He’s been dead all these years, although the debate over where to finally bury his remains is yet to end. But Ferdinand Marcos, who installed himself as this country’s first, and so far only, fascist, though “constitutional,” dictator in 1972 by placing the entire country under martial law, still casts a long shadow over Philippine life and politics.
It’s not just because his widow Imelda is a member of the House of Representatives, or because his daughter Imee is running unopposed for reelection as governor of Ilocos Norte, and his son Ferdinand, Jr. leading the pack of candidates for Vice-President.
His family’s political presence and potential return to political preeminence has not only been the subject of wonderment among observers familiar with the elder Marcos’ 21-year (1965-1986) assault on human rights and looting of the treasury; it also raises such questions as how Filipinos can be so forgiving — and as ignorant as well as unforeseeing — as to allow the Marcoses not only to return to the Philippines in 1991, but even to elect them and their closest kin, cronies, and collaborators to public office after.
The question has returned with a vengeance, as what happened during martial law and what the Marcoses did during that murderous and evil period morphs into an issue in the 2016 elections. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.’s candidacy has become the focus of criticism of, and preposterous praise for, the Marcos klepto-tyranny during the current campaign. But what’s even more surprising is how — if the surveys are to be believed — he has managed to be the leading candidate for the vice-presidency.
It’s not the political means through which he and his family have done that, although — through the usual backroom deals and the considerable use of the billions in their possession — the making of Marcos, Jr. as governor, senator, and the candidate for Vice-President to beat is a family enterprise from beginning to end. It’s his having reached that state despite his running against at least one candidate whose record and reputation qualify her for the post, and his — again if the surveys are correct — outpacing the five other vice-presidential candidates despite his tainted heritage.
If it hasn’t already done so, the sheer absurdity and peril of it should lead those Filipinos truly concerned with the future of this country to examine what went wrong in the thirty years after the EDSA civilian-military mutiny of 1986 overthrew the most violent and most barbaric regime that the political elite has ever inflicted on this country.
Those who lived through the martial law outrage bear much of the responsibility for their failure to transmit to the generations after them enough of the lessons of that period for everyone to understand the risks involved in returning to power the family of the only elected president of the country to grossly abuse that mandate. But the administrations that succeeded Marcos’ 21-year reign are even more liable.
Not only did they minimize the immensity of the crimes committed against this country and its people by failing to hold those responsible accountable. They also failed to inculcate in the minds of the country’s youth the accurate and complete account of that sorry episode and its consequences that an educational system worthy of its name could have achieved. Instead that system damaged and warped the values of an entire generation through the inaccurate and senseless textbooks and ill-equipped teachers that have not only painted a distorted picture of history but have even mislabeled the Marcos dictatorship as the country’s golden age.
However, the more basic failure of the administrations that followed that of Marcos’ was their unwillingness and inability to constitute a truth commission in the manner of South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and other countries that have overthrown dictatorships. Because no authoritative account of the martial law regime exists, the absurd claim that the Marcos dictatorship was the best rather than the worst thing that has ever happened to this country since 1946 is metastasizing like cancer throughout Philippine society.
Equally to blame are the media. With the lessons of the martial law period still fresh, and with the considerable influence that they had in the post-1986 period, the media organizations that had operated before martial law and which had reestablished themselves, as well as the new players in the aptly named media “industry,” could have campaigned for the creation of such a commission. The corporate media instead focused their attention on convincing the people that all was now well with Marcos gone, and with chronicling the absurdities of the elections that after 1986 were supposedly the most telling indicators of democratic rule.
Forgotten was the fact that the return of authoritarian rule was an ever present danger because of the exclusionary character of the corruption-ridden political system that had been restored in 1986. That system after all gave birth to Marcos and his bureaucrat capitalist ilk. That reality demanded the democratization of that system to cleanse it of the authoritarian virus, as well as the depoliticization of the police and military.
The coup attempts that occurred not only during the Corazon Aquino presidency but even after should have been ample enough indicators of the danger of a return to authoritarian rule through the unreformed police and military establishments. But the media were either willfully blind to it, or were more focused on protecting and enhancing their own political and economic interests.
Among the media’s “achievements,” surely, is their making it appear that an election is the alpha and omega of the democratic enterprise, regardless of whether the choices the people make are informed or made in complete ignorance. After EDSA, the politicians scrambled for media attention, and the media were more than willing to provide it in the process forgetting that their basic responsibility after 14 years without elections was to help educate the people on the intricacies and responsibilities of democratic decision making.
The lethal combination of ordinary citizens’ indifference, the post-martial law administrations’ unwillingness to exact accountability for the crimes of the Marcos regime, and media’s inexcusable failures has made it nearly impossible for this country to rid itself of the Marcos curse. Hence, the distinct possibility that the country of our lost hopes will have Ferdinand Marcos’ heir and namesake for Vice-President come May, and President by 2022.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Published in the Business World
April 14, 2016