To bury or not to bury; that is the question. Should the late President Ferdinand Marcos be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani or not? Was he indeed a hero deserving honor? Or did his 14-year authoritarian rule disqualify him?
The issue has divided the Philippine nation for years. As with many other issues in the past — whether political, social, religious, cultural or legal — this unresolved controversy once again splits our nation at many levels and across those levels. Friend vs. friend. Father vs. son. Congressman vs. mayor. Farmer vs. senator. President vs. ex-president.
Perhaps, we should look at the very root, not just of this issue but of the inherent tendency of humans to be diverse, separated or divided, whether we talk of principles, methods and ideas, in general, or specific things, such as food, clothing and music.
Variety is an axiom of Nature. If all flowers were red, what a boring world it would be. If we only listened to one violin playing a melody, where is harmony? Perhaps, the very design of Nature inspires us to be partial in many life choices. Being distinct social beings, however, such choices can create conflict among people. Often, people impose their choices upon others who do not share their views or means of doing things. That is why we have wars — and such things as political parties, associations, frats, tribes, cities and nations. We have a partitioned world because we have partitioned minds and hearts.
Yet, there is only One God.
Nature has a thing to tell us about how we became this way — at least, the way we think and see things as they are now. Remember what Geology teaches us? Pangaea, the ancient supercontinent, was the precursor of all the existing continents and islands. This is both a biblical and scientific truth and fact. “God said, ‘Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering of the waters he called Seas.” (Gen. 1:9, JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh) Notice, the water was in “one area”; hence, the land was in a separate “one area”, unlike today where the seas are in many areas and the Earth (land) is broken into many parts.
This geologic picture explains the possible early rapid scattering of peoples, animals and vegetation, as well as of cultures, languages, knowledge and technology. Boat-making and sailing did not become necessary until people were segregated from other lands and people. Why build ships if you can walk everywhere you wanted to? And that is why many Asian nations share similar essential physiological and cultural traits as well as artistic, literary and medicinal practices to this day. The term “indian” not only refers to any non-white or pagan ethnic group but to a generic root of people who travelled all the way from the birthplace of the human race in the Mesopotamian and Indus Valleys to China, India, Alaska, America and the major Asian-Pacific islands. These lands once belonged to Pangaea but, later on, gradually separated through geological processes or cataclysms while connected by land bridges, until the sea eventually rose higher and separated them as they are now.
Moreover, we all know the story of the ancient race having a single language before they were “confused” and scattered, forming the various languages and cultures that now populate the world. But there is more to this story than that common language. The people also had one purpose in mind: to build a city up in the sky. It was a fine innovative project (like the condo buildings rising everywhere), except that they challenged God and wanted to reach His glory, using their pioneering technology but not by God’s means, which is by faith and obedience to His will. God had to draw the line (between God and humans) – and lines (between humans).
Shall we say then that the inherent divisions that we exhibit now arose from a God-induced tendency to become so divergent? Perhaps so; but it came as a result – no, a clear punishment — for human rebellion and not as a favor from God. The eventual separation of the Earth may not have been a mere quirk of Nature but a concomitant divine decree serving to discipline humans so that they may seek God eventually.
Having forgotten their precious roots from God, humans may have been intentionally left out of the graces of God so that they will know that they all came from one Divine Seed, when the time comes when He will reveal that Seed to them Who will show them the way back. This assumption holds true for Adam and Eve, the people of Babel, as well as for all humans who ever lived; for God had decided once to destroy all life by sending the Flood. And although God had cleansed the world of all corrupted flesh and replenished it with Noah’s pure seed, humans remained rebellious. And since God vowed never to destroy them again (whew, thank you, Lord!), He divided them into many parts in order to populate the divided Earth as well.
But our God is One — and He cannot be divided. Those who seek to dwell with Him must seek to be one with Him and with others as well.
