Legitimizing tyranny

As if to mock not only the country and the people Ferdinand Marcos and his civilian and military thugs pillaged and victimized but also the very same government of which they’re supposed to be a part, the House of Representatives passed a bill declaring Sept. 11, 2020 as “President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Day” in Ilocos Norte to mark the 103rd birth anniversary of the late dictator.

Only ten days after his 55th birthday, Marcos signed Presidential Proclamation 1081 on Sept. 21, 1972. Upon its implementation on the 23rd of that month, PP 1081 placed the entire Philippines under martial rule. It abolished Congress; padlocked newspapers and broadcast networks; caused the arrest, detention, torture and summary execution of thousands; canceled the 1973 presidential elections in which Marcos was prohibited from running again by the 1936 Constitution; empowered military tribunals to try civilians; and installed a bayonet-backed dictatorship on the ruins of the first Asian republic.

Not only the government’s own National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has described the Marcos martial law regime as “tyrannous” and the years it was in place “a time of great fear, deception, and censorship.” In recognition of the suffering it inflicted on thousands, Congress also passed in 2013 the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act which provided the victims of human rights violations or their surviving kin compensation for the arbitrary arrests, summary executions, torture, enforced disappearances and other abuses during Marcos’ 14-year (1972-1986) reign of terror.

Despite the government’s acknowledging the horrors of Marcos’ martial rule, like his allies in the current House, President Rodrigo Duterte has also ignored both the NHCP and the 2013 Congress. Despite NHCP opposition, he allowed the burial of Marcos’ remains in the country’s Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in 2016, and in 2017 declared Sept. 11 a special nonworking holiday in the same province.

By a vote of 198 to 8 and one abstention, the majority in the Lower House joined the three Ilocos congressmen who sponsored HB 7137 in passing it. Could these alleged “representatives of the people” — who habitually ignore the wishes of their constituencies, very recently their support for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise — be totally clueless about what Marcos and company did to this country? Or did they pass the bill as part of the attempt by the Duterte regime to endow the Marcos kleptocracy with legitimacy and promote the lie that authoritarian rule is what this country needs to lead it to the promised land of progress and development?

The regime’s print and broadcast mercenaries and its hirelings and trolls in social media have in fact been tirelessly advancing the latter argument. The proponents of a “revolutionary government” are also using it to further their authoritarian ambitions and as their excuse to trash the 1987 Constitution. And the frequent threat to give Mr. Duterte extraordinary powers to deal with this or that problem is only a variation of the same tired theme based on the spurious claim that the complexities of democratic rule are encouraging corruption and preventing the country’s development.

Their self-serving and dubious conclusion is that democracy has failed the Philippines and its people. But it isn’t the alleged complexities of democratic governance that are responsible for this country’s dire straits. It is instead due to the oligarchy’s incompetence, corruption, and subservience to foreign interests.

Democracy has not failed because it is yet to be the reality both its adherents and foes assume already exists in this country. It is a work in progress that began during the Revolution of 1896. Rather than being completed upon the US’ supposed recognition of Philippine independence in 1946, democratization has become a protracted and unending process because it has been derailed, sabotaged, debased, defiled and subverted not only by American intervention and Japanese invasion, but also by the country’s local overlords who should have been nurturing it but who, in deeds if not in words, have been undermining it.

It is the political dynasties — the handful of families that since Commonwealth days have monopolized political power in this country, handing it down like personal property to wives, sons and daughters — who have failed this country’s people and brought them to ruin. It is their personal, familial and class interests rather than those of the majority, the impoverished and the marginalized that they have advanced and protected through their control of government.

And yet it is these oligarchs who’re now blaming the democracy they have prevented from realization rather than their corruption and their incompetent, visionless and self-aggrandizing ways of governance for the poverty and other ills that have haunted these isles for decades — and they’re using their own failure as the excuse to promote the delusion that what the Philippines needs is another dictatorship.

In furtherance of that specious claim, the country’s would-be as well as de facto tyrants are portraying the Marcos despotism as a 14-year era of peace and prosperity. That tale is as fraudulent as his medals. The Marcos kleptocracy set the Philippines back years in terms of the destruction it wrought on the politics, economy, and culture of what could have been the democratic and developed country that the advocates of change were campaigning for among their fellow professionals, nationalist businessmen, students, workers and farmers.

The demand was mostly heard in the streets during the huge demonstrations and protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Behind those calls for change was a coherent critique of Philippine society and a credible program that emphasized the need for democratic participation in governance, authentic land reform, and industrialization as the basic solutions to its problems.

In addition to keeping himself in power for life, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law to combat that movement for democracy and change and its program, and to silence its adherents, defenders, and champions. The consequence was 14 years of crisis, conflict, and the loss to this country of some of its best and brightest sons and daughters while Marcos amassed enough riches to put himself and his family in the company of the world’s wealthiest men and women.

The continuing poverty, corruption, injustice and mass misery that until today define the lives of the majority, as well as the constant danger of a return to authoritarian rule, are among the black legacies of that period. But the Marcos terror regime also damaged Philippine culture as a consequence of the arrest, exile, and even killing of some of the country’s best poets, artists, filmmakers and journalists.

The campaign by anti-democratic forces to deny the truth of what really happened during that period and to construct a version of it suited to their aims is crucial to the public’s accepting the false premise that the return of authoritarian rule is the country’s only alternative to its continuing deterioration. Those responsible would then escape accountability for the poverty, violence, corruption, injustice, and mass misery that their benighted regimes have wrought, and would instead further expand the power they have been misusing since the latter years of US colonial rule.

HB 7137 is not just another attempt by Marcos idolaters to market an imagined past for mass consumption. Forgetting what really happened in history is the surest road to its repetition. In legitimizing tyranny, what they and their ilk are demonstrating is that they’re more than willing, because it is in their interest, to be party to the forgetfulness that can ensure its return.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).

Published in Business World
September 10, 2020

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