43 years after the fact

When someone does you grievously wrong, an apology is the least you expect. When you are bludgeoned and bloodied by an assault done on your person-worse, by one who had sworn to protect you and keep you safe at all times-an apology becomes not just an emotional salve but a towering requirement of elementary justice, the first step toward righting the crime. Implicit in that apology is the recognition that the culprit understands the enormity of his or her offence, and thus-and more importantly-will not do it again. Absent that acknowledgement, you have every right to remain angry, to demand redress at every turn no matter how long the wheels of justice would turn.

But that's life. History and politics, particularly of the Philippine variety, are an altogether different reality. In other countries, leaders who ran their country to the ground were punished for it. Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania was hanged by his own people. Pol Pot's henchmen were tried and sentenced to imprisonment for the Cambodian genocide, decades after the fact. South Korea jailed two of its former prime ministers for corruption. And so on.

In Haiti, the lavish living of the Duvaliers amid the squalor and poverty of the rest of the country would lead to a popular uprising that drove the family into exile. Substitute Haiti for the Philippines and the narrative would be similar - a dictator and his family living splendidly off the nation's coffers, eventually chased out of the country by an enraged populace - but for a crushing twist. When Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti after two decades of living in France, he was promptly arrested for his crimes in office, and clapped in jail where he died of a heart attack. In the Philippines, the family and cronies of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos returned to the country they had ravaged and fled not too long ago - and were welcomed and feted and given back their sinecures in society and politics, as if the long dark night of martial law had not happened.

The primary victims of Marcos' misrule - 70,000 people arrested, 34,000 tortured, and 3,240 killed by the military and the police, according to a report by Amnesty International - have been justifiably the loudest in calling for an apology from the dictator's heirs. But why should Imelda and her brood apologise? The local justice system has failed so far to extract any official accountability from them; it was a foreign court that took cognizance of the charges of human rights violations against the Marcos regime and to impose a compensation fund for them, the P10-billion fund to be sourced from a Swiss account holding millions of dollars the Marcoses had stashed.

The human rights abuses are well-documented, the court judgment is a fact, and the Swiss account has a paper trail. They are but the tip of the historically verifiable criminal enterprise that undergirded the Marcos years, all accessible to anyone who knows how to Google. But 43 years since the imposition of martial law, the dictator's son and namesake rejects any notion of apologising for his family's excesses, thinks it's high time the nation moved on, and considers himself a worthy successor for the old office in MalacaƱang with which he had at most a glancing familiarity as a callow party boy in the high noon of his father's rule.

And why should Sen. Bongbong Marcos think otherwise, when his colleague, Sen. Chiz Escudero, a declared vice presidential candidate, apparently thinks the electorate wouldn't mind if he spat on the graves of martial law victims and other genuine heroes of the republic by calling for the elder Marcos' burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani - on the 43rd anniversary of Proclamation No. 1081 at that? Or when Vice President Jejomar Binay, once a human rights lawyer who made his name jousting with Marcos' kangaroo courts, is now warm to the idea of holding hands with him on the campaign trail, all the old pesky issues forgotten in an effort to win the 2016 polls at all costs?

What has made these political animals so confident as to flirt with the idea of trivialising the memory of martial law? Simple. They've been enabled - by an astounding forgetfulness, a sentimental softheartedness, an inability to be angry for long and to demand justice for wrongs done. Forty-three years after the fact and still no apology. For shame.