IT would seem that if only for having been bequeathed the heritage of democracy by America, the Filipino people owe that nation a lot. From the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, election to public office all the way to the top executive post had been carried out through popular suffrage. So precious is that heritage that the late President Jose P. Laurel went on record as equating Filipinism to an “ennobling of the American tradition of constitutionalism and republicanism.”
In the presidential elections of 1949, Dr. Laurel was the heavy favorite to win only the second presidential election
in the history of independent Philippines. But at the turnout of the count of electoral results, then President Elpidio Quirino registered a winning margin of close to half a million votes. Dr. Laurel’s supporters could not take the beating and agitated for armed revolt, citing alleged massive cheating and violence by the Quirino camp. Though the Batangas Rebellion did take place as soon as the elections results were announced, Dr. Laurel would not consent to his people’s uprising, declaring, “I don’t want to go down in history as the President who turned the Philippines into a banana republic.”
Come the next presidential election in 1953, deferring to the failing health of his wife, Dona Paciencia Hidalgo-Laurel, Dr. Laurel begged off from the contest, though he was perceived as the hands-down potential winner, and instead maneuvered to get the Liberal Party member, Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay bolting to the Nacionalista Party and being that party’s standard bearer. And, as goes the cliché, Magsaysay won, teeing off the historical pattern of defense secretaries getting elected President; Cory’s Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos would repeat the feat in 1992.
And so it would strike serious students of the patterns in the installation of Philippine Presidents that it was Dr. Laurel who first advocated keeping faith with democratic processes in deciding who should become Philippine President. With the election of Magsaysay, those processes would be institutionalized and appeared to be strengthened through all the succeeding presidencies, those of Carlos P. Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Edralin Marcos.
Of the last-named presidency, Dr. Laurel was again an integral factor. It was Dr. Laurel who, penning the ponencia for the Supreme Court decision finding the young Marcos “not guilty” of the Nalundasan murder charge against him, actually cleared the path for the Great Surge of the Ilocano Boy to the pinnacle of Philippine political glory: a 20-yearrule as President – unmatched in the annals of Philippine history.
Of course, that rule was not without its blemishes of so-called martial law atrocities: warrantless arrests, imprisonment and tortures, human rights violations, extrajudicial killings and disappearances. These are indictments by the mob and invite much looking into. One thing is sure though. Those blemishes of the Marcos rule had not been imprinted in people’s minds without extensive encouragement and actual propagation by Marcos archrival, Ninoy Aquino.
Now who is Ninoy to begin with?
Undeniably, the glib-tongued, prolific pen pusher got the biggest thrust into his brilliant political career through his assignment as a cub reporter of the Manila Times at the battle lines of the Korean War in 1950. How many of us know that Ninoy could not have gotten into that job at the war front had it not been for the sponsorship of some sort by, again, Dr. Laurel? Ninoy was only 17 years at the time, a year short of the legal age of employment, but he turned to Dr. Laurel and implored him to undertake to guarantee his safety in the performance of the job; Ninoy’s father, Benigno, Sr., was president of the Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod ng Bagong Pilipinas (KALIBAPI), the lone political party in Dr. Laurel’s wartime government. That stint in the Korean war projected Ninoy to national prominence, gaining for him afterward the post of presidential adviser to President Ramon Magsaysay on the Huk rebellion. When Ninoy won election as mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac, in 1955, at age 22, there was no more stopping his political upsurge. As Cory would put it much later, “Ninoy really wanted to be President. Everything was just set for 1973.”
The dawning of the Age of Aquarius thus witnessed the intense contention for the presidency by two virtual protégées of Dr. Laurel: Marcos, the erstwhile murder convict whom he absolved at the Supreme Court; and Ninoy, whom he groomed for a successful journalistic career early on. Would this antagonism have come into play had not Dr. Laurel intervened actively in the development of either political career in the first place?
