COMMENTARY: The ghosts of presidents past. By Nikki Rivera Gomez

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 July) — In 1986, when the country was bathed in the yellow glow of hope and happiness, I joined Cory Aquino’s government upon the invitation of Marriz Agbon, an old friend from Davao. Marriz was assistant director of a newly-reorganized agency that had its roots in the Bureau of National and Foreign Information (BNFI), a Seventies outfit. In its heyday, the BNFI produced The Archipelago, one of the country’s finest literary journals edited by the revered Gregorio Brillantes. It also put out the highly-respected The Manila Review, whose contributors included such names as Adrian Cristobal, Alfrredo Navaro Salanga, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Jose and Tita Ayala, and Nick Joaquin.

That was way back then, when a young Ferdinand Marcos, having an eye for good talent, began promoting the country from the perspective of public intellectuals and independent thinkers. Marcos, of course, didn’t remain enamored of such writers, having jailed many of them in the name of “national security” a decade later. Not a few among such bright young minds, including the acclaimed poet Eman Lacaba, ended up dead.

And so it came to pass, upon Cory’s assumption to power, that the BNFI would undergo a makeover. It was this reorganized agency in 1986, rather staidly called the Bureau of Communications Services (BCS), that Marriz and I somehow ended up in.

My stint at the BCS was mostly uneventful. There were some forgettable essays to write, a few articles to edit for some presidential monograph, information campaigns to design that barely took off. Once or twice I got to see the President up close. But beyond that, duty at the office was so routine I’d moonlight on two or three writing jobs at a time. I could imagine that Marriz was much better off and fulfilled in his job, virtually running the entire office and calling the shots. He was good at that.

Me, I’d repair to my nook, get my minimal deliverables over with, and proceed to writing, either for some other “client” or for myself.

One of the themes of my writings then was Cory Aquino’s call for reconciliation. Indeed, I was part of her administration, and yet I disagreed with one of her domestic policies. Having come from Mindanao at the height of Marcos’s dictatorship, I felt that the President’s call, well-meaning as it may have been, flew in the face of the previous government’s systematic oppression that spawned human rights victims by the thousands.

“Everyone was raving about the ‘democratic space’ and the Aquino government’s policy of reconciliation, but these were, quite simply, rhetoric in the face of continuing injustice,” I wrote then in an essay published in the now defunct Midweek.

As early as 1983, just months after Ninoy Aquino was murdered, calls for “national reconciliation” were promptly issued by the Church and some pious members of the moderate opposition. That campaign had disturbed many of us in what was then called the “alternative press.” (I was then writing for publications independent of the political status quo.) And in one of my editorials, I minced no words:

The basic questions remain: Is it logically or scientifically probable for polarized social     forces to reconcile, taking into mind the reality that such polarization has come about  precisely because freedom and authoritarianism are irreconcilable?

The word ‘reconciliation’ presupposes the existence of a divisive precedent. Is it not but correct for us to focus on eliminating first the unjust conditions that have led to such a precedent? Is it not but wise to tackle first the root causes of social injustice, of political repression, of why the state is isolated from the people?

Three years later, on the eve of joining government, I was brooding over the same issue. In another opinion piece, I was more forthright:

We join the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines in its prayers for lasting peace and reconciliation under the new leadership. We acknowledge the political catalyst that ousted a most hated dictator, and our hopes are focused towards the rebuilding of a ravaged country through cooperation, understanding, and sincerity.

Much, however, has yet to be done—as admitted by President Aquino herself. There remains the problem of the landless farmers, for instance, the legacy of injustice left behind by the Marcos regime. Sectoral problems like the plight of the urban poor must be faced squarely by the present government. ..

The whole military complex, which includes pseudo-religious sects like the notorious Lost Command, the Tadtad, and the Pulahan, has yet to be steered clear from its fascist history. The Agence France-Press opined recently that the Philippine military apparatus may well be Cory Aquino’s “toughest hurdle.”

Today, nearly 25 years later, I listen to Cory Aquino’s only son say on national television that “there can be no reconciliation without justice.” His declaration stuns me, and much as I am a skeptic at heart, I find it difficult to doubt his sincerity.

It is true that Noynoy Aquino is born to wealth, although his branch of the Cojuancos can hardly be considered the more privileged. It is also true that, as our new leader, he can ill-afford to be our knight errant, especially when he begins to confront our most debilitating problems: state institutions eroded by corruption, thieves and murderers who have redefined the meaning of depravity, and a body politic jaded and cynical. This nation has had enough dead Boy Scouts to be convinced that idealism has long been passé.

But as one comes down at the end of the road, there’s no other choice but to hope. At a time when former rulers continue to prance and preen about us bereft of remorse, at a time when sycophants appear on primetime TV while an entire populace reels from plunder, and at a time when even jailed suspects to monstrous crimes can silence witnesses with no other power than their closeness to presidents and generals, a bedeviled people is left with no other recourse but to yearn for, and believe in change, in deliverance, in justice before reconciliation.

It is almost 1986 all over again, only better. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Nikki Rivera Gomez lives and works in Davao City as a communications counselor.)