The Crimson Stain
That’s not a scarlet terno that Imee Marcos is wearing. Rather, it stands for the mountains where Macliing Dulag was killed. His blood ran down the slopes of the Cordillera in much the same way he wanted the Chico River to flow. To his dying breath—and years thereafter—Dulag fought against the hydroelectric power that threatened the survival of his people, in the hands of a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos.
That’s not Imee Marcos gracefully crossing her well-formed, tanned legs. Emmanuel Lacaba’s legs were found in the same way, tied and chained, as his corpse was dragged to an unmarked grave. In 1976, Lacaba was captured with a pregnant 18-year-old comrade in the underground, and was shot with a .45 caliber bullet not once, but twice. His crime was to write literature in opposition to a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos.
That’s not a tasteful bodice that highlights Imee Marcos’s ample curves. That bodice conceals how forces of the constabulary killed Edgar Jopson in 1982. He was found alive in Davao, but was still executed. It took nine bullets to murder Edjop: chest wounds, arm wounds, leg wounds. This son of a grocer became another statistic in a very long list of human rights abuses in the 70s and 80s, and personally earned the ire of a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos.
Those are not the features of Imee Marcos, carefully airbrushed. Those were the walls put up along the routes whenever any foreign dignitary or visitor passed by to visit Malacañang Palace. Entire edifices were built around the Philippines to celebrate and commemorate the “New Society,” all the while those displaced are kept hidden from view. For one cannot be seen poor and starving when guests come by to entertain—and be entertained by—a dictator named Imelda Marcos.
We’re not aristocrats or aficionados of high fashion: we’re not the intended audience of a magazine that represents the core of the upper crust. We have our broadsheets and our news sites, maybe the occasional glossy magazine in waiting areas: none of us have to read the Philippine Tatler.
Maybe we’re overreacting, too: who’s to say that Imee Marcos isn’t a beautiful woman at the age of 60? To be fair, the Governor of Ilocos exudes more style at her age than quite a few women half her age. In recent memory, Imee has always represented that sort of fashionable élan with minimum effort, never mind airbrushing and cosmetic enhancements.
Just a few days ago, Sen. Bongbong Marcos—who found the gall to run for the Vice Presidency just a few weeks ago—claimed that Filipinos are not concerned about the past, but are more concerned about their lives today. Never mind that we’re still paying off debts from the Marcos era, and vestiges of Marcosian kleptocracy are found in almost every public institution in the Philippines. The same can be said, I guess, for Imee Marcos: just because she’s a Marcos doesn’t mean she can’t indulge in the fantasy of being a “style icon” or whatever. At least to the Marcoses, what’s done is done.
But is it? In any other sane situation, the Marcoses would be nowhere near magazine photo shoots or lecterns in Manila. The Marcoses would be languishing in prison, impoverished in much the same way they impoverished the Filipino people in decades of tyrannical rule. That period of conjugal dictatorship would have been an instructive case in how and why tyranny and oppression will never triumph. But every waking moment that the Marcoses are free to flaunt themselves in public is an excuse for amnesia: that it’s okay to cast them as oppressed heroes, that the “glory days under Marcos” become facts, and that they become free to be part of that very public institution that they corrupted for decades.
We use the word “impunity” a lot these days as a catch-all term to the foibles and failings of government, but no political entity captures that more than the Marcoses. One cannot talk about impunity without talking about callousness: the kind of arrogance and swagger that comes with getting away with perpetrating injustices, human rights abuses, and institutionalizing cronyism and corruption in Philippine democratic institutions.
And it’s this arrogance and swagger that keeps the Marcoses thriving in the Philippines. In any other situation, dictators are usually consigned to the dustbin of history. But not the Marcoses: without justice, Bongbong Marcos can still saunter up to a lectern in Intramuros and pretend to capture some semblance of eloquence from his father, calling for a “revolution” while blithely ignoring the fact that it was revolution that brought his family’s grasp on the country down. Without justice, Imee Marcos can pretend to have a “public service record,” and the “shadow of her parents” become footnotes to her being a generation’s “style icon.” Without justice, the Marcoses can sweep all their abuses and discretions under the rug, and woo the electorate with celebrities and a whitewashed, revised history. They want us to think that discipline is needed. They want us to think that life under Marcos was a “golden era.” They want us to think that rebuilding democratic institutions is useless unless we have strong leaders out front: preferably ones named Marcos.
There is probably no democratic country out there that has given the same measure of forgiveness, leniency, and acceptance to a former oppressor than the Philippines. Perhaps it is because of our forgiving nature. Perhaps it’s in the way we are taught history: more of rote memory work than a careful analysis of facts. Perhaps it’s in our impatience—or inefficiency—at repairing and rebuilding our democratic institutions. Perhaps it’s in the penchant of politicians to cling on to any sort of political capital, no matter how ironic or hypocritical it is (like Bongbong Marcos advocating for the SAF 44 or Imee Marcos advocating for the arts). Or maybe it’s because for the lot of those who admire Marcos, we prefer the in-your-face kleptocracy than ones disguised as democratic projects.
And maybe—just maybe—there are idiots in our midst, in the same way we have dictators running the show from somewhere.
The road to 2016 saddles us with tasks more important than just voting: we have the task of ensuring that history advances. We have the task of seeing beyond the glitz and the glamor of images, and seeing to it that history—for all its faults and successes—does not repeat itself. History shows us that there is just no way that Imee Marcos should be seen as a “style icon,” but as the scion of a dictator complicit to the abuses of power. History shows us that there is no way that Bongbong Marcos can bring back the “glory days” under his father, when we all know that the only glory found there was in the Marcos bank accounts and the gun-barrels of government assassins. No thing—not from the ruling class, not from Marcos supporters, not from those harebrained enough to support Martial Law on Twitter as if no politically-motivated death happened under Martial Law—should ever get in the way of us understanding why we should reject the Marcoses, and purge them from our political life.
Because that isn’t Imee Marcos sitting on that cover, with her bare feet dangling elegantly by the folds of her scandalously-long terno. Those are the very bare feet of the millions of Filipinos who suffered from famine in Negros and other parts of the Philippines. Under the “glory days” of Marcos, they starved, subsisting on “fortified” grain, and walked barefoot on ground parched and left fallow. All this happened while Imelda was entertaining concert pianists and Hollywood actresses in Malacañang, while Ferdinand was wheelin’ and dealin’ with the cronies that made up the government. All this happened while Imelda started collecting thousands of shoes, and built her socialite dreams on the backs of the barefoot children of famine, who walked the dry ground to bury the baby that died.
That infant—like Apo Macliing, Edjop, Eman Lacaba, Liliosa Hilao, Lorena Barros, Juan Escandor, and so many others—all left a crimson stain in the ground, in a hue no different from the cloth of Imee Marcos’ gown.
UCAN Special Report, “What’s Behind the Negros Famine Crisis,” 9/11/1985
Caroline Kennedy’s blog, on articles tagged “Imelda Marcos”
Alfred McCoy, “Dark Legacy: Human rights under the Marcos Regime,” 9/20/1989
Alan Robles, “What Martial Law Was Like,” 3/27/2000
Alexander Martin Remollino, “Torture Methods and Torturers of Martial Law,” in Bulatlat.com
Image sourced from the Philippine Tatler’s Facebook page