These geological and historical events — whether we believe them or accept them or not – influenced our current predisposition to being contrarian or divisive. Humans, as we all know, are intrinsically or psychologically inclined to reject God’s way of seeing things and solving life’s problems. Any talk of God generally runs counter to our deep desire to be self-ish or clan-ish. And as the people of Babel waged their rebellion through the use of technology and a common language, people today do likewise, aided as we are by our many new-found humanistic ideologies, scientific knowhow and paganistic beliefs.
To prove our point, here is where those tower-builders erred. Noah had prophesied that God will no longer send another Global Flood. In total contrast, the builders decided to build a tall tower to avoid being deluged again. And in their pride, they sought to reach Heaven itself or to become like God, dwelling in Heaven. Such pride — and such a fall! Thus, they failed to see the wisdom of righteous Noah who obeyed God faithfully.
The simple rule is: Seek God, listen to His words and obey His will. He was not that far from everyone then as He was from Noah. Today, He is as close to us as He was to Enoch, to Moses and the apostles. We are the ones who depart from Him – and from others. The sheep stray, not the Shepherd. The flock scatters; yet the Shepherd calls them back until they hear and return.
It is no wonder then that people today are like sheep gone astray, following many shepherds here and there. We follow so many distracting things; we do not even know we are so lost. We constantly seek wealth, fame, good food, good music, fancy cars, thrilling sports, new fashion, fresh entertainment and Pokemons. The more we see and the more we know, the less we remember who we are, where we came from and where we are going.
As a nation, we are equally lost. After so many decades of wandering through the wilderness, we have not found our true bearing: Who are we? Where are we? Where are we headed as a nation? Like the Israelites, we have forgotten what God has done and is doing to raise us up to His highest calling. And so, today the very same issues bother us and cause the same knee-jerk reactions and nervous twitches.
The issue of burying a president still divides our nation. How do we seek the divine wisdom that applies? As we said, human ideas and ideologies will divide people, as they always do. And since we think God allows us this freedom to be diverse, we think it is the only possible way. Will He step in to unite a divided nation when He has apparently left us to fester in our own confusion and, in fact, caused the division for our own discipline? It is a paradox that God alone can solve.
Sure, every person has his or her own opinion and, if one had the power to impose, that opinion will prevail. The media and the Internet, especially, overflow with all the justifications for either side of the issue. We have practically built once more a tower of Babel to Heaven, soaring over the opinions of others while the voice of God is inaudible to our stuffed ears. No one, not even the president can unravel the knot which he himself has somehow created or has revived by his decision to finally, well, bury a problem. It has become a test of his leadership as well as of our ability as a nation to survive and progress.
Think about it. We will always remain divided. Until God finally steps in and forces us to bow to His final and perfect will.
But we cannot wait even for that. We must find a temporary resolution to this gnawing problem. For there are those who earnestly seek the elusive unifying solution. Perhaps, there is one — if we can be one.
Since God has definitely left us all to our own discretion to resolve this issue, why not try to apply our cherished democratic principles? No, stretch those principles to accommodate other principles we may have neglected or arbitrarily rejected in our presumption that democracy is all we need to effectively run a country. You believe you have the right to express your ideas? Speak your mind then, in whatever forum you want — in the streets or the media. Shout if you must. Convince if you will. But will you stop and also listen to others — if you can? God gave us a mouth; but have we truly listened to His words before we speak?
Since we have elected a president to lead us, why not leave that ultimate decision to him? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. This does not only apply to tangible tribute (taxes) but also to honor and respect. If we cannot honor a dead president’s wish, then do it for a living one who has decided to grant that right to the one we have denied it from. It is a prerogative of the authority whom we have chosen to make difficult decisions for us as a nation. A leader cannot make decisions that will please everyone; and he should not make decisions merely to please people but to foresee and achieve the long-term effects of his difficult decisions. Some decisions can lead some citizens to rebel. But a divided nation will fall. Always! Division is a virus that has been going around and destroying families and nations for millennia. When do we decide to stop?
Human relations are complicated enough without invoking the multifarious sensibilities and perceptions of the teeming multitudes. Our leader has decided according to his own evaluation of the issue; let him answer for that decision before God and humans when the time comes. And he has and he will. If people force the issue and create confusion or unending strife, peaceful or not, the only foreseeable victor will be the spirit of division that constantly boils in the human blood, drowning the clear call from Heaven toward potential and ultimate oneness.
