President Leni Robredo to a cabinet post. “We believe he’s a listening father, he’s a reasonable man, and as he’s shown in the past, like in the Leni issue…he listens naman to public opinion. So we’re trying here na manawagan sa kanya. Bossing, pakinggan mo lang ‘to.”

A participant holds up a sign which says: "Remember Soledad Roa Duterte! She fought against the dictator. Her son gives him a heroes' burial." Photo by ANNA BUENO

There is no definite date set yet for the burial, even as the military prepares to give Marcos full honors. Tentatively, the president has allowed the Marcos family to bury the former leader at a date they desire, most probably September 18, a week after the former president’s birthday. As of this time, Marcos will be honored and buried in the Libingan. Yet those who oppose it, like Banal, Rodriguez, and Narciso, still remain optimistic that the president, one way or another, will change his mind. For Narciso, who works for a myriad of human rights causes at present, the resolution should be clear: “Sino ang kinawawa noong Martial Law? Si Marcos ba, o yung mga taong tin-orture at lumaban para sa bayan?”

For Rodriguez, it’s a question of whether justice has already been served for victims like Narciso. “Ang sabi ni Senator [Jovito] Salonga in the past, is that you do not seek reconciliation and forgiveness before truth and justice. What is important is you work towards achieving justice for those who suffered. At hanggang wala iyon, ang hirap namang mag-reconcile.”

Banal reflects on the basic value of respect — respect for Marcos who is long dead but continues to influence Philippine history, and respect for Martial Law victims, some nameless, who will never be known by history. “[Gusto natin ng] respeto para sa ating lahat, sa mga victims, families, survivors. Respeto na ‘wag naman idiin. ‘Wag naman asinan lalo yung hindi pa naghihilom na sugat.”