By: Remmon E. Barbaza
In an effort to counter the growing anti-Marcos sentiment, the Marcoses and their apologists urge us to forget history and “move on.” “Our people,” says Ferdinand Marcos Jr., “do not need history. They need solutions.” This despite their constant reference to the supposed achievements of the late dictator. His apologists, for their part, tell us that we should not hold children responsible for the sins of their father. Furthermore, as if speaking from a higher ground, they appeal to forgiveness.
To my mind, they misunderstand or oversimplify the meaning of “moving on,” responsibility and forgiveness. Let me address each of them here.
“Moving on” cannot happen unless we are clear about what it is we are moving on from. Imagine someone got raped. Twenty years later, the rape victim meets the rapist. It is perfectly understandable that the sight of the rapist will make every part of the victim’s being twitch in revulsion. Now imagine the rapist saying, with a sneer on his face, “C’mon, it’s been a long time now. Let’s move on.” Even if it is not the rapist himself, but his son, who meets the victim, if he approaches the victim in the same way, he becomes not only utterly insensitive but even complicit to the crime, if not literally, at least potentially. For how can someone prevent a crime from happening again if, to begin with, he does not admit that it is indeed a crime, and resolve to prevent it from recurring?
What about responsibility? Let us be clear about this: Absolutely no one is responsible for being born into this world, including the circumstances of one’s birth. But what we do in life, how we interpret the past, how we project ourselves toward the future, whether we condone past evil, or worse, deny the evil—that is largely, if not entirely, one’s responsibility.
To illustrate this point: Of course the Germans today are not “responsible” for the sins of the past. But today, anyone caught making the Hitler salute—German or not—will be jailed. Making the Hitler salute is a criminal offense not just in Germany but in other European countries as well. That’s how the Germans and Europeans of today “take responsibility” for the past. Even the sale of “Mein Kampf” has been banned for decades now, and its republication is stirring debate only now that its copyright expires at the end of this year, and by next year is assumed to enter public domain, 70 years after Hitler’s death.
It’s not even 30 years yet since Ferdinand Marcos died, and we seem to have already forgotten. And how easily.
When “Schindler’s List” was first shown in German theaters, one observer saw how Germans came out of the movie houses with their heads bowed, gripped in silence. One wonders how these Germans, born half a century after World War II, were feeling as they watched the film, and as they walked out with heavy hearts and slow step. What indeed could they be feeling in their hearts?
More than five years ago, the Germans found themselves in a dilemma. They asked themselves: Shall we keep the concentration camps or convert them into beautiful parks? That was a very difficult decision to make. In the end, the Germans chose to keep the concentration camps as a sacred reminder of the past.
Finally, what of forgiveness? Here we are treading on infinitely higher ground. We are entering the realm of grace. And again the Marcos apologists are perverting the meaning of forgiveness, which is beyond mere human agency, whether in terms of asking for it, or giving it. We do not understand the grace of forgiveness if we think of it merely as something at our disposal, like a kind of power that we wield against those who wronged us. But in the moment of forgiveness, both the wronged and the wrongdoer receive the grace.
The event of forgiveness, even as it does not entirely or primarily depend on human agency, cannot take place unless the ones who stand to be blessed by it take part in their little way—in that the wrongdoer acknowledges that something wrong was done, and that he or she committed it. And on the part of the one wronged, he or she acknowledges that forgiveness is indeed possible, that conversion is possible—but only by the grace of God. But unless the wronged and the wrongdoer do their part, the event of forgiveness will not take place. Even if the Son of Man is crucified a million times, over and over again, forgiveness will not take place unless the one who sinned acknowledges the sin. And that is its mystery: For the moment of grace to happen, we need first of all to make that act of affirmation of grace, against which alone we can see sin as sin.
Didn’t the great theologian Karl Rahner say that sin may indeed be forgiven, but that still it remains, even as forgiven sins? The scars on Jesus’ body remain, even as He has “moved on” to the life of resurrection. And today, as we kneel before the Cross, we behold not just the infinite grace of God’s love but a reminder as well of how we are each time capable not only of turning away from that love but also of deliberately trying to destroy it.
The political thinker Hannah Arendt popularized the expression “banality of evil” based on her observations of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. The chief architect of the Holocaust showed no remorse, not even hatred for those trying him, since he was convinced he was simply doing his job.
“Banality of evil” may not even be enough to describe the actions and general bearing of those who are bent on denying the terror of the Marcos dictatorship. They are even spreading a forgetfulness of evil. In doing so, they desecrate the memory of those who fought against that evil, many with their lives. Worse, they may be deliberately taking part in the efforts to pave the way for the return of that evil, for which they alone will be held responsible.
Remmon E. Barbaza, PhD, is associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy, Ateneo de Manila University.