Monday, April 12, 2021

The Marcos half-century


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I WAS recently reading The Kennedy Half Century, where Larry J. Sabato not only provided fresh details about President John F. Kennedy’s life and death but also convincingly demonstrated how subsequent White House occupants were influenced by his decisions and rhetoric. It was not a general statement that Kennedy was the end-all and be-all of history, nor discrediting the fact that the people are the true makers of history; but just like how some historians call 1974-2008 as The Reagan Era, it was just a recognition that a personality in history looms large and had impacted many aspects of that era.

And so, I was thinking who could be the personality that loomed large in the past 50 years in the political, economic and cultural life of the nation. I only have one man in mind and that is Ferdinand E. Marcos.

In a forum titled “Ferdinand Marcos” organized by Sociedad de Historia on Oct. 14, 2016, at the height of the issue of the Marcos burial, I had a candid discussion with The Manila Times columnist Van Ybiernas. Despite having seemingly different points of view, we had one conclusion, which he worded beautifully: “Ferdinand Marcos is the continuously running train that everyone wanted to ride on.”

I guess he deemed it so. Of all the presidents of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos was the most conscious of history, having been a history buff himself. Sixteen years before he was elected president in 1965, he asked his constituents in Ilocos Norte, “Elect me a congressman now, and I pledge you an Ilocano president in 20 years.” Having been elected at a relatively young age of 48 at a time when many neighboring countries had strongmen at the helm, he vowed in his inaugural address, “This nation can be great again” (not exactly “I will make this nation great again,” which others recalled although that was implied). He did not want to be just another inconsequential president.

Much has been written about those 20 years of his rule so we will not dwell on that. But let us examine how Marcos affected the past 50 years. By prolonging his rule, he affected deeply our institutions for better and for worse that even People Power failed to erase. The administration sure made great strides in infrastructure, network of roads and electrification that were desperately needed by a young nation. Many of the train lines being built and will be built in the metro were already planned by them. Their example of technocratic planning, getting the best minds to work for them, is still an indicator of good governance. Their support for projects on history, heritage and identity building is commendable in comparison to others having none. The Metropolitan Manila Commission headed by Imelda Marcos had a more efficient system than the present Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

But lawyer Chel Diokno reminded us that with the proclamation of martial law, judges were asked to submit courtesy resignations that were just kept until one makes an unfavorable decision, in which case the resignation would be accepted. This made the justices beholden to the administration. No doubt, many people in the justice system are honorable, but we sure all admit that the “padrino” system is still in place. Cronyism, a term coined during the Marcos regime, a term for favored business friends, continued — problems that, in all fairness to the Marcoses, were already there, but which the regime institutionalized by the mere fact of its longevity. Add the long-term effects to the nation of their foreign debt, and the plunder by their family and cronies that was unaccounted for despite legal attempts to do so, which emboldened all the others to do the same.


Despite seeing the value of the spirit of EDSA People Power Revolution, I have to admit that without Marcos to oust there would have been no EDSA. And just like veterans passionately reminding people how they fought the war against the Japanese, some personalities made being part of People Power or being part of the struggle against the dictatorship a badge and used it for political advantage. Thus, the spirit of EDSA, instead of being a historical event, became open to desecration by their opponents. Even the Marcos family cannot escape it. Bongbong Marcos wanted to run on his own merits with “Hindi ako ang aking nakaraan, ako ang ating bukas,” but he had to eventually embrace and defend his father’s achievements because everywhere he went, he was hounded by the ghost of the atrocities of the Marcos regime.

The excesses of the regime wiped out the young idealists of an era who should have been our leaders today. Many of those that remained were either corrupted or traumatized. One feels sorry that they must relive their trauma again for fear that history is being revised and gets trolled in the process. Theirs is an unending suffering.

To be concluded next week, March 6



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