R.I.P., Rest in Pieces: Mnemonic Transnationality, Travel, and Translation of the Marcos Burial in the Heroes’ Cemetery

Abstract

On 18 November 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte allowed the interment of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani or Heroes’ Cemetery. This essay interrogates the discrepancy between two mnemonic signifiers that lay claim to patriotism and nationhood: the Libingan and Marcos’ body. Close reading the burial process via the frameworks of memory, ideology, cultural studies, and translation studies allows a focus, not only on the cemetery as a site but also on the mnemonic discursive interventions of the Marcos family. As hegemonic memory agents fueled by money, myth, and exilic privileges linked to the USA, the Marcoses exploit the political translated body of the patriarch. As such, dictatorial exile is partly divested of its admonishing power. While the translation (as mobility and “survival”) of the corpse attempts to absorb the heroic signification of the cemetery, in turn, the honorable signification of the lieu de mémoire is also discursively challenged. Hence, while Marcos now rests among the heroes, most of his desaparecidos still want entombment. Notions of the nation are also therefore challenged. The paper thus demonstrates how a “fixed” mnemonic signifier, such as a cemetery exemplifying patriotism, can be modified through “memory entrepreneurs.” Understanding memory-as-process, and not only memory-as-site, allows us to discern the hegemonic meaning-making in memory politics by revealing the means and not only the ends. This perspective questions the malleability of space and takes us towards the horizon of what Ricœur calls a “just allotment of memory.”

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In 1988, Ferdinand’s mother, Josefa Edralin, died in the Philippines. Since the old woman apparently desired to see her son at her deathbed, this wish was used by the Marcos family to campaign for a return to the country. The year after, 1989, when Marcos died, Bongbong declared their intention of repatriating the body in order for the ashes to fertilize the country (cf. Masangkay 2017). In 1991, Imelda went back to the Philippines to face charges. However, her presence also increased the lobby for the body’s return (see Masangkay for a more detailed narrative).

  2. 2.

    Since June 2019, Imee Marcos has secured a seat in the Senate

  3. 3.

    At the time of going to press, Bongbong remains adamant that he was cheated.

  4. 4.

    Or perhaps only the casket: there is suspicion that the body is still in Ilocos and that what is “buried” in the Libingan is only an empty casket (see Robles 2016 under References).

  5. 5.

    See Martin, 2013 under References.

  6. 6.

    “Translation” can mean both linguistic maneuvering and corporal displacement. When dead bodies are moved, we say that they are “translated.”

  7. 7.

    Similar to the recent third wave of memory studies which, in Erll’s idea, no longer limits itself to one culture (2011, p.6), Translation studies sees itself not only as “translation in culture” but also as “translation as culture” (Brodzki 2007, p. 11, emphasis in the original). According to Bella Brodzki (2007),

    “We are most accustomed to thinking of translation as an empirical linguistic manoeuver, but excavating or unearthing burial sites or ruins in order to reconstruct traces of the physical and textual past in a new context is also a mode of translation … In the process of being transferred from one realm or condition to another, the source event or idea is necessarily reconfigured … the original… whose identity has been redefined” (p. 4).

  8. 8.

    Brodzki further notes that, in the “Task of the Translator” (1923), Walter Benjamin compares translation with an “afterlife” through two German words he uses interchangeably: Fortleben—prolonging life, surviving; and Überleben—outliving, outlasting, “above” life. The latter means that “this life referred to exceeds nature, biology, organic corporeality alone … Übersetzen means, not surprisingly, translation” (Brodzki, 2007, 187, emphasis in the original). Consequently, in her work, Can These Bones Live?, Brodzki (2007) explains translation as survival, “a process that extends life, but one that also prolongs the meaning traces of death-in-life, life after death, and life after life” (p. 5).

  9. 9.

    Jacques Derrida coined the concept of mid-mourning or démi-deuil to describe an ethical attitude to enable one to not forget those who have died. In Béliers, Derrida (2003) explains “Melancholia is supposed to be the failure and pathology of this mourning. But if I must (this is ethics itself) carry the other in myself in order to be faithful to that other, to respect its singular alterity, a certain melancholia must still protest against normal mourning” (74).

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks Mr. Jeffrey Panguito for the photos, Ms. Mary Ann Gorobao for her informative help on the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and Dr. Philip Milligan for his thorough reading of the article.

Funding

The author thanks the Ateneo LS Scholarly Grant for its partial funding.

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Correspondence to Jocelyn S. Martin.

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Martin, J.S. R.I.P., Rest in Pieces: Mnemonic Transnationality, Travel, and Translation of the Marcos Burial in the Heroes’ Cemetery. Int J Polit Cult Soc 32, 423–437 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-019-09330-x

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Keywords

  • Lieu de mémoire
  • Memory
  • Philippines
  • Libingan ng mga Bayani
  • Agency
  • Body