The elephant in the room

During his Jan. 25 ONE News TV channel interview, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. was asked why he did not participate in GMA-TV’s Jessica Soho interview with four other candidates for President. One of the two interviewers referred to the need to explain his refusal as “the elephant in the room”— as the most obvious question that had to be addressed.

His answers to that question were indicative of Marcos Junior’s mindset and his capacity to provide some sense of what his program of government is, if any. But equally important is whether and how much his background, track record, and experience would shape his administration should he be elected to the post he and his family have long coveted.

Those issues are in fact the more obvious elephants in the room. But the reasons for his refusal to be interviewed with four other aspirants also suggested that his running for President is driven by nothing nobler than his ambition to follow his father’s footsteps. One of those reasons seems to be his fear of any one of his four opponents’ coming off as better equipped for the Presidency than he. But he said it was because broadcaster Soho was “biased,” by which he meant “anti-Marcos.”

Bias consists of favoring one or another idea, person or thing despite what the facts say. Hence being “anti-Marcos,” if based on verifiable facts, is not necessarily indicative of bias. One can be anti-anything as long as the facts support one’s position, but Marcos Junior went on to say that he did not want to be asked questions about “what happened 40 years ago,” meaning the martial law period. When asked by the woman interviewer if that is not important since he is running for a government post, he claimed that he had “already answered those questions.”

Apparently Marcos Junior is not aware that it is the duty of every journalist to ask candidates the hard questions because, as the woman broadcaster pointed out, they are running for government posts that will have an inevitable impact on the lives of millions. In addition, his claim that he has answered the questions that have been raised about his father’s dictatorship is not completely accurate.

It is important that he do so. Of all the candidates for President this year, it is he whose appraisal of that period would most likely have an impact on the kind of government he could inflict on this country and its people. He tried a kind of appraisal-cum non-apology six years ago. He has limited his recent statements about it to generalizations, but he did go into some detail then, in August 2015, when he announced his intention to run for Vice-President. “We (the Marcoses),” he said then, “have consistently said that if during the time of my father, some were hurt, were not helped, or were victimized in some way, we are sorry that happened. Nobody wanted that to happen. These are instances when people fell through the cracks.”

But, he continued, “Will I say sorry for the thousands and thousands of kilometers [of roads] that were built? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that made us self-sufficient in rice? Will I say sorry for the power generation? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia? What am I to say sorry about?”

That “apology” made it appear that martial law was meant to help people and that whatever abuses occurred were not intended. The men and women who were “victimized” just “fell through the cracks.” Marcos Senior’s intentions, however, were quite clear: he declared martial law to keep himself and his cronies and military thugs in power, and to halt the demands for change and democratization that were sweeping the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This is not a matter of opinion. The indisputable facts are that his term of office was ending in 1973, but martial law enabled him to stay in power for 13 more years — and he would have been President for life had he not been overthrown in 1986.

The kleptocracy he created used the most brutal means to stay in power, among them abductions, murder, enforced disappearances and the indeterminate detention of some of the best and brightest sons and daughters of the Filipino people. A 100,000 men and women were arrested and detained for daring to imagine an alternative State and society, and over 10,000 were tortured, disappeared, and murdered. Again, this is not a matter of opinion but of fact, as dozens of studies, and the National Historical Commission, have long established.

The second non-apology not only claimed that there were “thousands and thousands of kilometers of roads built” during the martial law period, it also made it appear that to build them a dictatorship was necessary. Marcos Senior was in fact already building those roads during his first term as President, when he did not have the powers he gave himself by declaring martial law.

Marcos Junior’s claim about self-sufficiency in rice was similarly false. There was a rice crisis during much of his father’s reign, with people lining up for the cereal for hours, and mixing rice with corn. Alternative means of generating power were indeed explored during the last years of Marcos’ rule, but these attempts, such as the corruption-ridden, badly designed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, never made any difference in assuring reliable power sources beyond the 1980s.

“The highest literacy rate in Asia” was not the regime’s doing either. The Philippines had had that distinction since the end of World War II. But it dropped during the Marcos autocracy, when telling the truth, and learning and teaching became dangerous undertakings, with journalists, artists, writers, students, teachers and academics among those targeted for arrest and worse.

Not only did the Marcos despotism savage the Bill of Rights, the economy, the free press and the representative democracy that, though flawed and limited, nevertheless allowed some measure of dissent and free expression, it also established a pattern of unparalleled corruption, abuse, and repression from which the country is still suffering.

The latter is the most dangerous legacy of the regime that, rather than apologize for, Marcos Junior is celebrating. When he declared martial law, Ferdinand Marcos let loose the forces resident in the darkest corners of a corrupt society, releasing from the restraints of civilization the most murderous and most brutal elements of the police and military on a defenseless people.

But not only did Marcos Junior claim during the ONE News interview that he has already answered questions about martial law. He also contradicted himself at every turn. He denied, for example, that he had said he would not make his SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) public, but he had done so only a few days earlier, only to declare the opposite when reminded that making one’s SALN public is legally mandated.

That interview was a reminder that Marcos Junior has not only refused to apologize for martial law — despite what the facts say he has even glorified it. Neither did he provide any indication that he has a credible program of government behind the glittering generalizations and sloganeering that have characterized his campaign.

Unlike most of his rivals for the Presidency, he has no economic program, and no clear agenda in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Their absence is the bigger elephant in the room.

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

Published in Business World
February 3, 2022

Share This Post