Forgetting the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986)

Commentary.

Jose V. Abueva
Philippine Daily Inquirer
February 23, 2016

Are we a soft, forgetting and forgiving nation? Remembering Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship and its incalculable harm has become so difficult. His family members were entrenched in political power soon after his death. And now his son, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, is running for vice president.

Marcos was elected president in 1965 and reelected in 1969 to serve only until 1973 under the 1935 Constitution. To extend his term, he declared martial law in September 1972 and ruled under his 1973 Constitution that legitimized his dictatorship.

On Aug. 21, 1983, Ninoy Aquino was assassinated upon his return from the United States to persuade Marcos to end one-man rule and restore democracy. Ninoy’s murder invigorated the suppressed opposition to the dictatorship. Years later, in an attempt to justify his continued rule, Marcos declared “snap” elections for president and vice president to be held on Feb. 7, 1986.

A team of international observers said the elections were “not conducted in a free and fair manner.” But Marcos had himself and Arturo Tolentino declared the election winners over Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel, galvanizing widespread protests.

Then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel V. Ramos led a military coup against the dictator. Jaime Cardinal Sin summoned the people to converge on Edsa in support of Cory Aquino and the coup plotters against Marcos.

The resulting Edsa People Power Revolution forced Marcos and his family to flee Malacañang and leave the country on Feb. 25. They began their exile in Hawaii under the auspices of President Ronald Reagan and the US government.

The cumulative outcome and costs of Marcos’ dictatorship are incalculable. The plunder of the nation’s wealth is only one of the costly consequences of his evil rule. Take it from his wife Imelda: “We own practically everything in the Philippines … from electricity, telecommunications, airlines, banking, beer and tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, shipping, oil, mining, hotels and health resorts, down to coconut mills, small firearms, real estate and insurance.”

During Marcos’ two decades in power, the Philippines fell far behind other countries in Southeast Asia in the pursuit of development, and became the region’s “basket case.” Democracy was nonexistent, the economy was in ruins, and the culture of corruption, violence and cynicism flourished.

Thousands of Filipinos were killed, imprisoned, tortured, displaced from their homes and communities, or simply disappeared without a trace. The communist rebellion spread almost nationwide. And secessionist Moro rebels fought the government in Mindanao.

In the garrison state and its war zones, human rights were regularly violated by the combatants on both sides of the conflict. Marcos’ promise of a “bagong lipunan” (new society) of peace and development with freedom and equity never happened.

By usurping governmental powers and abusing them, Marcos betrayed his public trust to defend the Constitution. In brief, he betrayed our country.

And indeed, Filipinos have “a soft, forgiving culture,” as Lee Kuan Yew, the late former prime minister of Singapore, once observed.

As Raissa Robles wrote in the Inquirer (10/1/14): “The 1986 People Power Revolution did chop down the Marcos political tree. But its intricate roots that spread far and wide across the state bureaucracy and Philippine society remained intact. All the Marcoses had to do was nurture the roots and wait for the tree to grow back.

“In 1998, by Imee Marcos’ own reckoning, ‘we waited 12 years to be on the right side of the fence.’ Right side meant a political alliance with then victorious President-elect Joseph Estrada, velvet seats in Congress for Imee and her mother, and a governorship for Bongbong.”

A Marcos loyalist, Estrada also said he favored Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, but backed out because of immense opposition to it.

Continued Robles: “An ecstatic Imee spilled the family’s secret to success: ‘Many professionals were appointed by my father. So you have this immense bedrock of Marcos appointees who keep moving up.’

“Like secret stay-behind units, this vast army of professionals scattered in all sectors of society have defended the Marcoses and helped erase the dark legacy of their regime. For various reasons, no post-Marcos administration made it a point to keep the memory of the atrocities and the greed alive and pass this on to the next generation.”

We may really be a soft, forgiving and forgetting nation. And especially because we have a political oligarchy: Many of our leaders belong to political dynasties. Most of them are mainly “transactional leaders” focused on political power and patronage for the voters’ support. They are not “transforming leaders” focused on our constitutional vision of building “a just and humane society” and “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, freedom, justice, love, equality and peace.”

And most of our over 100 million Filipinos were born after the Marcos dictatorship from September 1972 to February 1986. The educational system failed to inform them about the nation’s tragic experience under one-man rule.

Our nation-state has serious need for basic reform and national development. We need to modernize our education, culture and society; develop our economy, reduce mass poverty, and curb rapid population growth; strengthen the middle class as the bastion of democracy; and reform our political institutions. All these we must do in order to be effective in fulfilling our lofty constitutional vision of building a just and humane society and a real democracy under the rule of law.

Jose V. Abueva is the 16th president and a professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines. He is also the founding president of Kalayaan College and cofounder of the Movement for a Nonkilling Philippines and the Centrist Democratic Party-Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya.

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