by Conrado de Quiros in the Philippine Inquirer
Presidential Commission on Good Government chair Andres Bautista proposes that the Department of Tourism turn Imelda Marcos’ jewels into a tourist attraction. Might as well make money off them, he says, until they are auctioned off.
The idea sucks. Bautista may have good intentions but he lacks imagination.
The jewels are a minor Ali Baba treasure. They include: the Malacañang collection of 300 pieces that Imelda left behind in her closet after she and her family stole away from the Palace like a proverbial, and quite literal, thief in the night; the Honolulu collection of 400 pieces of which the US Customs relieved them when they got there; and 60 pieces of jewelry that a Greek friend of Imelda’s tried to spirit off from the country later. It reminds us of that quasi-philosophical question of what things you would try to carry out of your burning house. Imelda must have had a surfeit of jewels to bother about those.
But which brings us to this: The jewels are stolen. We know that from the fact that they have been seized from Imelda and are now kept in the vaults of the Bangko Sentral until they can be sold. And the jewels are worth a fortune, certainly more of a fortune than her 2,000 pairs of shoes. We know that from the valuation of the auction houses. So unless you subscribe to Merceditas Gutierrez’s concept that you can have a crime without a criminal, which she put forward after investigating the Comelec’s MegaPacific scam, you have a definite criminal here. You have a thief. No, you have one very big thief.
You exhibit the jewels in hopes of luring in the curious, the curious will ask about something even more curious: If Imelda is a thief, indeed if Imelda is one very big thief, how come she is still free? How come she is not in jail?
The DOT does what Bautista suggests and it will give new, and not very savory, meanings to “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Among them, stealing is more fun in the Philippines. Thieves have more fun in the Philippines.
The same is true if you displayed those jewels to remind this country, if not the world, of what martial law was. Which, far from the revisionist paradise the Marcos entries in YouTube propose, was a world populated by thugs and thieves, cutthroats and torturers, Malakas at Malupit, most of them to be found in Malacañang. The young and not-so-very young who did not directly experience martial law—it ended all of 26 years ago, an eternity for us—will probably say: “That’s all very fine. But why in God’s name are the people responsible for this still around? Why in God’s name are they not just around but are a senator, a congressman, and a governor of Ilocos Norte?”
Why the hell are they not in jail?
The jewels will only remind us of what we failed to do.
In fact, however strange it may seem, we have been subscribing all this time, if unwittingly, if implicitly, to the concept that there can be a crime without a criminal. In lieu of a Truth Commission, which other countries that experienced despotic rule had, we had a PCGG. The purpose of a Truth Commission is twofold: It is to determine the extent of the crimes of the previous rulers and punish them accordingly. The purpose of a commission on good government—at least as we defined it—is single-fold and narrow-minded: It is to determine the extent of the pillage and, where possible, recover it. Throughout the PCGG’s existence, it has tried to locate the loot particularly stashed abroad and succeeded in recovering part of it. And yet despite recovering it, despite reclaiming it, despite getting it back from those who stole it, it has never called those who stole it thieves. It has never called them criminals.
It has never prosecuted them. It has never jailed them.
What is that if not asserting that there can be a crime without a criminal?
There is nothing attractive about those jewels, touristic or otherwise. There is everything ugly about them. A tourist looking at them can only ask: What has happened to this country’s morals? What has happened to this country’s sense of right and wrong? What has happened to this country’s justice?
Two is the Ilocos Republic. Yes, that is what it is, a republic. Or at least the north is, which has had a separate history from the rest of us as Marcos goes. Their Sept. 11 celebrations of his birthday threw a light again on the fact that their schools have a different interpretation of history and their folk have a different view of martial law. “The Marcos greatness,” says one elementary public school teacher, “always remains. If there was a great Marcos during his time, his children are here today to make this nation great again.” What she sees as a promise, the rest of us can only see as a threat.
But you wonder at the innocent minds that are molded in that thought.
If Marcos’ birthday can be celebrated that way there, imagine how martial law will be celebrated on its 40th anniversary on Sept. 21.
The rest of the country hasn’t exactly been “Ilocanized,” but the return of the Marcoses to positions of power, if in a still minor way, and the recent attempts to turn Marcos into a hero via a burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, are cause for alarm. It reminds us that the Marcoses did not just steal the country’s money, they stole the country’s soul. They stole the country’s will, they stole the country’s pride, they stole the country’s future. And now they’re stealing the country’s memory.
Maybe we need to parade Imelda’s jewels to the public, if not to the tourists, to remind us of what we failed to do. But more than that, we need to build a museum of horrors, if only in the public mind, to remind us, as we approach Friday next week, what of we still need to do.
We need to recover the past. We need to recover the truth.
We need to recover ourselves.