At the least provocation, but especially on two occasions every year, many Filipinos — not all of them young — lament the state of Philippine society.
They cite the poverty that continues to haunt millions of Filipinos, the crimes and the impunity that have become part of their lives, the limited employment opportunities, the uncertainties of life in these troubled islands.
They reserve their harshest criticism for the politicians and their broken promises. They cite such daily tortures as the hideous state of the public transport system, the spiraling cost of basic commodities, education, medical care, and other necessities, and the public sector corruption for which Asia’s foulest political class is responsible.
This month recalls the first of those two occasions. February, People Power month, marks the three-day civilian-military mutiny during which millions of Filipinos massed on Metro Manila’s Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) as well as elsewhere in the country to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship.
Because this year is its 30th anniversary, the occasion invited even more strident comments than usual from both those too young to know what it was all about as well as from those who have either forgotten its significance or who never quite understood what transpired from Feb. 23 to 25, 1986.
But in one sense are they correct in belittling People Power. Although it did remove a dictatorship, it failed to change anything else.
Over time indeed, even the Marcos wing of the ruling elite has recovered its power and kept its ill-gotten wealth, with one of them currently knocking at the gates of Malacañang.
The second occasion melds with the first.
Signed on Sept. 21, 1972 but implemented on Sept. 23, Ferdinand E. Marcos’ Presidential Proclamation (PP) 1081 placed the entire country under martial rule. The 43rd anniversary of PP 1081 last year was thus marked by protestations from, among others, Marcos, Jr., that far from being the worst, the 14 years of his father’s rule was the best of times.
If one were to judge from social media posts — and the burgeoning support for the vice-presidential candidacy of Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. — many of the discontented, most of them young, believe him and have even found in the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) a model for the transformative governance that this country has needed for decades.
They cite the glowing reports of the then controlled press in claiming that in contrast to what the Philippines is today, the country was, among other superlative attributes, more prosperous then; that it was peaceful and the people disciplined; and that there was ample employment and honesty in government.
To Marcos, Jr. we owe even more specific claims, among them that the Philippines was self-sufficient in rice, and that, generally, the dictatorship was “protecting” the people.
Those who survived that period, who knew what it was like, who still remember, and who know that all of these claims are folklore spread by the government-regulated press, have reason to be appalled.
Contrary to the myth now current among many young people especially millennials, the Marcos dictatorship was the least transformative of every government that has ever been in power in this country since 1946.
It entrenched more deeply into the body politic the rule of the big bureaucrats who, since the post-World War II period, had been enriching themselves by plundering the public treasury at the expense of the entire country and its people.
It made the already stifling dependency of the country on the United States — which supported and sustained the dictatorship until the very last minute — even worse. Through its reliance on the police and military as the ultimate guarantors of its power, it inflicted on the Filipino people human rights abuses more widespread and more systematically used as an instrument of State terror than those committed in Chile during the similarly US-supported Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Far from being at peace, the country was at war.
The conflicts that still persist today had their origins during the period, when both the Bangsamoro and other groups took up arms both in self-defense as well as to erect the kind of responsible, honest, independent, and patriotic government that would be the exact opposite of the Marcos kleptocracy.
But the country being the way it is, and the country being supposedly the way it was under the Marcos boot-heel in the minds of many young men and women as well as older folk, the implication is clear. Not only did People Power fail to bring the Philippines to a state of peace and prosperity; it even made things worse by removing from power the government that in their view was the most capable of doing so.
One of the major personalities involved in EDSA 1 has even joined that chorus. Then Marcos Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile has declared that nothing has been accomplished since EDSA 1, that only the Aquino family benefitted from it, and that among the Aquino shortcomings was that of failing to build the “credible defense forces” that Enrile, in defending the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, said last January the country lacked.
The Enrile criticism of People Power forgets that if indeed EDSA 1 was far from being the authentic revolution that he, the military clique loyal to him and the rest of the landlord wing of the ruling elite were claiming then, 30 years ago, it was because of their doing. And no, not only the Aquinos benefitted from it; the entire landlord and bureaucrat-dominated wing of the ruling system did.
It was Enrile and company who made sure that what would happen would merely be a change in personalities, in individuals from dynasties other than those of Marcos and his clique, rather than authentic changes in the system. And they made sure that the system they were reclaiming from the Marcos bureaucracy would similarly suppress, as Marcos did, the clamor for the democratization of the political system that was resounding throughout the land when martial law was declared.
But despite its hijacking, People Power itself was an authentic expression of most Filipinos’ desire for an end to dictatorship and for authentic change, for which they risked their lives by facing Marcos’ tanks and gunships. For that reason was it a moment of greatness, and among the best of times in this country’s history.
As misplaced and as mistaken as the paeans for the Marcos regime are, the same aspirations for change are implicit still in many Filipinos’ expressions of discontent with the present and their longing for an alternative to it. What those who knew what martial law was and who were there at EDSA 30 years ago need to do is to break the fraudulent connection currently being made between those legitimate aspirations and the absurd belief that a replication of the Marcos tyranny would realize those hopes. That the connection is being made by many well-meaning but ill-informed Filipinos who, in their heart of hearts, nevertheless do crave change and even revolution, makes that task urgent.
It is that connection, more than anything else, that should appall those who saw in People Power not only the immediate means to remove a hated tyranny from power, but also an opportunity to install in its place a truly democratic government that would transform all of Philippine society. The Marcos dictatorship was never the solution. What it was and what it represented — the rule of a handful of families committed only to the preservation and enhancement of its interests and those of its foreign patron — was, and still is, the problem.
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
Feb. 25, 2016