Each time I look out my living room window, I am faced with the reality of death, and the memory of thousands of brave men and women who gave up their lives so that we could all live in freedom.
The American Battle Monument is the final resting place for thousands of Americans and Filipinos who fought side by side during the war. It is a beautiful war memorial, fully funded and well taken care of by the US government.
It’s a vast expanse of green, punctuated by white marble crosses, and walls upon walls inscribed with the names of war heroes whose bodies were never found. It is very solemn and sacred ground.
I like going to the monument to reflect, rest and remember. Sometimes I encounter families who travel thousands of miles across the Pacific to pay tribute and honor their dead. It’s always very moving to witness second or third generation family members lovingly touch the crosses or lay wreaths of remembrance.
The scene resonates with me because my own grandfather was killed and decapitated by the Japanese during World War II.
His body had washed ashore on the Davao Gulf at the tail-end of the war, and he was never given a proper burial. There is no memorial in his name, only a public elementary school in the town where he spent the last years of his life. Donating the land where the school stands was my grandmother’s way to honor his death.
I think about this a lot nowadays, since there is so much grief over the pending burial of a controversial figure in a memorial that is meant to be the final home of heroes.
Memorials represent a deeply human impulse to create a permanent reminder for those who have been lost, especially when the loss was due to the sacrifice of those who died.
Memorials are put up by governments to honor the dead and to inspire future generations to aspire to that level of courage. What message then are we giving our children and grandchildren if those we seek to inter in such hallowed grounds are, as history has shown, of questionable or dubious honor?
It’s difficult to understand the bullheadedness of everyone involved in this highly-charged decision. I understand all about the need for a nation’s healing. The president has mentioned that it is also needed for closure.
Closure is a myth, however; there is really no such thing as closure when it comes to grief.
The main objective of the grief journey is to get the bereaved to reconcile with their loss. I’m sure the Marcoses who have managed to return to seats of power, have already done that by now.
But what about the healing of everyone else who suffered under the Marcos regime—those who lost their lives, their family members? What about those who were tortured and raped? Those who, many decades after, continue to suffer, or are now suffering from illnesses brought about by the nightmares endured in that dark period? What about their healing?
If I were a Marcos and I truly believed in my heart of hearts that my father was a hero, deserving of a hero’s burial, I would not insist on burying him in a place where he runs the risk of being desecrated and spat at.
I would instead opt to lay him to rest on grounds where he will continue to be revered, rightly or wrongly.
I would create our own memorial in a province where we can be sure that he would continue to be honored and looked upon as a hero. Where people can visit to remember, and not to rail, rally or rant.
If it’s really peace I am after, I would let go of this obsession to bury him in a place meant for heroes.
Heroism, after all, comes in many forms. To bury his remains quietly, away from the righteous anger of so many, is not cowardice; it would actually be the more heroic and peaceful thing to do.
Only then can true healing begin—both for the Marcos family, and for all those who lost their lives during the Marcos regime.