If God and democracy have truly given us the freedom to bear contrasting ideas and opinions, then let the leader utilize the same freedom and carry the burden to make closure to a perpetually divisive and toxic issue. If we cannot and will not unite with the leader and with others who do not share our views, we will remain in the hopeless condition we have found ourselves in for centuries. The Philippines almost fell into a bloody civil war in the cry to topple Marcos then; do we want his corpse to be the fire that will once again ignite the fires of a disorderly schism?
Let the dead bury the dead. God seeks people who will follow His footsteps, not those who seek the world’s corrupt ways and ideas. As a senator asked recently in relation to the issue of reviving the death penalty, do we oppose the proposal because of our religious belief or because we personally think it is wrong? Are we wiser than God Who granted us a proven strong leader to guide us to a peaceful and prosperous future? Do we not instead weaken him and the entire nation because we cannot support his consistent stance to be firm on controversial and critical matters? We have languished for years precisely because we emasculate our leaders and give up many opportunities by our perpetual divisiveness. This is true for most nations. But this time, we have the golden opportunity to make a difference.
And so, do you oppose because you are a Christian and believe that God does not want Marcos to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani? Do you really think God will care where and how we are buried? Does He care whether we have places we consider holy or sanctified when He has judged all flesh to be corrupt and bound to be decayed? Does He favor any person as to where he or she is buried when we know the spirit of the dead descend to Hades where they will await His final judgment? If not, why should we care? And if God can raise up all those who were beheaded, drowned or burned in order to be judged, will it matter whether a dictator’s body lies among those of “heroes” when all of them will still stand impartial judgment in the end? Yes, all of us – resurrected and alive, not dead or rotting as we all are today, feeling smug and presumptuous in our petty borrowed lives.
There is no life or glory in dust that we all are in reality. How many have died whose bodies were never found or recovered? Do their relatives care less for those departed ones? Does God grant less favor for those who died in such a manner? Of course not! Only our diverse notions of life and what lies beyond it leads us to our many conflicting ideas.
I came that you may have life! Our task is to find genuine life and to give that life to those who seek it. Real life comes in following Christ, not following our many divided pursuits in worldly matters and affairs. This issue has long been dead; it is time we lived for a glorious new day as a glorious new nation. Have we truly learned the lessons of the past not to be so afraid that we will again fall into the same errors? Are we willing to progress to new ways of doing things without the same old fears engendered upon us by the monsters of the past? Much of the protests or opinions we hear today are recycled sentiments and ideas that may have been valid in the past or may still be relevant today but which no longer cover the potential risks and opportunities before us, if we could only rise above the unnecessary noises of fear, hatred and doubt engendered by a determined leadership bent on the pursuit of genuine progress and unity.
We must not judge present conditions by the same limited democratic or humanistic principles we have learned in the not-so-distant past or the present but by the eternal principles that take into account the roots of our problems and the ultimate destiny of our bodies, souls and spirits. And we are talking of only one body – a corpse at that! Any dead person’s spirit does not linger in this world. Forget about ghosts and zombies! Like Adam and Eve, our bodies rot and return to dust. There is no honor or glory in that process. It is, in fact, a curse upon us all – sinner or saint.
How many of those buried in Eternal Gardens, Holy Cross Memorial Park or Golden Haven lived truly holy lives and gained the assurance of entering Heaven? How many of our dead soldiers and police personnel were real heroes of faith as well? How many are actually bound for hell? These places, in essence, are cultural symbols of human respect for the beloved departed. They are not anywhere close to representing the glory and honor God has reserved for those who obey His words. In truth, this human cultural practice has been superseded by Christ’s empty tomb – His resurrection! No body, no tomb! No death, no sorrow! No problem! The early martyrs thought nothing of being eaten by lions or being sawn into two. They knew and lived the Gospel which says bodies or tombs do not keep life or memories. Only our hearts, minds and spirits can. But today, tombs can cause us to be so passionately divided (and we are!) because we have not truly followed Christ’s journey that one glorious dawn He awakened for us all — when He destroyed death and proclaimed life everlasting – that we may walk with the living and embrace one another as we await our great reunion with the Father in Heaven.
