I’ve written several columns debunking the Yellow Cult’s distortion of the history of the Marcos era, certainly not to defend the strongman. Indeed, Marcos’ biggest crime was his failure to prevent the country’s steep recession in 1983-1985, which explains much of our quagmire to this day.
Rather, by exposing their deception over Marcos’ demonization, the basic problems of the country can be revealed as clear as day: A greedy oligarchy unconcerned over, even blocking, the redistribution of assets and radical basic reforms that could improve the lives of majority of Filipinos.
Other strongmen in Asia who had much worse human rights records had not been similarly demonized. Two of these are Indonesia’s Suharto, whose 17-year regime killed at least 500,000 Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity and South Korea’s Park Chung Hee, with his infamous, dreaded Korean Central Intelligence Agency. (Park’s daughter Geun-hye was even elected President in 2012).
Why, in contrast, has Marcos and his rule been painted so black, that none of his accomplishments are recognized, and that there is even opposition to his remains’ burial at the military’s official cemetery? (That martial rule wasn’t all bad is indisputable: the average GDP growth rate during Martial Law — excluding the recession from 1983 to 1985 — was 5.6 percent, higher than under Cory Aquino, when the pace of growth was at 3.4 percent and Ramos, at 3.5 percent.)
There has been a practical reason for Marcos’ demonization. It was a major project, ironically, by both the Communist Party of the Philippines and the oligarchy, since this advanced their respective agendas.
The communists’ objective was to expand the organization and get sympathizers in a country extremely anti-communist because of Catholic Church dogma (that the communists were atheists) and the US cold-war propaganda. And to them the only way to achieve that was to portray the Marcos regime as a ruthless, fascist state.
The communists realized early enough that its political program, encapsulated by the slogan plagiarized from Mao Zedong’s writings — the toppling of “US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic-capitalism” — wouldn’t in a hundred years rouse the masses to revolution.
The massive student demonstrations in the first quarter of 1970 were a big lesson for the communists. These broke out not because of protests against the US bases, landlordism, or corruption, but because of the police brutality against student demonstrators — for the first time vividly reported by media — that occurred at Congress right after Marcos delivered his 1970 State of the Nation Address.
Plaza Miranda bombing
Learning from that episode, the Communist Party undertook the Plaza Miranda bombing of the Liberal Party’s miting de avance in 1971, and blamed it on Marcos to depict him as a ruthless fascist. (The Liberal Party knew it wasn’t Marcos, but played to the communist’s script because that allowed them to win the senatorial elections that year.)
Middle-class organizations and clerics supported the Communist Party and its front organizations, not because they believed in Marxism-Leninism, nor in the communist-led “National Democratic Revolution,” but because they were hoodwinked by communist propaganda that Marcos was a fascist in the same mold as Hitler or Mussolini, and that it was their moral duty to fight the regime.
Most of the reports on Marcos human rights abuses have been by communist cadres. One “victim,” who seems to delight in relating his torture story of how his penis was electrocuted, headed the Party’s dramatically called “Explosives Movement,” which developed the NPA’s lethal mines that horribly killed or maimed Philippine Army troopers, and which is now considered by the civilized world now as weapons against humanity.
The Indonesian communists couldn’t do what the Filipino communists did — exploit Suharto’s human rights abuses — because they were literally exterminated by the strongman in 1965-1966, so that his atrocities would come to light only in the 1980s. In contrast, except in cases where they were killed in firefights with the military, most Filipino communists lived through Marcos prisons to join the revolution. Jose Ma. Sison, furthermore, a former English teacher and frustrated writer, wasn’t a communist theoretician, nor a mass leader: his skill was in demagoguery and propaganda.
The Communist Party’s propaganda and intellectual assets have, therefore, been fixated almost totally on projecting Marcos and his successors as American-supported fascist regimes: US-Marcos, US-Aquino, US-Ramos etc., which must be overthrown by force. So much so that other than “agrarian reform” and the “anti-imperialism,” few people don’t’ really know what they stand for now.
The Left has even totally abandoned the working class, allowing BS Aquino to boast that there had practically been no labor strike and that the communist movement had gained no amount of significance under his term (excluding Hacienda Luisita, of course.)
Why would the oligarchy want to demonize Marcos? Because that conceals their greedy class rule, unchanged since the nation was born, strengthened through martial law, and which distracts us from looking at the real basic problems of the nation, which is the oligarchs’ unequal hold over productive assets.
