Around the time of the controversy that surrounded the Duterte-sponsored surreptitious burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 2016 at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, an Ateneo school that I shall not name invited me to a forum on the topic.

I had written twice that the body one saw at the mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte was not Marcos but a wax model. It was a great hoax imeldifically scripted to bolster the fake narrative that the kleptocratic family was a victim of state bullying because the state refused him burial. Viewing the dictator’s finely chiseled “corpse,” a Marcos family confidante whispered to me that this was not Marcos. “The real corpse lies buried underneath” that fake glass catafalque, he intimated. It was not even a refrigerated crypt that Imelda had once ventured to narrate.

True enough, when that hush-hush burial took place in November 2016, the dictator’s remains were contained in a coffin that was tiny enough for a small child’s cadaver. Obviously it contained only his skeletal remains. The body had long corrupted. I wonder how the family had disposed of that wax model. They can donate it to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

I thus carried that viewpoint on my way to that Ateneo forum as a resource person. I had first-hand knowledge of the Marcos family’s necropolitical deception.

There was a second resource person invited to speak before the forum. She was the daughter of a Marcos cabinet minister. She spoke about how good Marcos was, that he was not corrupt, that it was not true he stole from government and killed his critics.

Did that lady enjoy her freedom of opinion? Of course she did. Yet by allowing her to present a divergent view where there should have been none, the forum missed a delicate matter of truth and which it failed to expound: that the diversity of opinion does not thrive under authoritarian conditions. Marcos was a prime example: he killed dissent. 

So what should schools teach without oversimplifying diversity? In fact, schools can shape human psychology’s tolerance for diversity. But more importantly, that diversity must be rooted in an education for informed democratic participation, that there are evils that imperil democracy.

The day was saved when during the open forum, a young female student stood up and gave an account of how her father had become a desaparecido. The student was 2 years old that day her father was taken by three armed men, never to be seen again. The father was suspected to be a New People’s Army sympathizer. His two brothers suffered the same red tagging. One was shot to death, the other jailed.

Orphaned later of her mother, the student had also narrated that she and her sibling were part of Claimants 1081, the group of Marcos martial law human rights victims that sought indemnification through the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), the government body created by RA 10368, the Human Rights Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013. 

The immorality of tyranny that kills its enemies and critics, that plunders the state’s coffers to enrich themselves, that governs by one-man rule to silence the people’s democratic right to citizenship, is not up for debate. There are no pros and cons to it.

By reducing it to a debate of opinions, it wrongly tells its students that the perception of the Marcoses is a matter of attitude. It is not. It is a corruption of human dignity that must be taught. 

The moment schools invoke academic freedom of opinion on the Marcoses, it treads on the dangerous ground of relativizing crime. Perhaps that is part of the reason why the vast Marcos machinery of disinformation and the distortion of history found fertile ground. 

In fact, very recent studies have shown that the taming of authoritarianism can be taught as general skills necessary to sustain democracy. When students learn that political participation contributes to democracy, that school has taught well.

It will be a curious phenomenon how an authoritarian like Inday Sara Duterte can influence the crucial work of educating the nation as secretary of education. What will she teach that will not bring us further into the setback of our miseducation on democracy?