Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Critic of the Month

The YCC critic of the month Jaime Oscar M. Salazar, comments on a timely topic, the question of where and how to bury the remains of a dictator.

Honor vacui
Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

That Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was tasked to confront the vexing question of where and how the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos should be laid to rest, has been quoted in Manila Bulletin as calling his recommendation to bury Marcos in Ilocos Norte with full military honors a “Solomonic solution” indicates, at the very least, that Binay’s understanding of the Bible is deficient in the extreme. Were he to review the relevant passages in the Old Testament, Binay would discover that the judgment of Solomon—who, by virtue of divine munificence, is supposed to be one of the wisest men in the world—did not result in a formulation that either satisfies or gave justice to no one.

According to the story, which is told in the first book of Kings, Solomon is asked to preside over a dispute between two women, each of whom claimed to be the mother of an infant. Both women lived in the same house, and each, within days of the other, had given birth to a boy. One of the babies, however, died in the night, prompting his mother to switch the corpse for the still-living son of the other woman, who was asleep. As there were no witnesses to the substitution, the women are reduced to trading accusations before the king.

After a moment, Solomon calls for a sword and orders that the remaining infant be cut in two, in order that each mother may receive half, thus settling the issue. It is when one of the women protests at the verdict that Solomon’s true intention is revealed: by threatening the destruction of the child, the king is able to determine which woman is the real mother—the one who would rather see her baby alive, if brought up in the care of another, than killed. “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother,” Solomon declares.

The outcome, it must be emphasized, is not a compromise at all: the Solomonic solution involves neither tortuous hair-splitting nor the invocation of a mythical “middle ground”. Instead, it is a bold move animated by the desire to do the right thing, no matter how apparently impolitic.

To be sure, few problems can be laid to rest quite as quickly or as neatly as that brought before Solomon, but Binay’s proposal for the Marcos burial, despite what he may believe (or professes to believe), merely partakes of the same dangerous, because morally vacuous, logic that led over 200 legislators to sign House Resolution No. 1135, which says that Marcos deserves to be interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, owing to his “invaluable service to his country as soldier, writer, statesman, President and Commander-in-Chief”.

Even if Marcos is buried in his native soil rather than in the heroes’ cemetery, he would, following Binay’s plan, still be buried with distinction unearned and undeserved—and, once bestowed, virtually indelible. More, it would propound notions of honor and heroism that are so thoroughly destitute as to become meaningless. What does it imply about ourselves when we seek to memorialize and glorify a man who was unapologetic to his very last breath for the massive graft and corruption, plunder, and human-rights abuses that he orchestrated over the course of two decades in power? Where now is the sword that will cleave political expediency and ineffectual posturing away from responsible, courageous partisanship?

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar teaches with the Literature Department at De La Salle University-Manila, where he teaches art appreciation and literature. He is working toward his master's degree in art studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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