What could be so wrong with a Marcos walking among us, showing up in the same parties, attending the same art openings? For years since the former dictator’s family returned to the county, their presence in dinners and cultural events have invariably been welcomed, tolerated, quietly frowned upon.
And then came July 2014 when netizens and Ateneo alumni expressed outrage over former First Lady Imelda Marcos giving a speech as guest-of-honor in an event of the Ateneo Scholarship Foundation. Fr. Jett Villarin, president of the university, apologized in a statement, saying Ateneo “will never forget the Martial Law years of oppression and injustice presided over by Mr Ferdinand Marcos.”
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Last April 10, however, Villarin would issue an apology yet again over a Marcos presence in the Loyola Heights campus. A group of students from Ateneo officially expressed their dismay when Irene Marcos Araneta was spotted in an outdoor art opening held April 7 on university grounds.
“The Loyola Schools student body condemns the invitation and participation of Irene Marcos in Arete’s ampitheater launch,” said the “Indignation Statement” from the Sanggunian ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila. “It is nothing but ironic that a Marcos participated in the event of the institution. It is the university’s central space for creative, adaptive and independent thinking—values that the Marcoses systematically destroyed during the darkest era in Philippine history.”
The statement called Marcos-Araneta’s presence a “grave insult and vehement mockery” to Martial Law’s martyrs and survivors; and the invitation from Arete “a form of shameless compliance” to the movement Ateneo purports to oppose: “the erasure of Martial Law crimes from history” and from the ongoing senatorial campaign discourse.
In response, Villarin in a statement posted on social media April 10, wrote “The University recognizes her presence, even in a personal capacity, has cast doubts regarding its solidarity with the victims of the Martial Law regime. We offer our deepest apologies for the hurt this has brought.” In the same statement, the Ateneo de Manila University president also announced he accepted the voluntary resignation of the executive director of Arete, Yael Buencamino, who had extended the invitation to Marcos-Araneta. “I have accepted her resignation, even as I acknowledge with gratitude her exemplary performance in shepherding Arete during this nascent stage of its development.”
Arete is Ateneo’s creative hub which was launched in 2017. Buencamino is the daughter of the writer Elvira Araneta who is the sister of Greggy Araneta, the husband of Irene.
Many members of the art community are saddened by the news of Buencamino’s exit. Not a few say she is a big loss to the institution. In a Facebook comment, the playwright Floy Quintos describes her as an arts manager and intellectual of high caliber, “a vital, dynamic and very erudite director who has set the tone for the Ateneo Art Gallery, and then for Arete’s direction.” We sought Buencamino for comments but she has yet to reply to our messages.
Some people say the reaction to Marcos-Araneta’s presence in the university was a little too much and too late. “Irene has been going to Ateneo Art Gallery events since Yael joined 10 years ago,” offers one gallerist.
“We always see Irene in art openings, why protest only now?” says a curator. “I feel sad for Yael but that took a lot of guts. It can’t be helped if you’re related to a controversial family.” The same curator adds that she shares the same sentiment as another artist: that art places should be places of neutrality—“But with what’s happening right now everyone is compelled to make a statement or make a stand.”
The attendance of the Marcoses in cultural events don’t get raised as often, although there have been Facebook posts about Irene’s presence in the yearly Art Fair Philippines where, according to some, “she imposes her presence—just by being there. And what are we supposed to do?”
“Irene’s presence would have blown over in a day,” says the editor Jo-Ann Maglipon in a message shared by Ateneo Press’s Karina Africa Bolasco on Facebook. “But Ateneo has shown us all that, in fact, NOTHING IS EVER TOO SMALL, NOTHING IS EVER JUST INNOCENT...It is these tiny and courteous and easy invites that have eased the Marcoses back into our lives.”
Kiri Dalena was at the now controversial opening with her mother, the famed sculptor Julie Lluch. “What makes the presence of Irene disturbing is not simply because of her last name," says the artist and filmmaker when we seek her opinion. "Her presence disturbs because she brings forth a past that has brought irreparable wounds to thousands of Filipino families. Closure in the real sense is not yet possible. Do we know of any Marcos child who has acknowledged and shown remorse for the gravity of the violence, corruption and abuse that flourished and became systemic under their father’s dictatorial rule? Do we know of any Marcos child who has expressed shame over their illegally accumulated billions, their life of undisturbed power and privilege enjoyed with the fullness of impunity?”
The brouhaha has completely overshadowed the installation work that was the cause for the invitation in the first place. It is a piece by the artists Cristina “Ling” Quisumbing and Wawi Navarroza, made of cut strips of gina silk painstakingly hand-knotted on fishing nets. From afar, it looks like something has been set on fire— which in a way echoes the installation’s controversial outcome. Second, the work is called “Everywhere, There You Are”—which is not a bad description of where the Marcoses are in contemporary Philippine life. Imee Marcos is running for a seat in the senate, and she and her family have ties with the current administration.
“From what I know of the installation and what went into making that piece it’s about bringing people together. Art as a way to uplift,” says a good friend of Quisumbing. As for what she thought of the reaction to Marcos-Araneta’s presence in the opening: “Art is for everyone. No matter what your last bake is. It's a public event. She can go if she wants to...To censor who can come to see it and for Ateneo to make an official stand is a slippery slope. It seems all too righteous to me.”
Meanwhile, the image of Marcos-Araneta, in her crisp summer blouse and Panama hat, scrutinizing the strips of fiery orange fabric like a haciendera checking the day’s harvest, is an image that will likely remain in the cultural community’s consciousness for sometime. Her presence and Buencamino's resignation remain a hot topic online and on group Viber threads. Much has been said about the issue. Some say, Why stop at Irene? What about the other Marcoses? What if a Marcos enrolls in the Ateneo? Will they stop him or her, too?
What could really be so wrong with Marcoses walking among us? “Multiplied a thousand fold [her “graciousness and kindness” to the art community] will never succeed in masking the greater darkness that she also embodies, everywhere she goes,” adds Dalena. “While I deeply regret the loss of the Areté Executive Director as a consequence of this incident, I warmly commend the students of the Ateneo De Manila University for giving voice to a sentiment that only a minority in the art scene appear to share or dare to articulate.”
Irene Marcos Araneta photos courtesy of Panday Sining Katipunan