Come March, two movies will again battle it out at the tills: Darryl Ong’s “Martyr or Murderer?” and Vince Tanada’s ” I am Ninoy.” Both films lack the cinematic brilliance a Lino Brocka or a Mike de Leon brings to the table, reflective of the local film industry’s deep creative crises. These films are what many call “survival” projects megged by directors who lack the depth of their predecessors. Anyway…
Ong’s movie presents a flawed predicate. He wants his viewers to judge whether we Filipinos treat former Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. and former president Ferdinand Marcos Junior as either “martyrs” or a “murderers.” The question is nonsensical because both Aquino and Marcos are complex characters. One cannot judge their actions as actions of a murderer or a martyr. As leaders, Aquino and Marcos faced challenges that tested their intellectual, religious, and moral mettle. For the sake of Mr. Ong, let me review my history books and provide him with a sufficient answer. But, lemme me first define what the world consider a murderer and a martyr.
The Cambridge dictionary describes a murderer as someone who illegally and intentionally kills another person (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/murderer). So, there are four (4) clear requisites for a person to be considered a murderer: he executes an (1) act of killing against (2) another person in an (3) illegal yet (4)intentional manner.
How about a martyr? A martyr is a person who suffers very much or is killed because of their religious or political beliefs and is often admired because of it.https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/martyr. The root word for martyr is in Arabic which literally means a “witness.”https://oxfordre.com/religion/display/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-433;jsessionid=331EE888EF36071F9434219FC2338543?__prclt=fUoaiXUB. So, therefore, a martyr is someone who witnessed an event that which he despises or militates against due to his political or religious belief and that that person is even willing to lay down his life or suffer because of this belief and is admired by the people for doing so. Hence, to be considered a “martyr”, there are four (4) clear requisites: first, the person should be a witness, act against what he witnessed, based on his political/religious beliefs, show strong convictions or willingness to be killed or to suffer because of this belief and gets strong popular probation because of his act.
Is former president Ferdinand Marcos a murderer? He was’nt. He served as a guerilla during World War two. Did he even fight during the war? Certain accounts by the USAFFE show that he rarely fought because he was close to the Japanese puppet Jose Laurel who served as president of the Japanese-sponsored republic. For the sake of honoring his sacrifice for the nation, we may give Mr. Marcos the benefit of the doubt that he killed a man or many men during the war. (We cannot count the murder of Nalindasan, the political opponent of his father, as a kill because Mr. Marcos ably defended or exonerated himself in front of the Supreme Court for that). However, those kills were not illegitimate because the country was under a state of war, and Mr. Marcos was, in fact, a combatant with the license to kill.
When he became president, did Mr. Marcos give orders that led to the deaths of several men? Yes, he did. Thousands of Filipino activists and ordinary folks, particularly those belonging to indigenous peoples, died at the hands of the military, which Mr. Marcos ordered in several instances. Were those orders by Mr. Marcos illegitimate? No, they weren’t. Were those orders intentional? Yes, they were. They were given at a time when the state was under threat from its political enemies. Under the principle of self-preservation, Mr. Marcos had to do what he had to do, and that was, murder people who state forces consider as enemies of the state. And Mr. Marcos did so cloaked with Proclamation 1081 that he signed which placed the entire Philippines under martial law. Is it relevant to question the legality of such an order? Yes, and the Supreme Court did affirm the exercise of such powers under the principle of “executive discretion.”
How about the numerous human rights violations perpetrated by state forces during martial law? Well, if some instances were upon orders of Mr. Marcos and if those acts involved the arrest or murder of a non-combatant, meaning, not a member of the insurgency group, then, by all means, that is an illegal and intentional abuse of power. So, in the category of a murderer, Mr. Marcos obviously fit the label to a “t.”
How about in the category of a “martyr”? Did Mr. Marcos sacrifice his life for the people? Did he suffer for the sake of the many? Review the film reels during his tumultuous administration, and you’ll get your answer. Did he sacrifice himself when he left Malacanan in 1986? No, that was not a sacrifice. It was an act of self-preservation. Mr. Marcos decided to get out of Malacanang after getting reliable information that several thousands of angry Filipinos were out to get him and his family. So, Mr. Marcos did what he did because he and his family feared for their lives. Does one count “sacrificing power” as an act of martyrdom? If Mr. Ong thinks it was, then indeed, Mr. Ong is some silly and stupid person.
