JOSEPH Stalin of Russia. Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany. Benito Mussolini of Italy, Mao Tse-tung of China. Sukarno of Indonesia. Kim Jong-un of North Korea. And from the Philippines—Ferdinand Edralin Marcos.
The Filipino leader has found himself in very good company.
When Marcos was nearing the end of his maximum term as president, he, together with his political strategists, contrived a series of events that sowed disturbance and instability in the land, most memorably the fake ambush of Juan Ponce Enrile, purportedly to save the country from the perils of Communism, Marcos proclaimed martial law on Sept. 23, 1972.
To remind Filipinos of the corruption and the widespread violation of human rights during the 20 years of Marcos, Hiraya Gallery commissioned 28-year-old Batanes artist Randalf Dilla to create a mural. The result, “Salvaged Memories, Salvaged Lives,” an 8 x 18.5 ft oil painting that is an artist’s attempt to bring to the present a reality which should not be forgotten, or worse rewritten to deceive.
The artist behind the mural, at age 28 (at the time of the artwork’s execution), had obviously not been born during martial law.
Dilla is a Fine Arts graduate of Feati University. Researching assiduously, the artist distilled the wealth of materials into a few selected but significant elements.
The central figure, is the dictator himself, here depicted appropriately with iron hands, in his characteristically imperious gesture we Filipinos knew at the time.
Symbolizing the greed of the dictator are the gold bars, tumbling down from a weighing scale. When surveyed by a German anticorruption agency, his plunder amounted to at least $10 billion in 1986; equivalent in 2014 to $21.6 billion.
On the upper right of the painting are the framed portraits of the so-called Rolex 12, beneficiaries of the status symbol watch. (Ten are military officers while two are the dictator’s cohorts).
What completes the visual narrative are the Filipino desaparecidos (Spanish for “forced disappearance,” adapted from Latin America’s victims of dictatorship). These were the tortured victims of human-rights abuses, physically vanished from the face of the earth.
Martial law justified extrajudicial killings, liquidation, summary execution, arbitrary arrest and detention of political activists, outspoken journalists and clergy and dissident social figures.
Dilla depicted some of them with heads shrouded in purple, the penitential color of Lent.
The Philippine tricolor itself has now been denigrated to a serviceable presidential tablecloth, bedraggled and chained as a virtual prisoner of the dictator, before which he had once sworn his allegiance.
The title of the mural features the word “salvaged,” a curious word on which the Urban Dictionary has remarked: In the Philippines, “to salvage” means “to kill” that person, which is the opposite meaning of the word, which is “to save.” What can one say?
“Salvaged Lives” will be unveiled, along with another mural, “#Whatnow,” during Dilla’s solo show, “Tyranny of Hindsight,” opening on Sept. 23 at the Hiraya Gallery, United Nations Ave., Ermita, Manila.