Just one day before the inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (PBBM), I moderated a discussion organized by the Embassies of France and the Czech Republic at the Alliance française de Manila, with no less than the Ambassadors Michéle Boccoz of France and Jana Sediva-Treybalova of the Czech Republic leading preparations to mark the handover of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from the French to the Czechs.
Entitled “The unbearable lightness of European history: Franco-Czech author Milan Kundera on the trauma of foreign invasion”, the round table brought together Czech socialist-era expert Adéla Gjuričová, the French specialist of foreign policy Nicolas Tenzer and Filipino novelist, essayist, and literary editor Sarge Lacuesta.
It was based on Kundera’s exploration of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s view of the “eternal return”, the theory dating back to the pre-Socratic Greeks that “every event in the universe, in all its detail and in all its cosmic context, will happen an infinite number of times in exactly the same way as it has already happened an infinite number of times in the past.
There is no better argument to illustrate the idea of ”eternal return” than on the morning of February 24, 2022, when Vladimir Putin launched a special military operation to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine, sending a series of missile attacks across Ukraine, including the capital. Kyiv, followed by a large ground invasion from several directions.
The incident has happened before, in particular on August 21, 1968, when Soviet tanks, accompanied by half a million Warsaw Pact soldiers, drove through the streets of Prague to crush what history calls the Prague Spring, a brief period of political reforms, including a relaxation of restrictions on media, speech and travel in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia.
And yet, while we’ve touched on a wide range of topics, from the role of language in the face of foreign aggression to the meaning of right and wrong in politics, we haven’t quite mentioned a repeat of history that unfolds right before us – PBBM’s inauguration as the 17th President of the Philippines has been scheduled for the following day, June 30, 2022, to repeat a similar event 56 years prior, the inauguration of his father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., in as 10th on December 30, 1965, although the first was held at the National Museum of the Philippines while the second was held approximately 500 yards away, at the Quirino Stand.
I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I will be one of those who embellish things. -Friedrich Nietzsche
We are no strangers to history repeating itself – On December 20, 1987, the ferry MV Dona Paz, departing from Tacloban for Manila with over 4,000 passengers (it was only built for 1,400), sank in Tablas Strait after colliding with an oil tanker. Considered the worst maritime disaster in peacetime, it was, according to National Geographic, the Titanicreferring to the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ ship on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 15, 1912. The recurrence, ultimately, was three times worse, as the death toll of the Titanic was only between 1,503 and 1,517 based on different US and UK estimates compared to the estimated total of 4,386 who perished in the Dona Paz disaster.
But history repeating itself isn’t always a bad thing. In some cases, it’s a matter of past example.
Manuel L. Quezon’s “open door policy” which saved 1,300 Jews from persecution and death at the hands of Nazi Germany between 1937 and 1941, for example, must have inspired our desire to offer the the same refuge for Vietnamese “boat people” fleeing the Vietnam after the war in the late 1970s.
Today, amid the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, the Philippines has kept its doors open. “In line with its long tradition of humanitarian assistance, the Philippines stands ready to welcome Ukrainians seeking refuge in their country,” the Foreign Ministry, headed by then-Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, said in April.
If history is to repeat itself under PBBM, perhaps we can pray for a revival of his father’s greatest achievements in, say, infrastructure development, which improved the road network from 55,778 kilometers in 1965 to 77,950 in 1970 to 161,000 kilometers in 1985.
In a working paper published in 2002, “Notes on Infrastructure: Then, Now, and Tomorrow”, referring to a summary of road construction efforts during the terms of Philippine presidents from 1977 to 2002 – Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Joseph Estrada – directed by Dr. Gilbert Llanto, then Deputy Director General of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), its author Gerardo P. Sicat wrote: “The paintings are a revelation…especially for the many who have had amnesia of the past before Mrs. Aquino’s time in the presidency. Most infrastructure investments in the past were made during the Marcos era. These range from building roads and bridges to building airports, expanding irrigation and rural electrification.
Like his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, PBBM must also pay particular attention to education, which is perhaps why he appointed no less than Vice President Sara Duterte to this post. His father allocated most of the budget to education, which caused the literacy rate to rise from 72% in 1965 to 93% in 1985. Such a dramatic rise bears repeating, as does the so -called “building complex”, a brutalist. expression of ego, grandiosity and naked ambition or “Imeldific” associated with his mother Imelda Marcos, which ultimately resulted in buildings that continue to serve us to this day – the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, San Juanico Bridge, National Institute of Kidney and Transplantation, and International Convention Center of the Philippines.
In The gay science, one of his most personal works, Nietzsche wrote: “And if one day or one night a demon should creep after you into your loneliest solitude and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and lived it, you have to live once more and innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in this, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life will have to come back to you, all in the same succession and sequence …’”
At a glance, if this were true, it might drive you to despair, but if you read further you will see that what Nietzsche presents here is not the truth, but an opportunity to see how we would react if it was true, and an invitation to want this life despite all its pain and emptiness and its tragedies and sorrows in an eternal loop.
This is the true test of fati love (the love of one’s destiny), Nietzsche’s formula for greatness in a human being, which he explains as “…that one wants nothing to be different, neither forward, nor backward, nor of any eternity. Not only to support the necessary, even less to conceal it – all idealism is a lie in front of the necessary – but to love it.
I was going to repeat Winston Churchill’s words and say, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” but I think that’s too preachy.
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