There is no such thing as “holy ground” on this Earth, where unquenchable fire burns by the presence of God; because God has forsaken it and allowed Satan to rule over it. Yet, God did decide to dwell in a better place or “sanctified ground” — our bodies, upon which the fire of the Holy Spirit may descend to give us unending life. In our bodies alone, while we live, does God live, as do all His promised blessings He has planted until Christ returns. Not in lifeless and empty cemeteries, expensive cathedrals, ornate sanctuaries or golden temples. No, not even in the revered Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where people go to weep and pray. How wrong we are to remain at those places or return to those things God has intentionally destroyed in order to lead us to His real presence right where He wants to live — our hearts and minds! Even our body He destroys in order to replace it one day with an incorruptible body. But we pamper our body so, not realizing we are dying and decaying. We fail to offer it as a true living sacrifice. Oh, we of little faith! The true worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth!
Because of our corrupted and divided religions, we have this morbid tendency to focus on honoring the dead and the corrupt more than the living and, sometimes, even neglecting the living God by our traditions. Our psychology is essentially poisoned by the perceived ghosts we have created by our various beliefs about life and death, constantly thinking that the dead still have power and influence over us either through their wandering souls or their life’s legacies (thus, leading us to idolatry). And where is God in all our bickering?
Moreover, most Christian groups still focus on the pain and sufferings of Christ. It fills their minds and souls with residual ideas of agony and struggle (egged on by their favored “saints” whom they emulate to the neglect of the essential matters of Christ) as they are unable to see and visualize Christ seated in Heaven – alive, reigning and infinitely detached from our Calvary-fixated “remembrance” of how He did it for us. Yes, He did it for us once for all so that the wickedness of humans and our own sins would be erased. But because we are so attached to our own sufferings (through our enemies) and forget that there is a just reckoning for all wickedness, ours and of others, we cannot rise up to a higher plane of faith and reality.
While we live, our duty is to honor Him now as He is and where He is –in Heaven. Let us live life so as to honor Him with a living sacrifice, not with a dead offering of a divided and rebellious living as individuals and as a nation. Leave the judgment for the would-be-resurrected dead to Him. Meantime, let the dead ground swallow the bodies of the dead. Our concern is for our own spirits and of those who still have the chance to find eternal life. Our divided opinions, beliefs and practices as a nation will not serve the cause of Christ in the end.
There is more to this precious life than our own selfish humanistic and political agenda.
Note that Duterte is the 7th president from Marcos, presaging a completion of our nation’s intense testing on its way to achieving its destiny. DU30 also begins his term in 2016, 30 years after Marcos was deposed in 1986 in the globally-celebrated EDSA revolution. Who then among the past presidents after Marcos will we also deny burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani when their turn comes, because we believe they are not real heroes? Remember, two were charged with plunder and jailed — one convicted, the other acquitted. Will there be another one who will stand trial and, perhaps, be convicted? With a few years excepted, the Philippines had always been ruled by leaders who failed to institute real reforms, social justice and genuine progress. How many burials more will rent our nation asunder before we learn the hard lessons of history? Do we now see where we stand? And where we are going? We are a tiny nation fighting a giant across the sea while fighting against each other in the islands and across the globe where we are scattered. We are not only divided; we are also dispersed.
When will we obey Christ’s command: Love your enemies? Or do we think it is a sign of weakness to do so? Well then, Lapu-lapu was a weak leader for having given Magellan, his enemy, a hero’s burial, as the story goes. The chieftain of Mactan refused to give the bodies of the slain Spaniards to Humabon after the battle had ended. In the 70’s, in fact, skeletons of Caucasians were dug up in a mass grave in Mactan, perhaps, the remains of those Europeans. So, here is a local leader whom we consider a pagan and refuse to recognize as a national hero who provided a decent burial for his enemies right in his own turf. Was it because he was not politically-savvy or religiously-sophisticated that he allowed that burial? A simple vain savage?
