Ferdinand Marcos Jr nearly got elected as Vice President in the recent Philippine elections. He lost by only a couple of hundred thousand votes. A full third of the electorate voted for him, believing that (pick one or more of the following):
– Martial Law was not that bad, or even that it was good;
– Martial Law was bad, but was only the fault of his father;
– the VP position isn’t that important anyway;
– Marcos was the most experienced, and most competent among the VP candidates;
– it was important to vote against the LP, even if it meant voting for Marcos
Let us go into these points more deeply.
Teaching Martial Law at School
The first point – the belief that Martial Law was not that bad – is the fault of successive post-Martial Law politicians and of Filipinos in general. After we overthrew Marcos in 1986, we felt that everyone knew about Martial Law. We didn’t do enough to ensure that this general knowledge was passed on to future generations.
Every year, there would be an EDSA anniversary celebration on 25 February; but there was no effort to include the experience of Martial Law in school history textbooks. In those textbooks, Marcos was portrayed as just one in the series of presidents. Students were taught that all presidents had good and bad points. The students took it to mean that Martial Law was not that bad – just something similar to the failed Estrada presidency.
What should have been done was to have a specific chapter on Martial Law: on how Marcos grabbed power, on the various economic, political and human rights crimes the Marcosses committed, and the brave resistance of many people, and finally the 1986 uprising.
Instead of merely remembering the EDSA uprising every 25 February, we should also mark 21 September as the anniversary of the Martial Law declaration. 21 September would then be some kind of ‘Memorial Day’ and 25 February ‘Freedom Day’. The Aquinos’ role in both should be reduced; more emphasis should be given to how many people who suffered under Martial Law, and how they fought back.
Merely the Son of…
Ferdinand Marcos Jr is trying to pass himself of as ‘merely the son of’ FM Sr. the dictator. That he was innocent of the wrongdoings of his father and mother. But this is a lie.
FM Jr became 18 years old in 1975, a mere 3 years into Martial Law. He was an adult who fully participated in the ‘family business’ of looting the wealth of the Philippines. He used dummy corporations to siphon money from legitimate businesses.
And then there are the various secret bank accounts of the Marcos family. FM opened secret bank accounts for all his children, to which they alone would have the access codes.While the Philippine government has gotten hold of the assets from many Marcos accounts (especially those in Swiss banks), there are many accounts elsewhere, which are harder to trace. FM Sr’s remaining personal accounts, which are presently controlled by Imelda Marcos, will also surely be passed on to her children upon her death.
So, FM Jr is not merely the son of FM Sr, the dictator. He is his heir; he was a co-conspirator to his father; he has inherited a big part of the loot his parents had stolen; he is complicit in many of FM Sr’s crimes..
“The Vice President Position is not that Important”
Some people say that the they could vote for FM Jr, because it is ‘only’ for Vice President, which is after all not an important position.
While it is true that the position of Vice President is not as powerful as that of the President, VPs yield more power than senators or cabinet secretaries. First of all, a Vice President is often given a cabinet post. She/he will attend cabinet meetings. And since she/he is the only one whom the president cannot dismiss, she/he will be one of the cabinet heavyweights, regardless of whatever portfolio she/he has.
Second, a VP is literally only a heartbeat away from being president. If the president dies or is deposed, the vice president will take over. This has happened three times in Philippine history: in 1944 when Osmena became president-in-exile after Quezon’s death; in 1957 when Garcia took over after Magsaysay died in a plane crash; and in 2001, when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo replaced president Estrada after he was deposed.
For this reason, we should only elect a vice president who would make a good president.
Then, the vice presidency is a perfect launching pad for an eventual presidential campaign. Marcos was the VP of Macapagal before he first ran for president in 1965. Erap Estrada skillfully used his VP position for this purpose. Binay used it for the same purpose.
If FM Jr became vice president, he would also have used the position to gradually change people’s perception of FM Sr and Martial Law.
Most Experienced, Competent
Then, it is said that FM Jr was the most experienced and competent candidate. In response to this, we could recall how Cory Aquino responded to a similar argument by Marcos Sr (paraphrasing): “I am not as experienced as Marcos in cheating, stealing and trampling on people’s human rights”. One’s length of stay in office is not an automatic sign of competence, but of the strength of one’s political dynastic power.
