In my mind, you are still a young man who has been thrust into the Presidential race after your mother died, awakening in us a rare sense of hope after spending years, perhaps even decades, accepting corruption as a way of life, as the way things will always be. It is the way one survives in this country, by allowing one’s rage and disappointment to be dampened over time as the corruption one witnesses in the highest echelons of government, or in the road projects outside one’s house, or in the glaring inequality one sees day after day after day, becomes a constant in one’s life, a radio static to which one grows frighteningly deaf.
Your mother’s death shook us awake, reminding us of the sacrifices she and your father made for a country that many of us had given up on, whether we still lived here or had packed our bags for more prosperous lands. “Walang pag-asa ang Pilipinas,” I’ve heard Filipinos mutter under their breath, a mantra of disillusionment that makes every effort to improve our lot appear like a complete waste of time. Your father didn’t believe this at all, sacrificing his life for a country that would go on to belittle his sacrifice; your mother didn’t believe this either, putting her own personal safety on the line to help overthrow a dictator and restore democracy. Were we grateful at all for the freedoms we gained from their sacrifices, as we complained about the things your mother did or failed to do during her term, or about all your character flaws, and every single thing you failed to do when you were President? Could we have anticipated the election of another authoritarian who worshipped the dictator your parents helped overthrow, or did some of us simply desire to return to those dark years, harboring a secret wish, as we invoked our freedom of speech to undermine your achievements, to destroy all our hopes for a better tomorrow?
For this is the one thing you gave us, which your predecessors failed to instill in us: a capacity for hope. Unlike your predecessors, you vowed to go after corrupt officials who lined their pockets with our hard-earned money, after tax evaders who drained our country’s resources by refusing to pay their fair share. You knew that these were the people who held our country back, whose unprosecuted crimes diminished our faith in a government that was meant to serve us. You knew that a culture of corruption led to a collective disillusionment that corrupted our souls, and allowed us to accept the moral degeneracy around us as a fact of life. Perhaps even you could not completely fathom the depths of our own corruption, and our capacity to elect a leader who speaks with relish about murder and rape. My heart breaks when people make a joke of your death, making me wonder if our moral center has died with your passing.
My mother sobbed this morning when we learned of your death. We used to criticize you too, but there’s something about your untimely departure that makes me unbearably sad. These are dark times in which even I have lost the capacity to hope, and with your passing I ask myself if I still have the strength to keep my remaining embers of hope warm and ready. They made a mockery of your legacy in recent years, and not once did you try to defend yourself, even as your quiet accomplishments came to light in spite of all efforts to erase these from people’s memories. Some of my own friends have distanced themselves from you to avoid being labeled “dilawans”, a cuss word spat out to belittle you and the people who still believe in what you stood for.
The Philippine Left will of course dismiss your achievements, in the same way that they belittled your intellect and harassed you with all sorts of ableist insults when you were President. They will still try to vilify you, if only to erase from people’s memories their initial unabashed support of the current President, their acceptance of cushy government positions in exchange for their silence over the ongoing genocide of our nation’s poor. Despite their efforts to make us forget about your sacrifices and the selflessness of your parents, not all of us will forget. I will never forget.