Lapu-lapu was not afraid that Magellan’s ghost would haunt him and his people. He knew his place in the land of the living enough not to be bothered by the dead, not like some of us who still fear Marcos and his ilk. Yet, here we are denying a square inch of “sacred” land to a former-president whom we have defeated peacefully and gloriously at EDSA (by God’s grace, remember that). Do we find it shameful to do so, when we should count it as a trophy to show our victory over those who dare despoil our nation? Giving an honorable burial to a former-president, which only half of the country (granted) begrudges, would not show our weakness or compromise to plunderers but a real display of our divinely-inspired character. And, if the other half were to give in to those who oppose an honorable burial, then we would be a nation running around like a headless chicken. Or a Cheshire cat’s head, full of smiles, without a body.
Yes, many suffered and died under Marcos’ despotic rule. Many more suffered silently, toiling at their jobs, while others marched the streets in noisy protest as early as the late 1960’s and into the early 70’s. We cannot forget — and we must not. But of what use is our triumph when we are not willing to unite with those who are not our enemies but only hold an opposing opinion? Who will serve as the referee? The Supreme Court which we will barrage with our strong arguments in order to overrule the president who has given his final say on the matter? We pray the SC will have the wisdom of Solomon to untangle this Gordian knot; because it has to deal with an unprecedented president who sees the limitations of the “rule of (human) law” (being a lawyer) and is too well aware (being a devout believer) of the inscrutable power and wisdom of the righteous God Who decides the destinies of peoples and nations.
Yes, we need check-and-balance from co-equal branches of government; however, not in answer to the rule of the mob howling in the wilderness of suffering but by the light of hope and trust in the Lord Who guides our way to our destination. We need – and we have — a president who is not limited by a human-made constitution (which can be changed) but is duty-bound to recognize the prerogatives of a ruler who sees God calling a nation to unite once and for all for its enviable and inevitable role as harbinger of Jesus Christ to the world.
Our constitution does not openly recognize and proclaim Christ as the reigning Prince of Peace and the coming King of Kings. Why? Because we compromise with non-believers, to keep the peace. We admit that peace and unity are such brittle values we must couch with legal or diplomatic niceties. Division, it seems, is a plague we cover with or excuse through our modern ideas? We have structured our lives and our society around that common respect for individuality and diversity of beliefs. Meanwhile, we flounder around on the ocean as an archipelago tossed to and fro from one wave to another – one wicked colonizer to the next, one corrupt government to the next. Until now.
No other nationality is now in a position to proclaim the ascendancy of God in the lives of humans through their faith and their lives than this nation that has suffered for almost five hundred years of oppression and exploitation. What we see unfolding is but a precursor of what Heaven is doing to set things right. Genuine freedom, peace and progress are within our reach now. If we could only believe and work as one nation. . . .
Remember, even our judgments or opinions today of others (whether constitutional, legal or personal) will be used as bases for our own destined judgment whether we will live with God or not for eternity. Do we wish to stand as judges of two presidents, one dead and one living? Or should we leave it to God to ultimately make the judgment when the time comes? The cause of unity is much greater than our right and freedom to express an opinion. What we need desperately now is unity as a nation rather than our ability to uphold our personal democratic rights.
Our commitment to forge a strong and unifying partnership between the people and our leaders has a more fortifying power than our adherence to the preservation of our multidimensional legal, political and cultural rights as a nation. Why tear and throw away a tattered garment in our rage against the cold and die eventually, when we can mend it and hold it close to our body to preserve the warmth that remains?
In the end, God’s love and justice will leave only two divisions among humans – the saved and the condemned — in the Final Judgment. Meanwhile, people will always be divided until they finally decide to be one with God and with one another.
And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:22-23)
(Watch this music video about the history of freedom, wisdom and progress. Or click the link below.)