On a more personal level, the butterfly has become my symbol of remembering and connecting with my departed wife Mae. A few days before Mae passed, I was abroad and had no intimation of an impending tragedy. On the return trip, I had a layover at Singapore’s Changi airport, and some unexplainable thing enticed me to visit the Butterfly Garden located at a transit lounge. The colorful butterflies of varying species were a source of beauty and wonderment.
But before boarding the flight to Manila, I received a text message from my sister (-in-law) Yeb. She said Mae was confined at the National Kidney Center. It turned out that I didn’t receive her earlier text message, which she sent days earlier. Upon arrival, I rushed to the hospital. That late evening and the following morning were my last moments with Mae.
The butterfly has kept on appearing since then — at Mae’s wake; in the commemoration of her first death anniversary; at the memorials for her brother Boy and our family friend Edita; in a walk at the university’s Area 1 neighborhood, which was her family’s former residence; in the course of the Camino de Santiago; in my journey to Incan civilization; during lunch with Mae’s lady friends; and in other events, special or ordinary.
My cousin Susan recalls one occasion: “We were out on a stroll, and we were rewarded with a spectacular sight — a sea of bluebells. More meaningful was the appearance of a yellow butterfly that led us through the woodlands of Basildon Park, as you were talking about Mae. She was with us all along.”
Father Louie David, S. J. told me that the butterfly has been a symbol of resurrection since the pre-Christian times. For me, the appearance of a butterfly symbolizes Mae. She continues to guide me and remind me that despite a cruel world, life is beautiful.
During the pre-school graduation of Belle, her favorite grandniece, I was hoping to feel Mae through the butterfly. The butterfly, unfortunately, didn’t appear at the park where the graduation ceremony was held.
But lo and behold, at the UP Town Center where Belle’s family treated company to lunch, I came across a butterfly image on the glass wall of a toy shop. It was a proxy for the real butterfly, but good enough to represent Mae’s presence for Belle. A symbol like the butterfly can be interpreted and reinterpreted in different ways.
I reinterpret the symbol of the butterfly in a positive way. But in some cases the reinterpretation can be for the worse.
The swastika serves as an appropriate example.
For several thousands of years till now, the swastika has been a sacred symbol for Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, and Heathens. In Sanskrit, swastika (or svastika) means “well-being.” But Hitler and his Nazis appropriated the swastika, and it has likewise become a symbol of fascism and extreme-right movements.
The swastika and the reinterpretation of symbols bring me to the issue of the dictatorship the and Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
By its very name, Libingan is a hallowed site. A person interred at Libingan is honored. In this light, the Marcos burial at Libingan is not a reinterpretation but a distortion of history and reality. Marcos — a fascist dictator, a thief and plunderer, a murderer and human rights violator, a fake war hero, an inveterate liar, a philanderer — deserves no honor.
Marcos’s burial plot at the Libingan is the equivalent of the Spanish dictator Franco’s Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen). Franco, the Falangists, and their ultraconservative allies instigated a coup d’etat to overthrow the Republican government. This led to a bloody civil war, which ended in the defeat of the Republicans and the imposition of a dictatorship that lasted from 1939 to Franco’s death in 1975.
Franco built Valle as a monument and burial site for his fallen reactionary soldiers. Franco himself is buried there. Valle became a tourist attraction, but in trips to Spain, my siblings and I refused to visit it, precisely because of its dark symbolism.
Franco has fallen from grace. His monuments are being obliterated and vandalized. Valle has lost its glory.
Marcos, too, has fallen. But history moves in a zigzag fashion (like Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to let Marcos be buried at Libingan). Despite the zigzags, history is progressive. Marcos’s burial at Libingan will not in any way revise the verdict that he was a fascist dictator, a thief and plunderer, a murderer and human rights violator, an inveterate liar, a philanderer.
It’s only a matter of time before Marcos’s tomb at Libingan, like Franco’s monuments, will be removed, if not vandalized. And there will be no butterfly for Marcos’s resurrection or redemption.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.