These are just some of the reactions to a StyleBible.PH article entitled “How Imelda Saved Fashion,” written by fashion writer Zoe Laurente. I had my own reaction to it, but beyond that I figured I wouldn’t need to write a full-blown article on the topic of the shallow appreciation of the character that is Imelda Marcos.
And then this happened.
Before I go any further, in the interest of fairness (and to provide details I’d rather not repeat here), here is a link to the memo released by Fr. Jett Villarin, current President of Ateneo de Manila University, on the event itself where Mrs. Marcos was invited as a guest, and the backlash that followed.
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What was Fr. Villarin apologizing for? Honestly, I can’t tell. Off-hand, the letter feels like it can be summarized as “Sorry we got caught, we were celebrating something else, we’ll try not to do it again.” But the question is, why is Fr. Villarin, who presumably had nothing to do with inviting Mrs Marcos to the event, the one doing the apologizing? At most, I would have expected Fr. Villarin to express some degree of dismay over Mrs. Marcos’ invitation to and attendance in the event. As Ms. Risa Hontiveros points out, Fr. Villarin himself was once an “anti-dictator activist.” Yet there he was, smiling right beside Mrs. Marcos. Perhaps he was forced to be the gracious host under the circumstances? A matter of courtesy?
Speaking of which, a number of my friends on Twitter (who unfortunately have private accounts, so I can’t link their tweets) pointed out that perhaps, Mrs. Marcos being a person of stature as a member of the House of Representatives, was just being shown politeness and courtesy by those in attendance. To this I must respond: are we teaching our children to bow down to persons of power and status, in the name of courtesy and politeness, principles be damned and flushed down the toilet? Do we collectively bifurcate the character of Imelda Marcos and separate her fashion sense from her philantrophy of the culture and arts, from her incredible displays of ostentatious ill-gotten wealth, or from her current state of mind where she lives in a dream world where she is penniless, and her family never stole a cent from the Filipino people? And in this bifurcation, do we treat her differently depending on where we are or what the occasion is?
I would love to hear the explanations of the organizers of the event. Did they really make Mrs. Marcos a guest, front and center, with a prepared speech to boot? Or did they send a courtesy invitation, thinking that Mrs. Marcos wouldn’t show up, and just accommodated her when she did? Most importantly, how did any of the organizers think that inviting Mrs. Marcos, whether intentionally or as a matter of courtesy, was a great idea, an acceptable idea, for them and for the Ateneo community in general?
My only positive takeaway from all this is that Mrs. Imelda Marcos, the woman allergic to all things ugly, considers the jeje pose as something worthy of emulating. This time, at least, class was the one that followed mass.
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It is not that we should always demonize the Marcoses. What we are saying is that the human rights abuses – the enforced disappearances, the torture, the killings – will always outweigh whatever the late President Marcos accomplished during his more than 20-year regime. The human rights violations were REAL. They were not merely the imaginings of a few “Communist” activists who fought against Marcos, nor were they isolated cases, few and far in between. It was systematic, it was organized, it was concerted, and most importantly it was performed under the express order of no less than Ferdinand Marcos himself.
What does that have to do with Mrs. Marcos? Why does Mrs. Marcos deserve such disrespect?
It is not that Mrs. Marcos does not deserve to be treated with respect. What we are saying is that respect begets respect. Mrs. Marcos constantly and consistently denies the facts of her late husband’s strongman dictator rule. In doing so, she disrespects the memory of all who suffered and died at the hands of the Marcos-led military. She disrespects the families of those left behind, some of whom were never even able to recover the bodies of their loved ones after they disappeared, taken by the military. She disrespects the Philippine nation, who to this day continue to pay for all the excesses of the Marcos regime – in terms of public funds used to repay behest loans that Marcos and his cronies later pocketed in the billions, and in terms of the institutional corruption that we struggle to purge from our government to this day, among others.
It is not that we should remain stuck in the issue of Martial Law, that we should not move on to handle the issues of the present. What we are saying is that many of our issues today continue to be rooted in the past. It is not enough merely to remember “the darkness of those years of dictatorship.” We must come to terms with Martial Law, admit and accept it in all its hideous detail, and we must learn our lessons from it. We cannot do that if we continue to remember the Marcoses only for their superficialities, past and present.
To paraphrase the comments quoted at the beginning of this article: This penchant for selectively remembering the Marcoses and Martial Law for the good, and not for their totalities, is dumb. Dumb, stupid, insensitive, shallow. It is so wrong on so many levels.
Should we buy into this Imeldific theatricality, hook, line, and sinker?
Juan G. M. Ragragio is a thirtysomething year-old nerd/geek hybrid who blogs athttp://raggster.wordpress.com and tweets athttps://twitter.com/raggster. When not online, he either attends law school at the University of the Philippines College of Law or stays home inventing new ways to use chicken noodle soup.