Martial Law

[OPINION] Moving on requires justice

Melba Padilla Maggay

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[OPINION] Moving on requires justice

Graphic by Nico Villarete

'The latest mouthpiece for this project of etherizing our people into historical amnesia is presidential candidate Isko Moreno'

Time and again, the Marcoses and their allies would blithely chant the mantra that we must all “move on” and consign to the dustbin of history the dark period of repression suffered under Ferdinand Marcos senior’s martial law regime. For years they have worked at erasing the blood stains of that history, counting on the people’s shortness of memory.  

The latest mouthpiece for this project of etherizing our people into historical amnesia is presidential candidate Isko Moreno, who dismissed the lingering political malaise caused by this experience of authoritarianism as simply a case of a family feud between the Aquinos and the Marcoses. The tens of thousands that were rounded up, jailed, tortured and killed, are treated as a mere footnote to the contest for power between these two dynasties. 

That Isko should seriously propose that we “move on” without addressing the underlying grievances speaks of a certain moral obtuseness, the kind that is eager to pose as a wanna-be peacemaker by getting warring parties to bury the hatchet by the simple expedient of  sweeping things under the rug. It is of a piece with Marcos junior’s call for “unity,” as if this can be achieved by projecting a  false sense of bonhomie while callously dismissing the victims’ claims for redress as simply a case of “pera-pera lang.”    

It is a moral truism that unless the thing at issue, the injustice and woundedness at the center of our conflict and alienation from each other, is dealt with, there can be no forgiveness nor reconciliation. 

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The God of the universe himself had to send his son to die just so he can forgive. The cross puts before us, front and center, the demand for justice for all the wrongs we have ever done. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” God is a God of justice, we are told. He will by no means clear the guilty. Someone had to die and pay the price before mercy can be operative. The cross is a sign to us that it takes justice to put to right all the crimes that have ever been committed on this sad earth. 

In Old Testament days, the prophet Jeremiah denounced the leaders who held out false hopes that God will overlook the sins of Israel and not bring judgment to the nation for its idolatry and oppression, or the failure to truly love God and neighbor: “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, Peace,’ when there is no peace.” 

It should be evident by this time that no amount of historical fiction purveyed by paid hacks in media can obliterate the memories of those families who are still reeling from the grief of losing a parent, a child, or a sibling during those dark days. There are many of us who belong to what has come to be called as the “First Quarter Storm” generation who are still alive. We are witnesses to the Marcos reign of terror. 

Words like “salvage” got stood on its head; in normal English it means to rescue, to save from destruction. But in those days it came to mean the brutal killing of dissidents, their tongues cut and mouths stuffed with newspaper, their bodies mutilated and dumped on the wayside in some grassy hill or creek. 

We lost some of our best and brightest, some dying in battle at the foot of some lonely mountain, some fleeing to the safety of countries abroad where their considerable talents are wasted, and some psychologically maimed by the experience of torture under detention. A whole generation got sidelined from participating in the usual channels of acquiring legitimate power.

Marcos junior, in the effort to whitewash history, is counting on the culture’s pagka-maawain; after all, he and his family did not get lined up on the wall and shot like Romania’s Nicolae Ceauesescu, but instead were allowed to come back and even run for office. He wants the younger generation to believe the narrative that his father had nothing to do with all the human rights violations, spinning the myth that his reign was in fact a golden age. But no amount of laundering will wash away the stain of that history.

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Even now, we are seeing as a consequence the erosion of the norms and values that used to govern our sociopolitical life. We got brainwashed into the myth of the strongman, such that we readily acquiesce to the iron hand that clamps down on those conveniently labeled as “communist,” casually dismissing the thousands of extrajudicial killings as merely a form of social cleansing.  

Our institutions, like the party system, have not quite recovered from the experience of democratic collapse. While the old Nacionalista and Liberal parties were ideologically indistinguishable, they at least functioned as a disciplined process of selecting those shouldering their way to power. Today, parties are simply free-floating alliances; candidacies are proffered or withdrawn according to the whims of the ruling power. Politicians migrate to whatever party is perceived to have the resources and machinery that can deliver the votes. 

Part of the Marcoses’ grasping for power, apart from being able to officially get hold of the sequestered billions their father stashed away in Switzerland, may be this project of erasing this blot in their family annals. 

It is true that Scripture does affirm individual responsibility: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father.” (Ezekiel 18.20). But it also tells us that the “sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 20.5, Numbers 14.18) 

What this means is that succeeding generations will inevitably bear the consequences of their forebears’ wrongdoing. With their unreturned stolen wealth, they may be able to buy entry into society or into power. But until wrongdoing is acknowledged and justice is done, the descendants will either suffer the lingering shame or act out the delusion that it was all just a bad dream. –

Melba Padilla Maggay is President of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.

Voices is Rappler’s home for opinions from readers of all backgrounds, persuasions, and ages; analyses from advocacy leaders and subject matter experts; and reflections and editorials from Rappler staff. 

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