It has been more than four decades, 43 years to be exact, since the late president Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law, and it has been 29 years since the Filipino people ousted the dictatorship. The current generation of young people, 30 years and younger, has no memory, nay experience, of what the Filipino people experienced during Martial Law. So when this writer received an invitation from the Araling Panlipunan faculty of Immaculate Conception Academy in Greenhills, San Juan to talk about Martial Law, there was no hesitation in accepting it although it would be challenging to talk about this juncture in the nation’s history without boring third and fourth year high school students.
When this writer was browsing the internet for some video and audio clips and photos about Martial Law, there were a lot of comments extolling it as the “golden years” in the nation’s history and Marcos as the ‘best president’ the country ever had; comparing the “accomplishments” of Marcos to that of Aquino; and saying that strongman rule is what the country needs now. While these comments may come from Marcos loyalists and the campaign machinery of Bongbong Marcos, some may have come from people who are frustrated with the current state of affairs and are looking for alternatives.
It is tempting to some to look at strongman rule as the solution to the country’s problems especially when one sees the Aquino administration bungling in so many occasions such as the Mamasapano fiasco, the Luneta hostage crisis, the MRT and LRT breakdowns, the worsening traffic and floods, the deteriorating government infrastructures despite the numerous traffic-causing road works; the prevailing corruption; the worsening social inequities and poverty; the paralyzing politicking in government; the rising crimes; the massive sell out of the country’s sovereignty and patrimony; and the impunity in rights violations and killings of journalists. The continuing impunity today may have numbed some people on the horrors of the past, on the human rights violations under Martial Law.
But is Martial Law or strongman rule the real solution to the country’s problems?
During the talk at Immaculate Conception Academy, this writer got a lot of incisive questions from third and fourth year students. These questions may, as well, reflect what is on the mind of some people when looking back at Martial Law.
Are the sacrifices of the people under Martial Law not commensurate to what the country achieved?
No amount of big-ticket infrastructure is worth the killings, forcible disappearance, imprisonment and torture of thousands of people.
Which is better a failed democracy or prosperity under an autocracy?
This is based on the assumption that there was prosperity during Martial Law. Consider these few facts:
1. The US dollar to Philippine peso exchange rate in 1960 was $1:P2. The late president Diosdado Macapagal’s foreign exchange de-control policy doubled the exchange rate to $1:P3.90. That was the rate during the first term of Marcos in 1965. By 1970, it went up to $1:P5.90 and $1:P6.67 by the time Marcos declared Martial Law. It was $1:P8.05 by the time Marcos supposedly lifted Martial Law in 1981 and $1:P20.29 in January 1986 before Marcos was ousted.
2. The country’s foreign debt grew from $355 million in 1962 to $17.3 billion in 1980 and $28.3 billion in 1986. The debt to GDP ratio reached more than 90 percent under Marcos.
3. The poverty incidence rose from 41 percent in 1965 to 58.9 percent in 1985.
This graph is very useful in looking at the country’s economic history.
There could be no genuine prosperity benefitting the majority in an autocracy where a person or a family has the power of life and death over the population and could take what he or she wants for self-aggrandizement.
Taking these facts aside, why is it that people feel that life is much more difficult now, prices are higher and basic goods and services are less affordable and accessible now than before? Why is it that despite the seeming rosy GDP growth figures people are poorer now?
The most incisive question during the talk came from a fourth year student whose name, unfortunately, escapes this writer now.
Did Marcos corrupt the system or did the system corrupt Marcos?
Both. Marcos was a product of the system. He gained personally from using the enormous powers he claimed and wielded and contributed to the worsening of the political, economic, social, and cultural crisis enveloping Philippine society. And still, the crisis in the system persists and continues to worsen even after the Marcos dictatorship was ousted because the administrations after him failed to implement genuine, fundamental reforms to solve it. The Filipino people were able to oust Marcos but the system remained the same, except that formal democratic rights were restored.
The Filipino people could not simply leave it up to the next president to solve the crisis. It could only be solved through the collective efforts of the Filipino people, and everybody must do their share.