Every political elite has a clear conscience to invoke. Put it in a blatant way, no single politician is as insane as she or he actually is in admitting the failure of her or his regime.
In Philippine mainstream politics where the culture of impunity has been systematically entrenched, it is not surprising to hear these elites, past and present, continue their proclamation of a fetishized version of conscience and of moving on.
Just recently, Benigno Aquino III defended that his conscience is clear with respect to the charges filed against him concerning his failed command of the US-Philippine security operations in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in the Southern Philippines in January 2015.
The said incident in Mamasapano led to the killings of 67 individuals including government and non-government combatants and civilians. In his attempt to “come to terms” with the lives lost and put a closure to the incident, he claimed in his interview with Inquirer.net that “knowing exactly what happened can lead to a closure, and to a moving on”.
If we go by the populist narratives of some his predecessors and other fellow elites, the obvious rhetoric of “clear conscience” and sometimes of “moving on” are evident.
During his vice presidential bid in 2016, Ferdinand MarcosJr. and his cohorts have declared time and again that Filipinos should move on from the shadow of his father’s martial law. He was quick to argue that jobs, classrooms, hospitals and other basic services are now the concerns of the Filipinos, and not EDSA – referring to the people uprising of 1986 or People Power I which toppled the dictatorial rule of his family.
In 2004, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had to call Commissioner Virgilio “Garci”Garcillano of the Commission on Elections in order to secure a lead of more than a million votes over her rival Ferdinand Poe Jr. Becoming a subject of the public ire, Arroyo had to appear on national television to explain her side. To clear her conscience, she thus pronounced with an orchestrated remorse “I recognized that making any such call was a lapse in judgment. I am sorry”.
In 2001, in the midst of growing public resistance in what will later be dubbed as People Power II, Joseph Estrada asserted the he did not steal anything from the public funds. In his televised speech to supposedly protect democracy and peace, Estrada called on the Congress to conduct a snap election and congressional and local elections. He committed not to participate in such elections and that he would immediately transfer the presidential seal of power to whoever may win.
Back to the overthrow of the Marcos regime in 1986, then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile Sr., an original co-conspirator of Marcos’ martial law, proclaimed his break upfrom the Marcoses and in front of the international media, he declared “As of now, I cannot in conscience recognize the President (as my) as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces”.
It is then right to assume that such populist rhetoric is as good as absurdity for the simple reason that it does not even meet the moral compass set by the long agonized public.
The politics of moving on is not by any standard the same as forgetting. Aquino III cannot simply escape the tragedy of Mamasapano alongside the misery endured by the workers of Hacienda Luisita and victims of typhoon Yolanda. In the same way that the little Marcos cannot for a lifetime invoke that Filipinos should move on from the dark years of martial law and forget the countless victims of killings and enforced disappearances who continue to be agonized with impunity. This is precisely why the classical adage Never Again! still operates to this day – to resist such elitist claims and debunk their unfounded conscience.
The resurrection of these elites – the likes of Marcos and Arroyo – to national political power does not signal any cleansing of conscience from the past. There will never be a repentance that could once and for all purge the history of plunder, corruption and impunity that they themselves nurtured because the very political system that installed them to power remains the system that they now capitalize on. The rhetoric of “moving on”, “coming to terms” and “I am sorry” will just be a minute display of political drama – a way of temporary setback from the mainstream political arena, and, a way of synthesizing more and lasting power.
So long as we entertain this fetishized version of conscience and of moving on touted by no less than the elites themselves, our way of doing democracy will remain, as it has been, a fantasy.