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A past that lies unburied

Rev. Eutiquio ‘Euly’ B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
By the roadside


“Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain…as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens” (Exodus 18:21)

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny…” (Thomas Jefferson)

Rev. Eutiquio ‘Euly’ B. Belizar, Jr.Nothing divides the Filipino nation like the Marcos question. This is glaringly evident these days not only because the “sneaky” burial of the late strongman has sparked angry protests across the country but also because it has reopened old wounds that up until now remain untreated. This deep-seated division is clearly obvious even in the local Church herself. No one fails to notice how several bishops and priests have joined the protestors in condemning the burial of the strongman’s remains at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani (‘Heroes’ Cemetery’). Yet did anyone miss that prelate who even graced the last rites at the hallowed ground? He too represents a not-too-negligible section of the Church in the Philippines, one that sees nothing wrong in Marcos, his ilk and his era. Since the Church is, as Vatican II teaches us, the sacrament of mankind’s union with God and with fellow human beings (Lumen Gentium, no. 1), we all must be deeply concerned over this continuing saga plaguing the nation. The Year of the Parish as Communion of Communities, which the local Church is launching for the new Church year in the Philippines, is inevitably confronted with a sharply stinging rebuke and challenge.

How do we address this constantly recurring reality?

We wish and hanker for answers but the truth is, they are not easily forthcoming.

First, Filipino Catholics may listen politely to, but do not necessarily follow, the hierarchy’s evaluations and directives on the question. There are other factors that come into play more effectively: parental or ancestral political leanings, collective cultural biases, school and peer pressure, social and mass media exposure, leanings of idols and celebrities, and so on. The Church must humbly acknowledge the factual extent of her reach and influence without giving up on her prophetic role. She necessarily has to ask where she needs to improve and how.

Two, open-mindedness on the Marcos question is pretty tricky. Our old and well-worn mindsets and attitudes keep getting in the way. For instance, my experience as a seminarian of seeing rigged referenda and elections in the Marcos era, the underdevelopment of my beloved Samar Island while neighboring Leyte (where Imelda is from) was abundantly blessed, personal visits to detention cells where activist friends were confined and tortured would not easily convince me of so-called “golden age” that was 1965-1986. Yet I do struggle to open my mind to the intellectual brilliance of Marcos, the boom of infrastructural and agricultural development in certain places of the country (again except in my native Eastern Samar and many others), Madame Imelda’s cultural and social uplift of the nation’s capital are too hard to ignore.

Three, alas the pluses of the Marcos era came with so many undeniable cases of torture, repressions of basic human rights to life and liberty (freedom of speech and the press were sacrificed for what the late Cardinal Sin called “Praise Releases”), cronyism at its worst in the name of stopping the oligarchs. Even Pope St. John Paul II could not refrain from pointing this out to the strongman himself, his family and his cabinet during his 1981 visit to the Malacanang. He tersely reminded his hosts that political and economic development cannot be pursued at the expense of human rights and human dignity. The enormity of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime are only partially dramatized by their victims who have been identified and partly compensated. Ironically till now the victims themselves have not forgiven their Tormentor and tormentors. As a placard put it, “How can I forgive when you did not say, ‘I’m sorry’?” Unless the injustices wrought on them, their loved ones and the nation itself are addressed adequately, the greater irony could be the Church in the Philippines claiming to be a Communion in an actually deeply wounded nation.

Four, the manner in which the strongman was buried was strongly reminiscent of the Marcosian style of what I may call as “hide and inflict” strategy. Marial Law was hidden but suddenly inflicted; his ill health was well-hidden but inevitably inflicted on the country in terms of governance disarray (even recently acknowledged by President Duterte himself); his colossal wealth was hidden until its truth was inflicted by actual millions recovered and actual billions lost in terms of national debt. In other words, the Marcos burial in the way it was carried out was very true to character. At first it was hidden, then inflicted in one fell swoop. This complicates any attempt on their part to call for unity or, on the part of the Church, to take their call seriously.

Pope Francis has recently urged Christian believers as well as everyone to have recourse to forgiveness precisely because our world is presently locked in various forms of “hatred” and “resentment”. There is wisdom there. The nation cannot forever be stuck in perpetual un-forgiveness. But forgiving does not mean letting injustice have the last say. It only means not allowing hatred to propel our continuing effort to rebuild and re-establish Communion in the Philippine Church on charity founded upon justice.

If not, despite the sneaky burial, one starkly dark chapter of our past will stay unburied.

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