Dig Deep to Unearth the Dictator

On November 18 at 12:00 noon, Ferdinand Marcos, the late dictator who ruled the Philippines with impunity for 14 years was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. It was a discreet burial kept hidden from the public until it was done.

Protest actions took place all over Metro Manila culminating in a protest action at the People Power Monument in EDSA until the wee hours of the following day. Until now, social media are filled with memes and posts protesting the burial, 'educating' the public about the horrors of Martial Law and criticizing the Marcoses and Duterte for the burial that came like a "thief in the night."

Pulse of the People

The reason Marcos is now buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani is more complex than (a) because of Marcos supporters or people who do not know history; and (b) because of Duterte.

These are immediate causes no doubt, but a campaign simply premised on these assumptions can hardly be sustained. A campaign addresses root causes and/ or targets a strategic goal. It, therefore, requires a much deeper analysis that goes beyond immediate causes.

Does the majority of Filipinos consider Marcos a hero? There is no evidence to support this, but neither is there evidence to refute it. If the survey conducted in March this year by Social Weather Stations (SWS) is to be considered on what people think about the burial of Marcos, Filipinos are sharply divided into half. According to the said survey, 50 percent of the 1,800 respondents said Marcos “was worthy to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani” while the other half rejected a hero’s burial.

Several posts on social media by people who are not anti-Marcos indicate they simply do not care. One said (paraphrased): "Marcos is dead. We are no longer under Martial Law. What is important are the lives of the people who are alive and who are simply trying to make a living. Let us not waste time on the dead."

To a lot of people, the question of whether Marcos is a hero or not is a non-issue. They probably know history and they probably heard of the atrocities and abuses under Martial Law, but those do not matter to them.

Why Filipinos think that way is in account of many factors that have played out over time. We need to understand this.

Questions for Reflection

We need to go beyond the obvious. There are people who still support Marcos. There are people who do not care about history. There are a lot of people who support Duterte despite his connection with the Marcoses and support for the burial.

A part of that is because of effective propaganda and misinformation, but a big part of it is beyond propaganda.

Is it failed education? What happened to how we educate ourselves and the young? Can the academe come together to reflect on this and help put forward an answer for it and ways of moving forward?

Is it because abuses can no longer be prevented by 'thin' and isolated protest actions? But how come? Why are people so disconnected from protest actions and civil society organizations? Can we ask ordinary citizens systematically to understand them and not to judge them?

Is it because movement politics has been contained by status quo politics? How did groups that used to profess progressive, radical or even revolutionary ideas got trapped in simply 'constructively engaging' with the elites on top to 'reform' and improve a flawed system that has been working for a few?

Is our electoral system to blame too? Why do we continue to elect populist politicians indebted to money and connections? Why have we not progressed in this front despite all the analysis and empirical evidence saying this is an important reform area? Does it even matter to us - in our actions and decisions - what empirical evidence say?

Is it because of our weak and flawed institutions that speak power to truth? Are our institutions still weak or is it the people and civil society that have become significantly weaker over time that it has become unable to hold power to account?

The burial of Marcos is brought about by confluence of systemic factors that are inter-related. All of the issues identified above and more contributed to the crisis in justice we are facing today.

Reactive or Proactive

Preventing something from happening nor simply reacting will not move people sustainably to effect lasting change. People need to be inspired to something that they can see in the future.

Reactive and spontaneous expressions of dissent alone are leaving things to chance. While this country has been favored by chances in the past, one doesn't need rocket science to sense that even the odds are in favor of the one sitting in Malacanang.

We should find justice for the atrocities and abuses of the Marcoses. Making sure that we get our history right (which includes stopping Marcos' burial in Libingan ng mga Bayani) is part of seeking justice. That has a symbolic value that is important in our collective psyche. However, justice is way beyond that. The wealth stolen by the Marcoses should be returned. Violations of human rights must be punished. No Marcos should be allowed to hold national elective post. We need to work on those expressions of justice too if we want to forever bury the dictator to shame.

Overcoming our Failures

With the recent developments, one thing is clear: we are failing as a nation in valuing history and advancing justice. This has to change and we can still stop our nation from completely failing on this front, but that will take a longer time and a wide variety of actions that go beyond shaming and blaming those who do not share our sentiments today.

More importantly, it will require deep reflection, introspection and rethinking to do things differently and to chart the new forward steps for our young nation. How do we progress from this? What is before -including those that we consider as what should have been - is no longer good enough. The question on this advocacy is how do we proactively and strategically move towards a goal in the medium- and long-term from our immediate reactions to decisions and actions taken by powers-that-be at any given time that are beyond our control?

No nation has been galvanized without an idea for a better future - not even when power is already being abused at present nor even when history is being violated. Common people's inspiration to move and act comes from looking to the future, not by reacting to what's present nor looking at the past.