Why Marcos’ final resting place matters
When U Thant, former secretary-general of the United Nations, died in 1974, his remains were brought to Burma, as he had requested his family. At the time, Burma was under a military regime.
In death, U Thant, a global icon of peace, caused unrest in his country as students took to the streets to protest the government’s refusal to give him a burial fitting of his stature. This eventually led to the declaration of martial law.
One historical account describes the tug-of-war: “…university students… seized [the body] on Dec. 5, 1974, and buried it in a hastily built mausoleum in the grounds of the Arts and Science University, and police, who retrieved it by force on December 11, buried it privately, and sealed the tomb in concrete. Subsequent rioting led to the military regime’s declaration of martial law in the city and to several deaths.”
What was thought of as a routine ritual turned into a flashpoint in the turbulent politics of Burma.
Many years later, in 2006, in another part of the world, the Chilean government refused to give a state funeral to former General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country as a military dictator for 17 years. Pinochet played a pivotal role in a coup that ousted the elected President Salvador Allende in 1973.
About 3,000 died during this regime and Michelle Bachelet, the president at the time of Pinochet’s death, was among those detained and tortured. She did not show up at the wake.
The occasion fanned the flames of anti-Pinochet groups who marched on the streets while supporters of the late dictator paid their respects. The divisions in Chilean society had not healed, even with Pinochet’s death, and, instead, rekindled old anger.
The tension his death had caused came to a point that Pinochet’s cremation took place in an undisclosed area to avoid protesters. His ashes were given to his family who, reports say, “did not want a grave or memorial lest it become a focal point for protest”.
Spain’s historical memory
In Europe, one country’s experience comes close to what the Philippines is going through – that of Spain. More than 40 years after Francisco Franco’s death, Spain is still in the process of coming to terms with the dictator’s legacy.
His remains lay in a memorial outside Madrid, where more than 33,000 bodies, all killed during the Spanish civil war, were buried. It was Franco who started what many regard as a “bloody slaughter.”
Today, a group wants Franco’s remains in the Valley of the Fallen exhumed and transferred to a private resting place because, they say, public funds shouldn’t be used for his upkeep.
This monument remains a divisive reminder to Spain and, to many Spaniards, violates their historical memory, perpetuating the pain they went through during the civil war.
These 3 cases clearly tell us that, even in death, leaders who have made a mark in their countries, for good or bad, matter.
In Burma, U Thant was a positive force in international diplomacy but the military rulers refused to give him his due. His lifeless body became a symbol of Burmese aspirations for democracy.
Chile’s was a difficult experience as the country’s president, Bachelet, had to balance the pro- and anti-Pinochet forces, despite her own personal experience as a victim of the brutal military dictatorship of Pinochet. Violence was avoided and the family of Pinochet kept the burial out of the public eye.
The rumblings over Franco, long gone, continue to haunt Spain and the most prominent symbol of the dictator, his resting place, remains contentious.
All these show the power of history. As a novelist wrote, “History is the blood that keeps [us] alive. History separates [us] from the beasts."
But President Duterte dismisses the weight of history by insisting on transferring the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos to the Libingan ng mga Bayani. His myopic argument is that he is simply enforcing the law.
Maris Diokno, chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, puts it well: “History is important. You can move on after you have come to terms with the past. But if you bury the past – in this case, it would be, you literally bury it – I don't see how you can come to terms with it.”
Where Marcos’s final resting place will be goes beyond the pale of the law. At its core, it is about remembering our past and what the dark years of Marcos’ authoritarian rule have taken away from our nation: more than 3,000 lives, our dignity – 35,000 tortured, and our democratic spirit – 70,000 detained.
“Instead, Duterte chooses to forget this past, unmindful that such a mighty force shapes our future. Really, he doesn’t care about this part of our history.”
It would be good to remember John Le Carre’s words, “Tomorrow was created yesterday...To ignore history is to ignore the wolf at the door.” – Rappler.com