Return of the Undead

(This post is from Luis Teodoro's Vantage Point column at Business World and also posted in Bulatlat. This photo on the other hand is of a mural at the Hiraya Gallery.)

Mural Martial Law

Filipinos will mark the day of the dead — All Saints’ Day — this Sunday. Thanks to the power of the media, it’s a holiday whose eve is morphing into a mongrel version of Halloween, as that Western tradition has been portrayed in Hollywood movies and TV shows.

The children of middle class and wealthy families now go out on “trick-or-treat” sorties, though of course only in gated communities, where the houses are suitably decked out in jack-o-lanterns, zombie and vampire figures, and glow-in-the-dark plastic skeletons.

It’s mostly all in fun in the US and other Western countries, where Halloween or All Hallows eve has become less the night before visits to the tombs of one’s loved ones and more of a commercial event, but which nevertheless resonates with the futile attempt to exorcise the terrors of death.

Costumes are as much a part of the celebration of Halloween in these parts as in the US, the most popular nowadays, again because of the media, particularly TV, being gussied up as zombies and vampires. The zombie and vampire shows and movies know no season, however. They’re around throughout the year, and — for shows about the undead — have lives of their own.

In trying to account for the popularity of zombie and vampire TV shows and movies, some social psychologists have suggested that they’re manifestations of otherwise unexpressed underclass hopes for vengeance against their so-called betters, the zombies representing, says one observer of the culture industry, worker hopes for the collapse of an oppressive social order.

If that sounds like wishful thinking, it most probably is — and even more so in the Philippines, where the undead aren’t so much the representatives of the oppressed as the oppressors themselves who suck the blood out of their victims.

And then there are the politicians.

The undead of the Philippine political class are of two types: those who’ve been around for decades and decades, defying aging and death through stem cell treatments if not through the ingestion of blood, and those who are cloned and reincarnated in the political system from generation to generation in the persons of their children and grandchildren, or their wives, brothers and sisters, or other kin.

Which helps explain why the issues of Philippine politics and governance, like some political personalities, are reincarnations of themselves, “walkers” risen and rising from the dead like the zombies and vampires that populate some of the most currently popular shows in both cable and free TV as well as the movies (such as, for example, The Walking Dead, True Blood, and their local counterparts, among them that perennial movie horror, Shake, Rattle and Roll).

Corruption is one issue that refuses to die, despite the Aquino III administration’s grandiose claims about its having been finally slain. Apparently no stake has been hammered into its heart, since it’s constantly materializing in such forms as ghost flood control projects and those trillions in unprogrammed Franken-riches otherwise known as pork barrel funds.

But it’s the decision of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago to team up with Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. that has recently revived speculations about a literally unburied issue: what to do with the corpse of Marcos, Sr., and beyond that, the undying Marcos issue that still haunts us all.

Should she become President, did Defensor-Santiago commit to a hero’s burial for the senior Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani in exchange for those lovely bloc votes from the so-called “solid North” over which the Marcoses supposedly still have command?

Apparently it still matters, although it shouldn’t. The country has after all gone through this before, not only once but several times. The first was when Marcos, Sr. died in Hawaii, and the Corazon Aquino administration denied him a heroes’ burial; the second, third fourth and fifth during the presidencies of Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the sixth during the current administration which similarly rejected his being buried in the Libingan.

But this is only one manifestation of how the Marcos issue itself refuses to die. At least twice each year — in February when the EDSA civilian-military mutiny of 1986 is commemorated, and again in September during the anniversary of the declaration of martial law — someone is sure to argue that EDSA was a failure and things were better during the senior Marcos’ 21-year reign (1965-1986).

No silver bullet has ended the decades-long debate provoked by these occasions over whether it was better or worse during the Marcos dictatorship, even as, this year among all years, the candidacy of Marcos, Jr. has driven the debate to greater heights and even more absurd claims.

Every thinking Filipino should by now realize that the reason why the country can’t lay that ghost to rest is the absence of a thorough inquiry into that dark period — an inquiry that could have told the people of this country what the dictatorship was all about, how it savaged the entire nation, and how it set the country’s development back by decades. Instead, new media posts in Facebook and Twitter demonstrate abysmal levels of ignorance about the period, with some even claiming that Marcos was a visionary as well as a historian and an authentic Filipino intellectual, whereas he was merely clever.

Without an authoritative inquiry — an authentic Truth Commission — what happened from 1972 to 1986, as well as the consequences of that period, will continue to be debated and issues related to it that should have been settled years ago perpetually argued. The lessons that should be drawn from that period have remained unlearned, and with the passage of time, what martial rule did to the country will either be forgotten, or subjected to historical revision and even prettified, like a corpse yielding to the embalmer’s art.

That indeed is what’s happening, as Marcos, Jr. campaigns for the Vice-Presidency and eventually runs for President in 2022 in the belief that most of the people especially the young have never understood what his father’s rule was all about, and in the hope that those who do will eventually forget.

The Marcos regime can yet rise again. Although in this country of corruption and human rights violations — of ghosts and goblins, of zombies, vampires and other blood suckers was it ever really dead?