Days of forgetting, days of remembering

Who could forget the long, tortuous funeral procession that occupied TV screens and online exposures? The strong typhoon that was about to batter Japan was lost in the pomp and pageantry. The earthquake was no match to the assumption that it was not only the entire Britain that was watching but also the world. That is a thought only the confidently potent could summon.

It is difficult to die as a royalty. There are rigorous procedures, last wills to follow. What pearls to wear? What crowns must be raised? There is majesty to uphold even as they claim everything to dust returns.

Power, we would learn, is not about might although palaces and ramparts do exhibit brute force. Power is about spaces—geographical, political, social spaces. An empire can stretch across seas, crossing cultures and civilizations and erasing both in the process. Colonization is that political evil will to lord it over territories larger than those of the colonizer’s, with traditions and arts as complex and articulated, perhaps even more, than those whose default lens about unknown domains is to perceive them as savages.

When the hearse entered the old palace, what capital would fund a ground covered with bouquets of flowers? That, in old Hollywood, is production design; in this castle, it is an unbridled display of grief and grandeur.

Hundreds of years from now, this month will be about the death of a monarch.

What shall it be for us? It shall be a death of memory.

By the calendrical gem-color of remembrances, this year, this month, and a particular day, is Golden. The 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.

Is this a commemoration? Is this a memorialization?

Some days are meant for remembering, and some days are meant for forgetting.

My generation is one of the rightful bearers of the memories of martial law. Most of us were stepping out of high school into college or university when martial rule was declared. However, our parents and our kin would have different recollections of those days. Some families recall the turbulence of activism and how they lost their daughters, once obedient and gracious, and how they tried to win back their sons, braver and ready to take on the government. There are even more horrifying memories: mothers and fathers would move from military camp to military camp in search of their children. They would see their faces behind doors kept ajar by guards, always in the dark, quiet, unable to even call their names. Then, they would disappear. Vanished.

A new word is learned by my generation: the disappeared ones. Clumsy words. Not elegant at all. Terror is clumsy, not elegant. It is rash, violent.

The grandparents of my generation were old men and women who were cautious for us. They recalled another era, when their own neighbors spied on them and gave their names to the Japanese. You could not trust anyone, not another kin who lived nearby, not the kindly man passing by your window. The same anxiety was felt when martial rule was in effect—we whispered when we talked about soldiers dying in Mindanao and about the rice shortage. Newspapers were scared. They either talked good about the government or they shut up.

In a twist of historical fate, the name of the conquering race in the last world war, “Hapon,” became the label for the individuals who observed universities and marked teachers and students as dissidents. Double-agents they were. These people lived on. They are still around, organic and eternal.

The lockdown that happened during the pandemic had its political parallel in the martial law years. Like the isolation created by the pandemic, being cooped up could result in a mind conditioned to accept the goodness of control. That being kept away was to maintain peace and order.

It was because of this that we, my generation, appreciated the return of the so-called democratic space. This was the time when people could speak again, when newspapers were brought back and could say anything, both truths and lies. That democratic space, a legacy of one particular president, is all but gone now. No one celebrates that. There is no day or month in which we can situate the return of that day when we could once more express our opinions without the military inviting us to their offices for an interrogation.

Do we ever ask when the newspapers made their comebacks again? Or when producers ceased inserting into films warnings “not to follow the examples of the characters on screen?” As if the actors and the films are not dumb enough not to be emulated?

Who remembers when movie posters were censored, when guns held by actors were painted with white, leaving the character with his hand stretched, a gooey blob at the end? Or when long-haired characters on movie posters were tampered in such a way that where the curls or overgrown sideburns were, newly created pinkish ears appeared. Remember, short hair meant decent boys and men.

Thus, we recoil at the news that the haircut rule is now being enforced in some schools. This brings memories of a past, not in a romantic manner but in the way that tells us how imposition of sumptuary laws began in the era of kings and queens, when the rulers imposed limitations on the consumption and behavior of people to maintain structured inequality.

And this is where the spaces of the royalties are similar to the spaces of the political and corrupt. Spaces could be occupied, colonized and filled by a different version of the past, erasing those that would not conform with what the dominant group wishes to declare. Spaces could be owned, bought.

Spaces could be recovered, too. And days. There are things to recover in September. One of these was that day when, by a proclamation, freedom was breached. What day was that again, the 21st or the 23rd?