Compassion or fatigue
Having voted last May 9, 2016 at the Philippine embassy in Berlin, I strolled through the German capital’s west, stopping shortly past noon at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church. Curiosity about its broken spire ushered me into the remnant of the Protestant temple that Second World War air raids wrecked.
The narthex houses interesting artifacts. On the ceiling, a mosaic Redeemer holds the globe in his left hand and raises his right in a gesture of blessing. On the floor, Saint Michael the Archangel vanquishes the dragon. Text on the walls tells visitors stories of some parishioners and pilgrims including a girl named Karin Keins.
Born to Jewish parents, Karin received the sacrament of baptism in 1934 in this worship space. But she was not spared from Nazi cruelty. In 1942, they deported her along with her parents to Riga, Latvia, where they all died.
Karin was only 8 years old.
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Rows of rapeseed flowers yellowed plots of land on Berlin’s outskirts. Passing through aboard an evening bus to Hamburg, I remembered the bloody record of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Years ago, I first met a martial law survivor, Cebuano journalist Juan Mercado in the old office of Cebu Daily News along Escario Street in uptown Cebu City.
After Marcos proclaimed martial law in 1972, police arrested and jailed Sir Johnny and fellow scribes. Mooting habeas corpus petitions filed at the Supreme Court, the strongman eventually freed the media practitioners.
In contrast, fortune failed multitudes. “The Marcos regime killed more than 3,200 people, tortured 35,000, and incarcerated 70,000,” Sir Johnny wrote in his column “Viewpoint” that I used to proofread.
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Marcos’ son and namesake, nicknamed “Bongbong” led the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting’s tally of votes for vice president on election day.
“I understand that many voters chose Rodrigo Duterte for president out of frustration with the status quo,” my father told me via Viber. “But I cannot understand why they like Bongbong.”
Many who voted for Bongbong endured his father’s misrule. Not all millennials who supported him are ignorant of the destructive dictatorship that he spins as the golden age of Philippine history. But mere recall of the dark past does not generate a boycott of its principals.
Across the country, on the anniversary of the yellow Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986 (Feb. 25), commemoration of the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. (Aug. 21) and related occasions, journalists disseminate content honoring martial law victims and survivors. Scholars call this mediation of suffering.
Thirty years after Marcos, Filipinos do understand the martial law period. Thousands vanished, perished or lost their loved ones back then. Nevertheless, in a perversion of remembrance, some voters dismembered from themselves the casualties of martial rule, constituting them as others with no claim to compassion. In this context of constituted others, is mediated suffering terminating in compassion fatigue?
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Though riddled with cracks, the scars of war, the mosaic Christ on the ceiling of the ruined Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church blesses every guest.
Worshippers and audiences go to the next building — a new, steel, glass and concrete one for services and concerts.
Yet the old church preserves the memory of little Karin Keins, 74 years after she was banished to her death from a land that is learning to live as a sanctuary for exiles.
Will Pinoys partake of the pain of their forebears? Out of compassion, until the liable do justice to the nation they scarred, we ought to refrain from just moving on.
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