Lessons from the Marcos’ Dictatorship: 1972-1986

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

September 23, 2012

         40th anniversary of martial law. This week, September 21 and 23, we recall the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos 40 years ago in 1972. The declaration marked the start of his authoritarian regime that lasted more than 13 years until Marcos was deposed in February 1986 in the EDSA “people power” revolt that drove the dictator and his family to exile in Hawaii with the help of the U.S. government that had supported him for 20 years. This enabled Corazon Aquino to succeed as President and restore our democracy under the 1987 Constitution.

            It is important and necessary to recall what happened during the Marcos dictatorship so as not repeat them. As a people we tend easily to forget and forgive the abuses and injustices of the past, and not learn from them. Two generations of Filipinos know little or nothing about what happened from 1972 to 1986, so we have to remind them.

            Marcos proclaimed martial law pur­portedly “to protect the Republic of the Philippines and our democracy” that were “imperiled by the danger of a violent overthrow, insurrection and rebellion” and “criminality and lawlessness…[and] anarchy” that had paralyzed the functions of the national and local governments.” (Procla­mation No. 1081) He also said that he wanted to reform our society, to build the “New Society.”

         Destroyed democracy and plundered our wealth. In fact, by imposing martial law and one-man rule, Marcos destroyed our democratic institutions of constitutional governance and the rule of law established for the public welfare and the common good — Congress, the judiciary, the free press and media, and the citizens’ political rights and civil liberties.  He then indulged his un­bridled dual passion for unlimited power and wealth. The imperiled state of the nation that he depicted rationalized his inner motives and overt actions.

            As unraveled by Senator Jovito Salonga and the PCGG, Marcos’ schemes and techniques of presidential plunder included creating monopolies in vital industries and placing them in the control of his cro­nies; awarding huge behest loans to his favorites; outright takeover of pub­lic or private enterprises for a minimal payment; direct raiding of the pub­lic treasury and government financial institutions; issuance of presidential decrees to enable his cronies to amass wealth for his joint benefit; kick­backs and commissions from businesses dealing with the government; use of shell corporations and dummy companies to launder money and invest them; skimming of foreign aid and other forms of assistance; and deposit­ing money with the use of pseudonyms and numbered accounts in domes­tic and foreign banks to conceal its real ownership.

          Other outcomes of the Marcos dictatorship. The cumulative outcome and costs of the Marcos dictatorship that added over 13 years to his seven years as a constitutional president are incalculable. However enormous, his plunder of the nation’s wealth is only one of the  consequences of his evil rule. During his two decades in power the Philippines fell far behind several neighboring countries in East and Southeast Asia in the pursuit of development, and became “the basket case” in the region. Democracy was destroyed, the economy was in ruins, and the cul­ture of corruption, violence and cynicism aggravated.

          The military was politicized and corrupted. Consequently, thousands of Filipinos were killed, imprisoned, tortured, displaced from their homes and communities, or simply disappeared without a trace. Also with impunity, women were raped and degraded by the military, po­lice, and other criminal elements. The Communist rebellion spread almost nationwide from just parts of Luzon. And secessionist Moro rebels fought the government in Mindanao. In the garrison state and its war zones hu­man rights were thus regularly violated by the combatants on all sides of the conflict. Marcos’ promise of a Bagong Lipunan (“New Society”) of peace and development with freedom and equity could never happen.

          In addition to the suffering and misery of so many, the nation lost a lot of time, priceless years, ultimately its scarcest, irretrievable resource. The hopes for the future of innumerable young men and women were crushed forever. The careers of some of the finest political leaders were aborted, while a number of unworthy politicians flourished as minions of the dicta­tor and unrepentant officials and loyalists in the post-EDSA era.

          By usurping governmental powers and abusing them, Marcos betrayed his public trust to defend the Constitution of the Repub­lic. In fact, to reiterate, he destroyed the Republic of the Philippines as a representative democracy and replaced it with his dictatorial regime. This was backed by the military, his personal Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (New Society Party), and a pseudo, rubber-stamp national assembly (Interim Batasang Pambansa, then Batasang Pambansa). In a word, Marcos be­trayed our country and the nation gravely suffered.

