The meanings of September 11 (or a tale of two dictators)
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Most Americans know it as the day when extremists killed more than two thousand innocent civilians in New York and Washington DC.
This week in Manila, it’s associated with a controversial rally claiming to be against government corruption.
But for many Filipinos and Chileans, September 11 is memorable for other reasons.
It’s Ferdinand Marcos’s birthday and the dictator never got tired of making us remember it when he was in power. (I still remember the fascist song we also had to sing during those years.)
In Chile, it was the day in 1973 when a military coup backed by the United States overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende, launching one of the most brutal regimes in Latin American history.
Last year, we marked the 40th anniversary of the martial law declaration that launched the Marcos dictatorship.
This year, it’s the Chileans’ turn.
They’re marking the 40th anniversary of the bloodbath that ushered in an era of terror.
Here’s another way to see it: Marcos was celebrating his birthday and the first year of his reign of greed and terror when the Chileans were plunged into their own ugly nightmare.
One date, two dictatorships.
In both Chile and the Philippines, it was a time of suffering. People opposed to the regimes were imprisoned, tortured or made to disappear.
The cronies of the dictators grew rich and powerful. People lived in fear, even hopelessness.
But it was also a time of resistance. Young people in Chile and the Philippines found ways, creative and defiant, to fight back. They organized, mobilized, and turned to the arts and theater.
In this journey, despite being separated by distance and language, Chileans and Filipinos actually came to share some of the music in their struggles.
At one juncture stands Victor Jara, the beloved Chilean folk singer and poet.
On September 11, 1973, he was among those arrested in the crackdown. He was tortured by captors who were capable of so much cruelty: they broke his fingers and then taunted him into performing with broken hands. He was defiant till the end. Shortly before he was murdered, according to one account, Victor Jara sang “Venceremos” (We Will Win).
One of his songs reached our archipelago: the uplifting ballad, ‘Levantate,’ which became a Pilipino anthem of protest. Translated by folk singer Jess Santiago, it was popularized by Karina David and Becky Demetillo of Inang Laya.
‘Tumindig ka, bundok ay pagmasdan
Bukal ng hangin ng tubig at ng araw.’
From Chile, during this era of dictatorship, also came the folk group, Quilapayun.
Their songs also reached our shores. One of them, the powerful ‘El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido’ (The People United Will Never Be Defeated) echoed as “Ang Tao, Ang Bayan, Ngayon ay Lumalaban” at street protests during the final years of the Marcos regime.
Eventually, the Filipinos and the Chileans waged triumphant battles against dictatorship.
There were some notable differences.
Filipinos literally chased Marcos out of the country during the 1986 revolt. Pinochet eventually stepped down, but not before rigging the system so that he could remain a “senator for life,” in yet another insult to a nation he abused for so many years.
But we have much to learn from the Chileans who proved relentless in making their dictator account for his crimes.
Pinochet spent the last few years of his life dodging one legal offensive after another by those who believed that he must pay for what he did to Chile.
The barrage became so overwhelming he eventually was forced to admit responsibility for the killings, the tortures and the abuses.
“As an ex-president, I accept responsibility for all the deeds that the army and armed forces are said to have committed,” he said in a videotaped message.
By then, he was facing more than a hundred charges for human rights abuses, and was even arrested during a trip to London.
On the videotaped message, he complained: “I suffered pains, I suffered sadness, and sirs, I suffered much sadness in my heart.”
Pinochet died in 2006.
The man he betrayed and overthrew in 1973 also recorded a final message 40 years ago. And Salvador Allende certainly displayed more dignity and courage as he faced the end.
At the height of the US-backed coup, Allende gave a speech that’s now remembered as one of the most powerful in history.
I never read about it until much later, but like the songs of Victor Jara and Quilapayun, Salvador Allende’s words could very well have been addressed to Filipinos.
As the fascist forces were encircling the presidential palace, Allende told his people: “Go forward, knowing that sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.”
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