But such is irony, the offspring of a development you would otherwise wish to produce just its opposite. When Ninoy went on his suicidal homecoming in 1983 it was to ultimately set the stage for the snap presidential elections three years after. Marcos would win the count handily, but Cory would cry “cheat!” and use that cry to propel multitudes into what would go down in history as the EDSA People Power Revolt—in a strong sense, similar to the Batangas Rebellion in 1949 which Dr. Laurel vehemently objected to, not wishing to turn the Philippines into a “banana republic.”
By bringing down a constitutionally constituted government, did not Cory in fact effect what Dr. Laurel feared? Isn’t it a travesty to hail Cory as an icon of democracy for trouncing the legitimate results of democratic elections?
True enough, as Dr. Laurel feared in not consenting to the Batangueños’ resort to armed revolt to redress the wrongs of the 1949 elections, the Cory usurpation of the presidency in February 1986 spawned the seeds of “banana republicanism” in the Philippines. It set the precedent in the Philippine setting—what already had been a tradition in Latin America—for ousting governments through extra-constitutional means. And always, as in the South American arenas, the downfalls of Philippine Presidents were brought about on the one single criterion of them not being submissive to American whims.
On this one single yardstick, next to fall after Marcos was President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, who in 2001 was deposed for defying the US admonition for him not to attack the MILF Camp Abubakar. Erap crushed the mother MILF stronghold, and two months after, he was ousted from the presidency.
What seems significant in Erap’s case was that, unlike in that of Marcos, his removal from office was not accomplished through an overt military coup attended by complete disregard of democratic processes. The impeachment proceedings he was first subjected to all appeared regular and within constitutional constrictions. But it was to that perfectly legal appearance that irregularities in the proceedings were subsumed, concealing their utter unconstitutionality.
Consider the railroading of the approval of the articles of impeachment against Estrada—through the plenary outright instead of going through the rigmarole of committee hearings. Then into the actual impeachment trial, it was that same appearance of constitutionality that justified in the eyes of a gullible public the walkout of opposition senators when it became evident that those proceedings would not succeed in getting the controversial second envelope opened and thus secure conviction of Erap. As Senator Presiding Judge Aquilino Pimentel pronounced in theatrical histrionics of quivering voice and tearing eyes the result of the Senate trial court voting on whether or not to open the second envelope, “The nays have it,” that signaled the opposition walkout – transforming the constitutional impeachment proceedings into the extra-constitutional rule of the mob.
All that was needed to be done after a two-day interlude of EDSA II at the Edsa Shrine, was for Chief Justice Hilario Davide to administer the presidential oath of office to Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was succeeding to the presidency declared vacant by the Supreme Court.
As it was to a lady that the first Philippine Banana Republic was bequeathed by the American policymakers, so it was to another lady that the same policymakers passed the Second Philippine Banana Republic.
This flashback should be troubling enough to President Rodrigo Duterte. The lawyer that he is, he should realize that the same pitfalls endemic in the Philippine Constitution that had wreaked havoc on the presidency of Erap could do the same trick on him. The significant players in a regime change could now be on standby. The Chief Justice, who is a PNoy appointee, could be at the latter’s beck and call to do a Davide. And another lady is certainly eagerly waiting to do a walk in the park on EDSA to the Third Philippine Banana Republic.
President Duterte didn’t do that show of force at the Luneta on February 25 for nothing. The great showman that he is, the Digong was definitely delivering to the yellows the message, “Just you try it.”
That ultimately would be Duterte’s terrible mistake. What ousted Marcos, or Erap for that matter, were not the EDSA throngs. In Marcos’ case, it was the US-backed military breakaway by the Enrile-Ramos tandem; in Erap’s, the similar military breakaway led by Erap’s very own kumpadre, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes, who was teary-eyed as he led Erap out of Malacañang.
What could be of comfort for President Duterte at the moment is that he’s apparently got the support of both houses of Congress. No impeachment proceedings appear imminent on account of this. His opponents are thus denied that element which in the case of Erap effectively served to ignite EDSA II that led to regime change.
But then we are here ultimately concerned with CIA capabilities. Its bag of tricks is bottomless.