          Defying this manifest historical truth, his family wants him to be buried as a national hero in the Libingan ng mga Bayam. And his loyal partisans support the idea.

          The nation’s challenges. As long as Filipinos as a nation, and especially their highest leaders, avoid resolving public issues in favor of basic moral principles, the long term national interest and the common good, and get away with it, no clear national standards of right and wrong can and will be established, consistently enforced and prevail.

          This is evident in regard to the issues of loyalty to the nation and collaboration with the enemy, whether Filipino or foreign; graft and corruption vs. honesty and integrity in public office; the inviolability of human rights and their violation and abuse by officials and functionaries; public accountability and non-accountability of government officials; civilian supremacy over the military; mutual ac­commodation, protection among members of the political elite; Charter change, and so on.

           Without public discernment and virtue in these aspects that would epitomize the community’s high-minded sense of right and wrong, the Fili­pino nation cannot command honor, self-respect and credibility among its own citizens, much less in the international community.

            For this, Filipino leaders are much more to blame than the citizens, for it is the challenge and responsibility of leaders to lead and uplift the people toward the national vision in our 1987 Constitution: to “build a just and humane society” and “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace….”

          Failure of Filipino political leadership is one of the best explanations for the country’s persistent problems of poverty, injustice, ineffective gov­ernance, and corruption — and its continuing underdevelopment, when compared to other countries since the end of World War II.

          What to do. This is why our people must learn continually from study and reflection on our recent history and national development, from the research and discoveries of our scholars; from the teaching and guidance of our religious and lay leaders; and by our involvement in the work of our various organizations in civil society.

          Manny V. Pangilinan, the highly respected business leader said, in breaking his ties with his alma mater, the Ateneo de Manila University: “Failure to manage one’s affairs, such as weak institutions, failed regulatory agencies, corrupt enforcements, do not mean a particularly business is per se evil…. It is …Filipino frailty…. Indeed, the Filipino’s failure to manage well is shown in almost all facets of our lives—poor airports, poor sewerage , unclean air, mediocre economic growth. The list is long. Our preponderant task as a people is simply to do better, to strive for excellence.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sept. 22, 2012)

          We should learn from the example of more advanced and progressive nations. Our political leaders should not mistake their power for the needed knowledge and wisdom to make decisions affecting the nation. Much of that knowl­edge and wisdom can come from the people’s practical experience and in­sights, and from their various roles, specialization and professional expertise. Good governance in a democracy requires the involvement and en­lightened participation of all citizens, as much as the skills and probity of the leaders.

          We should remember the deeds and wisdom of our earlier and more recent heroes and martyrs. For example, more than a hundred contemporary heroes and martyrs are memorialized in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Memorial) for resisting the tyranny and corruption of Marcos and his authoritarian regime. Books have been written on the Marcos years.

          We should raise our standards of political leadership and citizen participation in governance, as the Kilosbayan (People’s Action) seeks to do, and foster the pursuit of justice and the pro­tection of our human rights as the Bantay Katarungan (Justice Watch) aims for. It is no accident that these three organizations in civil society are the initiatives of Jovito R. Salonga. He started Bantayog shortly after the EDSA Revolution in 1986, Kilosbayan after retiring from the government in 1992, and Bantay in 2000.

          Again, I never cease to remind ourselves that we need to reform our basic political institutions and this requires Charter Change.

            Finally, in thinking of our challenges and responsibilities as citizens and leaders, we might ponder these few words of two sages from the civilizations of India and China: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but earth cannot provide enough for every man’s greed.” Mahatma Gandhi. “Men should beware of coveting riches, for when riches come due to covetousness, heaven’s calamities follow. — Chinese proverb.

          And these words of Jesus Christ as he called on the people and his disciples to “take up your cross: “What good is it to gain the whole world but destroy yourself? There is nothing you can give to recover your life. [For what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?]- Mark 8:36-37.


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