Grappling with the politics of a dead body
MANILA – A little before dusk on November 8, 2016, a motley crowd of students, professors and employees gathered in front of the University of the Philippines (UP), chanted slogans, raised their fists and burned a huge photo of the late Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos to protest the ruling earlier in the day of the Supreme Court allowing a hero’s burial for the late dictator.
Activists held noise barrages, indignation rallies and candlelight ceremonies simultaneously in UP’s neighboring Ateneo de Manila University, other parts of Metro Manila and other UP campuses outside the capital to express dissent against the high court’s decision.
“We started people power in 1986, which ousted the dictator. The movement was emulated by countries in strife worldwide, who found a peaceful resolution to end conflicts, dictatorships and violence,” said student Dominic Lara. “Allowing a heroes’ burial to Marcos is a huge disrespect to that part of our history.”
The November 8 UP demonstration set on fire the political sensitivities of Filipinos that for years were set aside unexpressed. Prior to that day, the upheaval of sentiments slowly reignited with the pronouncements and policies of President Rodrigo Duterte, a known Marcos supporter, upon his assumption into office in last July, which they deem were reminiscent of Marcos’ rule that disregarded basic rights and freedoms.
A movement of Filipinos who have been leading and participating in political activities affecting their country, who call themselves the “Silent Majority,” were some of those who encouraged the protests through social media, posting the schedule of demonstrations and rallies around the capital.
Along with the outraged anti-Marcos protesters came the pro-Marcos supporters, called Marcos loyalists, who celebrated and waved Philippine flags outside the Supreme Court on that day, accompanied by the dictator’s son and namesake, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., followed by his older sister, Imee Marcos, governor of the Marcos home province of Ilocos Norte north of Manila.
The two Marcos siblings thanked the high court, voting 9-5 with one abstention, for allowing their father, whose waxed and preserved body lies in a glass coffin in their home province, to be given a hero’s burial, and asked Filipinos to comply with the high court decision and for forgiveness and healing to prevail.
Marcos died in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1989. The government of his successor, Corazon Aquino, refused to have him buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani or heroes’ cemetery. The issue was not visited often until the presidency of Aquino’s son, Benigno Aquino III, and was revived as an election promise by Duterte. Marcos was supposed to be interred in the heroes’ cemetery last September 18, but the Supreme Court invoked a status quo ante order to give space to deliberations and oral arguments on the case. The stay order has been extended twice.
As petitioners who are mostly victims of Marcos’ Martial Law regime vowed to ask the high court to reconsider, the outrage began to pass on the Filipino youth, as groups protesting the heroes’ burial for Marcos demonstrated in a “Black to Block” campaign in front of the University of Santo Tomas where more than 6,000 aspiring lawyers took the 2016 bar exams that began on the first Sunday of November, urging them to wear black in protest.
Neri Colmenares, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said his group “is challenging future lawyers to study the Supreme Court decision and understand the way it diminished justice.”
The protests stirred up chants of “Marcos, Hitler, diktador (dictator), tuta (slang for crony or servile follower),” “Pasismo ng estado (Fascism of the state),” “Ang tao, ang bayan, ngayon ay lumalaban (The people and the country are now fighting hand in hand)” and the singing of protest anthems that were reminiscent of the protests during Martial Law in the 1970s and 1980s.
What was evident in the protests was the participation of mostly millennial Filipinos side by side with professionals in their 40s and 50s who grew up during the regime of Marcos. Struggling to make sense of a dead dictator’s body and what it stands for would be easier to explain to young Filipinos if this will continue to be the case.