So it finally happened. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the Philippines decided that the corpse of Ferdinand E. Marcos can be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. That's sad news. Incredibly sad news indeed. But look at the other people there.
Even and especially from a Filipino nationalist perspective, Marcos' coming burial raises the question in how far state's symbols can stand for the people and the nation. Niels Mulder (2013) argues that state and nation are quite removed from each other anyway, and my experiences with Filipinos confirm this: the state is seen as corrupt and not representing the people, and yet nationalism is strong.
The Philippine flag is a strong symbol - representing the state and also the nation. Manny Pacquiao is a symbol. As a boxer he represents the strength of the Filipino people. And he could get elected as congressman and later senator because the expectations are so low, that it doesn't matter if he's a bad politician who just rarely attended Congress when he was a congressman.
The number of Overseas Filipinos has been increasing for the last twenty years. By now, an estimated ten percent of the Philippines' citizens are living abroad. As more Filipinos decide to emigrate for good and eventually adopt a different citizenship, a redefinition of the nation takes place (see Campomanes 2003, Aguilar 2014). A Fil-Am may identify as Filipino, but the state matters little for this. It's once again symbols like the flag that are used as expressions of this identify.1
Is the Libingan ng mga Bayani a symbol of the state? Or is it one of the nation, the people? If it's the former, Marcos' burial there is sad news, but not more. If it's the latter, that's very, very, very bad news.
bayani in Libingan ng mga Bayani is a curious one. When translating to English, we usually find translations of bayani as
hero. But it's has a more complicated meaning. An overview of some dictionary definitions of Bayani can be found in this column by Ambeth Ocampo, including a curious link between bayani and
bayan, roughly the
With the rise of Filipino overseas migration, the term
Bagong Bayani has been introduced to frame OFWs as the
new heroes (even if it has further implications, see Fajardo 2011). Bagong Bayani implies that there are many bayani. Everyone working for the common good, maybe with
extraordinary courage and ability can be a bayani, and given the numbers of Overseas Filipinos, there are well more than a million bayani.
Sino ang mga Bayani
The Libingan ng mga Bayani started as a burial ground for Filipino fighters in World War II. Of course, these need to be seen critically, too. Military personel were buried there, members of the Hukbalahap were made to dig their own mass graves (Kerkvliet 1977). But there's a reasonable link to bayaniness here.
It then developed into a general burial ground for extraordinary people, including deceased presidents. And who came before Marcos? Elpidio R. Quirino is buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. And looking back at his presidency, it's easy to see that he was certainly not one to work for the common good of the Filipino people (Kerkvliet 1977, Constantino and Constantino 1982).
If all who are bayani were to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, it would have long overflown with dead bodies. It hasn't however. Instead, many who are certainly not bayani are buried there. That's also why renaming the cemetery to
Libingan ng mga Bayani at Isang Magnanakaw doesn't suffice. Marcos was the worst president of the Philippines, no doubt. But whitewashing injustices before his rule doesn't help either.
The Libingan ng mga Bayani is a symbol of the state, and the state chose to honor Ferdinand E. Marcos, a mass murderer, imposer, thief and what-have-you with a burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. But that's the state.
I'd Still Worry
Do the Filipino people honor Marcos with a burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani? They don't. Do they honor Marcos by praising him on Facebook? They do.
There are many points to worry about in this affair, and the symbol of the burial is a smaller one. Public opinion is the real worry. Educating people about the crimes of the Marcos era requires much time and dedication, but it's the what's needed.
Our department at university is giving away old books which are removed from the library for free sometimes. Some months ago, a bunch of books by the Task Force Detainees were given removed from the library. That's more sad news, but I am glad that I only saw that happen in Germany, not yet in the Philippines.
: The state reacts to these changes. For example, by allowing people of Filipino descent to move back to the Philippines. Hence, a readjustment can be seen here, too.