In our culture, we don’t speak ill of the dead. When a person dies, we just set aside the wrongs that person may have done. In short, we respect the dead whoever they are.
Some even venerate the dead, believing that they continue to exist in another side of life and that they can intercede for us with God. In times of trouble, we call on our loved ones who have passed on for help.
By respecting the dead, we are somehow respecting life as well especially when the dead has touched many other people’s lives. We recognize their good deeds so that others may look up to them as idols or good examples. We learn from the mistakes of the bad ones so that we could have a more meaningful life.
Others believe that by respecting the dead, we spare their family some grief, or at least console them in their time of mourning.
Most of us think that it is in bad taste to hold or attend parties when a relative is dead. We are supposed to mourn, and not celebrate when a loved one dies.
During wakes, we pay our last respects to the dead. That is why wakes often become opportunities for relatives and friends to see one another after a long time. During necrological services, we speak or hear only the good, sometimes a few naughty, things about the dead, but rarely, or maybe never, the bad side.
There is a proverbial saying that you never speak ill of the dead. In the 6th century, the version was “speak no evil of the dead.”
We don’t speak ill of the dead because they are already dead; they can no longer defend themselves. We show respect by saying only positive and kind things about the dead.
In Latin, it was phrased as “de mortuis nil nisi bonum,” translated as, “say nothing of the dead but what is good.”
Next weekend, most of us will be trooping to cemeteries or columbaries to light candles, offer flowers and prayers to our deceased loved ones. That is showing respect for the dead. Note that most Filipinos prefer to visit them in the cemeteries on All Saints’ Day, November 1, instead of All Souls’ Day, the day for the dead, which is on November 2.
In the Revised Penal Code or Act No. 3815 enacted on December 8, 1930, it is a criminal offense to speak ill of the dead. It is libelous to blacken the memory of one who is dead.
Article 353 defines libel as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.
In the last few days, President Benigno Aquino 3rd has been criticized for his comment that he does not go to wakes of persons he does not know in person. It was in response to a question during an open forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) in a hotel in Pasig City if he would go to the wake of transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude who was allegedly slain by US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.
His exact words were: “In general, I don’t attend wakes of people I don’t know. I find it – and I’m speaking for myself – I’m uncomfortable in trying to condole with people who don’t know me. It’s like how can I say that I really sympathize with their loss and have some relevant discussion with them on trying to assuage their loss at that point in time? As a general rule, I attend wakes wherein there are some connections… I don’t want to be a burden but rather I want to help them at their time of grief.”
For these candid statements, the President was criticized for being callous, insensitive, unsympathetic, and disrespectful of the dead. Critics said he should just have said his sympathies and shut his mouth because he is President and should have set aside his personal belief about attending wakes.
The President was asked the question after Vice President Jejomar Binay, who had openly declared that he would run for president in 2016, went to Laude’s wake in Olongapo City.
Binay’s going to the wake was seen as an act of respect for the dead, and not as an opportunity for self-promotion. The Vice President should have represented the government at the wake. Even if he belongs to the political opposition, he is still part of the government. Besides, he used government facilities to go there. He had security escorts paid for by government.
Going back to the standard trope, “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” (Of the dead say nothing but good), did President Aquino say anything bad about Laude or her family when he explained his position against going to wakes of persons he did not know, or who did not know him?
I guess it just came to the point when even little things that the President does or says are interpreted in so many ways, mostly critical and disparaging.
Or am I saying this because I also don’t go to the wakes of people I don’t know?
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