Leni Robredo had served only 3 years in the House of Representatives; but she had performed exceptionally well as Representative, with many good bills introduced and advocated, including the Freedom of Information Bill and the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill. Before becoming Representative, she had worked for the Naga City Public Attorney’s Office, and then as coordinator of SALIGAN – an alternative legal support group. Her work brought her in contact with people from many communities, including many outlying ones. She has had a lot of experience.
FM Jr became Vice-Governor of Ilocos Norte in 1980 (after finishing college), and proceeded to take positions alternately as governor, congressman and senator, all based on his local dynastic politicial base in Ilocos Norte (with an interlude between 1986 and 1991 because he was with his father in exile). Having been always in public office, FMJr does not have any experience with what ordinary people feel and want.
What FM Jr seems to have done during his years in public office is to steer clear of petty political controversies and corruption scandals. With literally billions of dollars in bank accounts, and the Marcos unchallenged political dominance in Ilocos Norte, he did not need to. Compared to other political wheeler-dealers who ran for vice president e.g. Chiz Escudero or Gregorio Honasan, FM Jr would indeed seem like a decent choice.
Marcos vs Aquino
One narrative that seems to be quite strong is that Martial Law was mainly about the rivalry between Marcos and Aquino. Under this logic, the administration of PNoy is just the counterpoint of Martial Law (and implicitly was made to be equivalent to it). Thus, those who disliked PNoy and the Liberal Party should vote for FM Jr .
I come from Cebu; and I know that Marcos’ main rival when he declared Martial Law was Sergio Osmena Jr (Serging), who had run against him in the 1969 elections. When Marcos declared Martial Law, the first target was the power base of vice president Fernando Lopez – Marcos grabbed their properties (incl. ABS-CBN and Meralco) – because the Lopez family was the biggest threat to his power. The outspoken Senators who opposed Marcos were Salonga, Diokno, Aquino and Tanada. Among them, Salonga was the most respected leader. Salonga, however, suffered from ill-health due to the injuries he incurred during the Plaza Miranda Bombing of 1971. It was Salonga who headed a broad coalition of the opposition in its boycott of the 1981 elections.
During the darkest years of the dictatorship, Ninoy Aquino was in exile in the USA. After the 1981 election boycott, Ninoy Aquino realized that if he remained outside for long, he would lapse into political irrelevance. In order to get back into the scene, Aquino decided to return in August 1983. His death on Marcos’ orders (many people now believe that it was Imelda Marcos who ordered it, not Ferdinand) transformed him into a martyr for the Filipino people. He became a rallying point for a wave of protests that pushed Marcos to declare snap elections in February 1986.
When Marcos called for snap elections, it was Salvador Laurel who was the most likely candidate of the opposition. But many of those who were active in the protest movement didn’t want Laurel to lead them. Eventually, the united opposition chose Cory Aquino to run as president. Laurel had to very reluctantly agree to run as vice president.
Thus, the Marcos – Aquino was a small part of the contradiction during Martial Law.
Post EDSA governments chose to emphasize the role of the Aquinos in overthrowing Marcos. Cory Aquino needed to: she was faced with numerous coup attempts against her, and she wanted to honor the memory of her assasinated husband. Fidel Ramos, who succeeded Cory Aquino, emphasized the last years of Martial Law; because in the first part, he was Martial Law’s enforcer.
It is of utmost importance that our people are properly educated about the evils of Martial Law. We need to reach out to the young people and inform them about what Martial Law was all about – and not what they learned in school. We need to revise the history textbooks to give an accurate accout of Martial Law; and that problems with subsequent presidents pale in comparison.
The Marcos-Aquino myth needs to be broken. The story of a whole era of resistance needs to be told. .Ninoy and Cory Aquino should be brought down to earth; their role should be acknowledged, but no longer inflated.
And it is very important to expose FMJr’s personal participation in FM Sr’s crimes. ‘Never Again’ should not only refer to never again having Martial Law. It should also mean that the Filipinos would ‘Never Again’ support the Marcoses bid to return to power.