Pain beyond forgetting

There was, last week, a revived discussion on the jewelry of Imelda Marcos. Sell them? Put them on exhibit? The debate comes up every year around the time of the anniversary of martial law. It distracts from the real sin of martial law, that throughout its 14 year span torture, disappearances, and summary executions became a part of life for thousands of our people, for both perpetrators and victims.

Sure unbridled corruption during the martial law years caused serious economic hardship to our people but, at the end of the day, to use that overused cliché, it involved only money. Loss of money and economic opportunity can be regained, the scars healed. We are a strong people who have not allowed economic setbacks to destroy our spirit. Martial law and several corrupt administrations after that may have slowed us down but look at where we are now. Proof that when it comes to material losses, we can move on and make up for them through hard work, intelligence, and, of course, a little bit of luck.

What we cannot move away from without any soul searching is the loss of our humanity. “Pain beyond forgetting”, as Interaksyon calls those years of dehumanization, must be dealt with squarely. I recommend that you visit the Interaksyon site and listen to the testimony of victims. Unfortunately it does not have any testimony from the perpetrators. Their side of the story is vital because we have to understand how and why the guardians of peace and security, the enforcers of law and order, idealistic graduates of the Philippine Military Academy and their superiors, turned into monsters who inflicted unimaginable acts of cruelty on their fellow human beings. We have to hear from them why and how they allowed themselves to become what they became. We have to know and, more importantly, they have to know because not knowing is a sure guarantee that it will happen again.

It’s been twenty six years since the rule of law was reestablished in this country and we still have not heard an explanation for what happened, never mind that no one was held accountable. That’s why after all these years since democracy and the rule of law was restored torture, disappearances, and summary executions still take place. Closure, I hate that word but it’s the only word I can think of, has not been reached. We all know how they reached it in South Africa. Through a truth commission where the perpetrators and their victims faced each other and came to an understanding of what they went through. The damage to the perpetrator is just as great if not more so than to the victim. The victim suffered indescribable physical and emotional horrors but the perpetrator lost his humanity and his soul. Can he ever regain it without admitting fault and expressing remorse?

In addition to understanding the dehumanization we went through, we need a museum that will serve as a reminder that man can turn into a monster with the stroke of a pen. The horrors of those years live on in the memories of both victims and perpetrators. Those horrors should die with them, never to see the light of day ever again.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • baycas ,

    On September 22, 1972, Marcos was in fact simply impatiently waiting for his then most trusted cabinet member, Juan Ponce Enrile (the Defense Minister who eventually rebelled against Marcos, when his eventual plot to assassinate the Marcoses was discovered before his secret army could act on it), to respond to his phone call. When “Johnny,” a fellow Ilocano, finally returned his call, Marcos’ instructions, alternating between English and Ilocano, were brief: “Make it look good. Maybe it would be better if somebody got hurt or killed. . . .“*

    *Citing William C. Rempel, Delusions of a Dictator; The Mind of Marcos as Revealed in his Secret Diaries 12 (Little, Brown and Company, 1993).

    • manuel buencamino ,

      Thanks for the link. You may want to check out the Marcos diaries in MLQ’s blog. There you can see that he was thinking about it as early as 1971. He seems to be convincing himself to do it.

      • baycas ,


    • UPnnGrd ,

      Before anybody even gets to misunderstanding, I will state again — this PIlipinas statute
      of limitation on murders, in my personal opinion, is an aberration and the Pilipinas laws should
      be rewritten to remove it. To me, the more appropriate instrument is case-by-case blanket amnesties (zero-days in jail) if not a binding agreement of a Gobyerno-Pardon after, say, 3
      weeks or 3 months in jail per person murdered.

      But one has to work with the cards handed them, so might as well make use of the PIlipinas statute of limitation on murders. Gobyerno should advertise!!! It should be plastered in the newspapers — that Pilipinas has a statute of limitaiton on murders. This may result in collaborators and perpetrators speaking more of martial law days. (ManuBuen is wise (in my opinion) for mentioning “closure” / South Africa. It won’t surprise me that some collaborators or perpetrators are still worried that because there has not been a TRUTH COMMISSION “ala South Africa”/that there has not been declaration of blanket amnesty, maybe the perpetrators are still worried that they can find themselves jailed when they admit involvement in repression (via murders or torture) during martial law days.

      Then maybe there would also be continuance to getting answer to “Who Masterminded?” so the history books have less questions unanswered.