The Ayalas cleverly portrayed themselves as being anti-Marcos after 1986, with its propaganda coup being its patriarch’s, Don Jaime Zobel’s, joining Cory Aquino rallies in 1985-1986. But there was, of course, Enrique Zobel, an avid Marcos supporter, who actually led the Ayala conglomerate’s phenomenal growth during Martial Law. Why shouldn’t they have supported Marcos? The South Luzon Expressway Marcos built opened up the vast Alabang areas, which the Ayalas owned, for Ayala’s residential and commercial development. Without their monopoly status (Marcos classified the beer industry as “overcrowded”), San Miguel Corp., which the Ayalas, with the Sorianos, owned until 1983, couldn’t have become the country’s biggest conglomerate at that time. (And when for some reason, Marcos allowed Lucio Tan to enter the beer industry in 1982, the Chinese businessman was called a crony by the oligarchs!)
These are only glimpses of the oligarchs’ support for the Marcos regime; most of them, of course, condemned him when he fell.
The Lopezes, the country’s epitome of the political-economic-cultural elite, were one of the few oligarchs Marcos attacked, as they were the most involved in politics and had the resources to overthrow him.
In just weeks after they returned from exile, President Cory Aquino turned over to them the power-distribution monopoly, Meralco, payment for which allegedly did not include its huge Martial-Law capital investments. They moved fast into power-generation and water services with huge loans from the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). Two Philippine Daily Inquirer columnists, the late Neal Cruz and Conrado Banal, reported that the DBP wrote off P1.6 billion in loans to Lopez firms in the last decade.
The Lopezes’ ABS-CBN Network has been a powerful molder of the Filipino mind since 1986, and, therefore, a most effective tool for Marcos’ demonization. It was sweet revenge for the Lopezes: How dare a politician from the poor North, married to a commoner from Leyte, which was the source of the sugar industry’s near-slaves called sacadas, imprison the Lopezes and the Osmenas, the vanguards of the country’s sugar oligarchy?
In contrast, Indonesia’s Suharto had not attacked any oligarch when he grabbed absolute power in 1965, except his predecessor’s military men and the Indonesian Communist Party. Although his regime killed thousands of Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity suspected of being communists or communist sympathizers, Suharto made cronies out of the rich Chinese, such as Soedono Salim, giving them lucrative monopolies. As a result, when Suharto fell in 1998, there were no powerful oligarchs like the Lopezes in our country who went after him, in life and in death, and demonized him.
The Aquino-Cojuangco oligarchy
What kind of oligarch rule was restored? The Aquino-Cojuangco oligarchy managed to impose a fake agrarian reform option, “corporatization,” or the fraudulent transformation of farmers into shareholders of a firm “owning” the hacienda. The clan would block its hacienda from being put under real agrarian reform for 25 years, until the Supreme Court had to rule against it — costing Renato Corona his Chief Justice post. Such has been the power and greed of our oligarchy.
Because of their demonization of Marcos, the oligarchs made us believe that the country’s basic problem — with the strongman as a model — involves entirely the President, whether he is corrupt or not. Most Filipinos still have that view.
Prodded by Western governments and big businesses, the oligarchs have succeeded in creating an economic-policy environment, in which they were basically allowed to do what they wanted, justified under the ideology euphemistically called “neoliberalism,” but which means nothing but unbridled capitalism.
This has resulted in such things that hinder our development as weak government revenues, because of massive tax evasion by the oligarchy, and the consequent underinvestment in quality education for the masses and infrastructure. Under oligarchic rule, there has been, of course, a dearth of reform that would have converted part of their super-profits to better wages and living conditions for workers. The country’s inheritance laws merely transfer one oligarchic generation’s wealth intact to the next generation, perpetuating their rule.
It has resulted in the weakening of the state apparatus so much so that oligarchs have captured regulatory bodies, among them the Energy Regulatory Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the National Telecommunications Commission. The most scandalous instance of such regulatory capture has been the Indonesian oligarch Anthoni Salim’s building of a Philippine conglomerate in the public utilities sector — an area off limits to foreign investment as mandated by the Constitution. President Fidel Ramos deregulated the telecoms industry in 1992, leading to its turnover to Indonesia’s Salim and Singapore’s Singtel.
President Duterte had referred to oligarchs only once – a month ago. I hope he realizes that drug lords aren’t the more serious enemies of the nation, but the oligarchy.