Psychologists and counselors say that when overwhelmed with pain, it is helpful to pen one’s thoughts. It allows the hurting to find his/her way to the path of healing. Because it may be a long journey, every little step towards healing is very significant.
Last week, I shared the story of my friend Liway and her family’s struggle during the martial law years. Seven months ago, as the votes were being counted in the national election, she wrote a letter to her father, Merardo Arce, killed at age 32 by government troops in Cebu in 1985. (The New People’s Army named its Southern Mindanao command after Merardo Arce — Eds). This was a daughter’s letter not only to her father but, I believe, also to her motherland. Liway graciously gave permission for her letter to be quoted in this column:
Dear Papa Mer,
I cannot rest. I cannot go gentle into that good night. And I am certain, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, that I am not alone.
As early as I can remember, I know you could not raise me because you were fighting for our country. When you were killed on February 5, 1985, and we found out in Manila three days later because your pool of blood and fallen body sprawled on a street in Cebu was published in a local tabloid, and thereafter, I carried the Philippine flag which adorned your casket on my feeble arms, I learned what sacrifice and love of country meant.
There is a greater love than love for family, and that is love for country. I immortalized that principle to drown loneliness and fear, and that inherent nature to preserve you. You taught me that my country is bigger than me. I willingly swallowed that bitter pill because you ratiocinated that it is what is right and noble.
So when a few years after People Power and the Marcoses were able to return to the political arena, I was aghast and indignant, always blaming that short-term memory and forgiving nature of Filipinos. But I thought loyalists were confined to the North or Tacloban so I was complacent. After all, everyone had to focus on earning a living. Martial Law and its atrocities seemed to be a distant past.
But when Bongbong Marcos became a senator and returned to the national political landscape, it was a slap on the faces of those who fought for freedom and endured, and those who sacrificed their lives to have our rights restored, and us, their mourning loved ones whom they left behind.
I understand why Filipinos forgot about Martial Law. It is not just because Millennials preferred the Marcoses’ version of rewritten history of feigned economic prosperity and peace and order. But it is because restored democracy did not improve their lives. It did not translate to better purchasing power, to stable jobs, to free quality education, to decent healthcare and lower crime rate. Power changed from one family name to the next and corruption became the name of the game. The dynasties and oligarchies grew in power while the man on the street still languished. So People Power became a farce. While a few chose #neverforget , it was really much easier to do so. The continuing decline of the common tao’s quality of life was nothing worthwhile to remember.
With this hopeless backdrop, BBM’s entry to the vice-presidential race was a breeze. He was set up to win. And so the indoctrination of a prosperous and united country under his vice leadership seemed music to the common tao’s ears, not far from the former tune sung by his mother of “the true, the good and the beautiful.”
I am sorry, Papa. I am sorry that the country you so loved and died for is in a sorrier state three decades after you chose to spill your blood on that street in Cebu. I am sorry we whom you’ve left behind were unable to solidify your ideals for this nation. I am sorry we forgot to be role models to the millions of youth who were unable to understand that the freedom we enjoy (and misuse) right now, including the freedom to make mistakes in choosing our leaders, did not come for free.
You and the noble men and women like you paid for it. We whom you’ve left behind continue to mourn at this sorry and dismal state to which we have sunken.
Sulking in frustration as I am glued to the television awaiting election results, I am (dis)comforted by the idea that a colleague imparted to me a few months ago before Election Day: The Philippines will get the leaders it deserves.
I am at a loss for words. Does our country deserve this?
But true to the nature of a resilient Filipino, I do not lose hope. You taught me not to when you named me Liwayway, the Dawn, the sun rising, hope rising. It meant hope for our country, for a better Philippines, as sure as the sun rose this morning.
It continues to mean hope today, as soon as we woke up to the news that a decent, noble leader is now leading by the smallest of margins in the VP bid.
Our fight is not over. And while many kindred spirits are in a quandary if the ultimate sacrifice you and your generation made was worth it, I know in my heart it was worth it.
Whatever the polls say.
No matter how history tells it.
Hope endures. Hope endures.
We have to believe it was all worth it.
And may I so boldly add that I will give you up a million times, and I will live for your dream a million more because the Philippines is worth it… even when we sometimes feel it doesn’t, and all the more when we feel it doesn’t.
It does. It does.
It has to be.