Aquino vs Marcos reprised


With the 2016 elections as subtext, a reprise of the decades-long war between Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. and Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. that culminated in Aquino’s assassination in 1983 is currently being fought between their respective offspring.

Benigno “Noynoy” S. C. Aquino III and Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. have been at loggerheads primarily because Marcos, Jr., who has refused to even acknowledge, much less apologize for, the gross abuses of his father’s martial law regime, could end up as vice-president of the Philippines after May this year. While made in the context of the elections, Aquino’s statements have been closer to the truth about martial law and EDSA 1 compared to Marcos, Jr.’s self-serving versions of his father’s rule.

The exchange has so far been merely verbal, as it was in the early stages of their fathers’ contention.

In the late 1960s, Aquino, Jr. was one of Marcos’ most effective critics from the political opposition. He was elected as the country’s youngest senator at the age of 34 in 1967. In what turned out to be a prescient insight, he pointed out that Marcos, who had been elected President in 1965, was establishing a “garrison state” by increasing the armed forces budget to record levels, keeping retireable generals in their posts, and militarizing the civilian bureaucracy.

Aquino’s 1969 speech describing the Cultural Center of the Philippines as extravagant and as “a pantheon for Imelda” (its construction was one of Imelda Marcos’ projects) earned him Ferdinand Marcos’ retort that he was “a congenital liar.”

Marcos was elected to a second term in November of that year. But despite the Constitutional ban on a third term, Marcos did not conceal his desire for one, through, among other indications, his efforts to have a new Constitution passed that would allow it. It was widely known that Aquino would run for President by the time he was 40-years old in 1973, hence his focus on being an administration critic.

While the contention for elective office has often led to violence among the political elite, it had seldom deteriorated to that extent among the contenders for national posts. In 1971, however, the bombing of a Liberal Party rally in Manila’s Plaza Miranda — for which the Marcos administration was supposedly responsible — sent the clearest signal so far that political rivalry at the national level had been raised beyond verbal skirmishes.

Marcos declared martial law in 1972 to keep himself in power beyond 1973 and arrested Aquino on charges of subversion, for which he was condemned to death by a military tribunal. Although the sentence was not carried out, Aquino was nevertheless assassinated when he returned to the Philippines in 1983, creating a crisis that eventually led to the overthrow of Marcos at EDSA in 1986.

EDSA 1 and the martial law period are the bones of contention between Aquino III and Marcos, Jr., but it is also over the not too unlikely possibility of the latter’s leading his family’s return to Malacañang, the vice-presidency being but one step to the country’s highest post.

Aquino III has invested in the verbal scuffle his presumably still considerable influence on the electorate by directly condemning Marcos, Jr.’s refusal to apologize for the abuses of the martial law regime, and warning the electorate against the late dictator’s family’s return to Malacañang.

Speaking in FiIipino during the 30th anniversary of the civilian-military mutiny at EDSA, Aquino asked how we can be sure Marcos, Jr. won’t repeat the wrongs his family committed during martial law if he can’t see those wrongs (“Kung hindi man lang niya makita ang mali sa ginawa ng kanilang pamilya, paano tayo aasang hindi niya ito uulitin?”).

On another occasion, Aquino revealed that contrary to current claims from the uninformed that the elder Marcos had decided not to attack the multitude massed at EDSA from Feb. 23-25, he was actually preparing to do so, and only yielded to US pressure to abandon that plan.

The Marcos, Jr. mantra has been to declare that Aquino and the country must “move on” — which can only happen if the issues that have hounded the country since the martial law terror regime are finally laid to rest, by, among other means, recognizing the damage that period inflicted on the country and its people. Subsequent to that would be the imperative for the Marcos family to admit that far from being the golden age that they’ve been trying to paint it, it was in reality one of the darkest chapters in the already tragedy-ridden history of this unhappy country, and that, consequently, the overthrow of the Marcos regime was absolutely essential if the country was to survive.

But the EDSA 1 uprising has been subjected to the revisionist formulation that not only did it not achieve anything, it also created problems and caused more suffering. EDSA 1’s signal achievement was its removing from power a regime sustained by violence, deceit, and plunder. Whatever came after was the responsibility of the succeeding administrations, which, led by the same dynasties that had prevented the democratization of political power for decades, did fail to achieve the meaningful changes that seemed so close at hand in 1986.

That after EDSA 1 nothing much changed is beyond argument. But what continues to surprise is the persistence of the myth that the dictatorship was a period of peace, prosperity and order, and that EDSA 1 might as well not have happened.

No one with any ounce of respect for the facts — political scientists, economists, journalists, political activists, human rights groups whether Philippine or foreign-based — will claim that the martial law period was anything other than a vile assault on the Filipino people that cost the lives of thousands of their best sons and daughters, separated families, impoverished the nation, and left a legacy of violence and corruption from which the country has not yet recovered.

Thus did the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore declare, in his book From Third World to First, that Marcos, Sr. “pillaged the country for over 20 years” — to the tune of over 30 billion dollars. Oddly enough, Marcos, Jr. has claimed that had his father not been removed by People Power at EDSA, he would have transformed the country into another Singapore, implying that he needed more than the 21 years (1965-1986) that he was in power to do so.

Some Filipinos critical of Aquino III’s record of governance since 2010 have been equally critical of his statements about EDSA 1 and martial law, and have claimed, despite the facts, that the former was unnecessary and a disaster, while the latter was the best thing that ever happened to this country. This claim is in the same category of cluelessness as creationism, which denies evolution and believes that the world was created in literally seven days.

Whatever may be the flaws of his administration, Aquino III is absolutely right in celebrating EDSA 1 as one of the best things that has ever happened to this country, and his condemning martial law as one of the worst — and in echoing the sentiments of millions of thinking Filipinos that never again should anyone who has even the remotest possibility of replicating the wrongs of the Marcos terror regime ever darken Malacañang.

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
March 3, 2016

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