I was born during the Marcos regime. The name Ferdinand Marcos has been, to my generation, synonymous with prejudice -- we grew up either liking him or hating him. Anyone who experienced and witnessed his rise to power and how he held onto it for 20 years has an opinion, and this opinion spouts off as quickly as his name is mentioned.
As a little girl, I was made to believe that he was a great man, the symbol of my country once he became the president of the Philippines in 1965. It was like this until my early years in school, as we were made to sing hymns extolling him and his leadership that taught discipline. Pictures of him on the school walls and buildings were rammed on our faces every single day.
But every time I got home from school, things became different. All the grown-ups in the family talked about him in whispers, and this went on until Marcos declared Martial Law eight years into and on the second term of his presidency.
The hushed talk about Marcos changing into a self-centered propagandist and greedy, self-styled, suddenly opulent dictator worsened as his regime became widely criticized for repressing democratic processes and basic freedoms. He hijacked the Philippines with terror and monopolized political power, turning it into an impoverished country that incurred a huge external debt until the time he was ousted by the people power revolution in 1986.
Undoubtedly, the brilliant man portrayed as a hero during my childhood did not fit the definition of a hero I grew up learning about.
Many weeks ago, the Philippine Supreme Court voted to have Marcos buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the cemetery or resting place for heroes – a quandary that has dogged pros and antis among Filipinos as his waxed body is laid on display in a glass coffin inside a mausoleum in his hometown. While the Marcos loyalists who adored the dead demagogue-demigod erupted with joy at the legal decision, the anti-Marcos activists vented their anger with lightning protests, bringing back the chants and slogans of an era long gone but still evocative of what transpired during those dark years.
Many in my generation and those who were born before us vow to “never again” let happen that dark dictatorship of abuse and corruption that dawdled for 20 years.
Growing up and awakening to this reality as I got older, experiencing it like a rite of passage or a lesson to be learned is not easy. For those who suffered during those years, it is even more difficult to bury ugly memories that keep nagging over time.
So how do you bury a dead dictator?
There have been extreme sides to the answers to this question, but as the disputes continue, I remain hopeful that the younger generations watching us today are looking at these events like they are reading a manifesto stating that you cannot entomb history and you cannot bury truth six feet under.
Things have changed but concerns on political leaderships, governance, setting examples and changing people’s lives for the better have not. Perhaps the youthful idealism that steered us through life can illustrate how today’s youth could make the most of their productive years by learning about the past. This way, they can help fix the country that is once again being damaged by corruption, greed and a warped appetite for power.
(Diana G. Mendoza is a freelance journalist based in Manila.)