When Mr. Marcos died, did thousands of people attend his funeral hearse? Did we hear anybody praising him for “his sacrifice” for leaving Malacanan and dying in a nondescript hospital in the United States?
When Mr. Marcos died in Hawaii, did he sacrifice his life back then? No, he did not. He died due to complications brought about by lupus, an auto-immune disease. He did not die due to a bullet wound inflicted by an enemy. He did not experience incarceration during his lifetime except for a brief moment when he was accused of having murdered a political nemesis. So, there was never a time when Mr. Marcos suffered like how a martyr experienced that qualified them to be called “martyrs.”
Okay, so we go to former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. Did Aquino murder anybody? For the record, none. Even during the time that he took part in the Korean war, Mr. Aquino served there as a war correspondent, a harmless job that required no murdering skills.
Of course, Mr. Aquino was falsely accused of being a Communist, a member of the fledgling insurgency that indeed served their political purposes as a counterpose against the dictatorship of Mr. Marcos. Did Mr. Aquino take part in decisions that led to the deaths of soldiers or civilians during Martial law? Review the records of the military tribunal that tried Mr. Aquino, and you will not find any evidence that directly proves Mr. Aquino was a murderer.
When Mr. Aquino was in Boston after undergoing surgery due to heart complications caused by years of incarceration without any lawful charge, did he order the murder of several Filipinos from there? No, Mr. Aquino did nothing of that sort. He worked as a political analyst there and paid for his living expenses there as an academic. Did he and his family suffer during those times? Yes, they did. Mr. Aquino belonged to one of the country’s wealthiest families, and despite his enormous wealth, Mr. Aquino elected to live a spartan life in the United States.
Did Mr. Aquino sacrifice his well-being when he decided to come back to the Philippines despite repeated warnings from the Marcoses that he might get himself shot? Yes, Mr. Aquino did, indeed, sacrifice his life. Mr. Aquino was so motivated by the rightness of his cause and the belief in the goodness of people that he threw caution out of the window and hopped on that plane to existential glory.
Did Mr. Aquino do what he did (go back to RP) for his self-survival? No. The fact is, Mr. Aquino’s act was for some people, stupid because why would go to the lion’s den? Because of his strong convictions against events or actions being undertaken by the dictator Marcos which Mr. Aquino deemed against his political and religious beliefs, Mr. Aquino was strongly motivated to sacrifice his life and even die for his cause. Mr. Aquino’s sacrifice earned him the Filipino people’s praise. That 1982 funeral procession when more than a million Filipinos braved the elements and the police just to participate in the longest political hearse in human history was proof positive that Mr. Aquino did, acted as a martyr when he was still alive.
So there. This movie began with a predicate that is sooooo flawed that it would just be a waste of one’s precious onion money if you intend to watch it. No amount of people speaking or kanto language would erase the acts of these two gentlemen, one from Ilocos and the other one, from Tarlac. Mr. Ong’s movie is an attempt at re-imagining the historical behavior of these two fine gentlemen, something, that he does not have the intellectual or creative abilities to give these gentlemen some justice. It is utterly unpatriotic for someone to just simplify the lives of these gentlemen in an attempt to “popularize” their acts with the intention of creating a connection with the people. The people are not stupid, Mr. Ong. They know their history.
Yes, we give him an “a” for “effort” believing that the Marcoses deserve the right to be heard by the people of their version of historical truth. Everybody deserves their day in the people’s court. Yet, it’s kabakyaan even stupid to begin giving the Marcoses their day in court by asking a question that is without any sense at all. At best, Mr. Ong’s movie is part of what many people term “urban legends” or “populist insanity.” Lemme correct this– this movie is not an urban legend because frankly, most Filipinos do not even ask themselves who between Mr. Marcos and Mr. Aquino were murderers or martyrs. No one asks that question anymore because it is clear that Mr. Marcos was never a martyr–maybe a guerilla hero, yes, but far from being a martyr. Mr. Aquino was, indeed a martyr and no evidence proves that he was a murderer, let alone orchestrated a murderous act that caused the deaths of many. Mr. Marcos did that for his ego. Ergo, Mr. Ong created a movie out of nothing. And he has the gall of announcing to the world how brilliant he is as a director, excuse me. As the former actress Cherry Gil once said, ” “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard copycat!”