The Asian Voice

Have Filipinos forgotten the Marcos dictatorship?: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ferdinand Marcos, the late dictator who ruled the Philippines for 21 years.
Ferdinand Marcos, the late dictator who ruled the Philippines for 21 years. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Are Filipinos a soft, forgetting and forgiving people?

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, Senator Bongbong Marcos, is running for vice-president.

Marcos was elected president in 1965 and re-elected in 1969 to serve only until 1973 under the Constitution.

To extend his term, he declared martial law in September 1972 and promulgated a new constitution to legitimise his dictatorship.

On August 21, 1983, Mr Ninoy Aquino (Benigno Aquino, Jr) was assassinated on his return from the United States in a bid to persuade Marcos to end the dictatorship and restore democracy.

Mr Aquino's murder invigorated the suppressed opposition to tyranny. Three years later in 1986, in an attempt to justify his continued rule, Marcos declared snap elections for president and vice-president.

Shrugging off the condemnation of international observers, Marcos declared himself and Mr Arturo Tolentino the election winners, triggering widespread protests.

Then, Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel V Ramos led a military coup against the dictator.

Jaime Cardinal Sin summoned the people to gather on Manila's Edsa Road in support of Cory Aquino and the coup plotters.

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

The cumulative costs of Marcos's dictatorship are incalculable. The plunder of the nation's wealth is only one price 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 South-east Asia in the pursuit of development, becoming the region's "basket case".

The economy was in ruins, and a 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.

A communist rebellion spread almost nationwide, while secessionist Moro rebels fought the government in a vicious conflict where human rights were routinely violated on both sides. Marcos' promise of a "new society" of peace and development with freedom and equity never came to pass.

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

Yet Filipinos do indeed have "a soft, forgiving culture", as late former Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew once observed.

As investigative reporter for the Inquirer Raissa Robles wrote recently: "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's 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 (Imelda) and a governorship for Bongbong.

"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."

Evidence that we are a soft, forgiving and forgetting nation is most damning in our willingness to tolerate political oligarchies.

Many of our leaders belong to political dynasties.

Most of them are "transactional leaders" focused on political power and patronage for 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 100 million citizens were born after the Marcos dictatorship of September 1972 to February 1986.

The education system has failed to inform them about the nation's tragic experience under one-man rule.

Our nation-state is in desperate need of foundational reform and national development.

We need to modernise 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 a political scientist, the 16th president and a professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines.