When a leader betrays his people

Rex D. Lores

… What is deeply disturbing about President Duterte’s decision is the clear disconnect between his rhetoric and reality. On one hand, he is pursuing a devastating campaign against criminality and corruption; on the other, he is coddling the memory of a tyrant whose crimes and corruption stagger our imagination.

On one hand, he is attacking oligarchs who accumulated wealth over decades; on the other, he is praising a discredited leader who became the country’s greatest oligarch overnight by illegally seizing the assets of the elite.

Marcos’ rise to power started with a lie, and he prevailed for so long through the legislative and executive branches of government largely on his capacity to manipulate or conceal the truth. It started with his claims of heroic exploits as a soldier in World War II, claims found fraudulent and without a scintilla of evidence in US Army archives.

Employing these improbable claims, he captured the central seat of power. Thus, the disingenuous argument goes, Marcos is qualified to rest with our heroes. The trouble with this argument is that, bereft of moral reasoning, it is blind to the infinite harm Marcos inflicted on the social fabric.

It smirks at the historical truth: Marcos’ wanton violation of the Constitution, the brutality of his regime, the astronomical external debt he incurred, the collapse of our economy, and the stunning wealth he stole to become the world’s second most corrupt leader of all time.

As flagrant and unconscionable as these atrocities may be, they were not the worst. The most damning was that Marcos derailed the hopes and aspirations of at least three generations of Filipinos, deepening our despair and our desperation.

Death cannot be a cleansing sacrament to alter Marcos’ sordid and bloody legacy. The impunity of Marcos’ long despotic rule will burden our sense of national dignity for generations to come. And how we reckon with this design to rehabilitate Marcos as a national hero has enormous implications on our values as a people, on the nature of our future, and on the efficacy of our political culture.

To bury Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery mocks the valor, dignity, and sacrifice of martyred Filipinos. But even more, it mocks our national esteem and our shared civic values as a democratic society.