This Sept. 21 marks the 42nd anniversary of the imposition of martial law by President Ferdinand E. Marcos. It meant the beginning of mailed-fist dictatorial rule that brought ruin to the Philippine economy; hocked the future of generations to come to the multinational financial mafia; institutionalized plunder and cronyism in government; reared a blood-thirsty, moneygrubbing Armed Forces that is no better than Praetorian guard to the ruling elite; and led to the sacrifice of a generation of the brightest, most promising youth of the land on the altar of freedom.
Yet a kind of amnesia has descended over our collective consciousness, leading to the steady erosion of the memories of that dark period. Is this a natural process not unlike the fading of old photographs, society’s way of dealing with the trauma of the Marcos fascist dictatorship? Or is this not a conscious revision of history to conceal the real reasons and culprits behind 13 years of unprecedented tyranny and bestiality?
How can we, as a people, sustain our vigilance and reject any machinations or intentional drift toward authoritarian rule no matter the democratic guise? How do we come to terms with the disappointing reality of a fundamentally unchanged and even more rotten social system 28 years after the so-called EDSA revolution?
Imelda Marcos’s innumerable shoes symbolized the profligacy of the Conjugal Dictatorship. At the time, the revelation came as a shock to everyone despite her notoriety for extravagance. Nowadays it is reduced to being merely a shoe fetish of the flamboyant First Lady, something no longer unusual for upper class fashionistas who think nothing of splurging on so many branded bags and shoes.
The plunder of the national coffers by Marcos cronies and their multinational corporate partners was a key issue in unmasking the evils of the dictatorship. But no post-Marcos regime was ever able to punish the guilty parties; not even that of Cory Aquino. The latter had the widest legal and political latitude to investigate, prosecute and convict the guilty, given the advantages of the post-EDSA euphoria and a “revolutionary Constitution.” Instead she chose to honor all onerous foreign debts, including that of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, allowed the takeover of lucrative government contracts by Kamag-anak Inc., and preserved the Cojuangco clan’s feudal hold on Hacienda Luisita through the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
None of those most responsible for the horrors of the martial law regime have been held accountable either. Not Marcos’s fellow architects of martial law like Juan Ponce Enrile or Fidel V. Ramos or its most notorious hatchet men such as then Armed Forces chief General Fabian Ver. On the contrary, the political heirs of the dictator Marcos have been fully rehabilitated. The strongman’s son, Ferdinand Jr., is senator and aims to be president one day; Imelda is a congresswoman; daughter Imee is now governor after a stint as congresswoman.
A video documentary, Batas Militar, by the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, had helped popularize images of the brutality of martial law. But ironically one of the most dramatic footages is actually taken from a video clip of the Mendiola Massacre that happened under Cory Aquino’s watch. Peasants demanding land reform were gunned down at the foot of the Presidential Palace by snipers believed to be from the military.
An honest mistake perhaps, or maybe an indicator of the way the fascist character of the state security forces is being laundered and made to appear to be a thing of the past. After all, in the aftermath of the EDSA uprising cum military revolt, Ramos and Enrile emerged as heroes. This was followed by deliberate media massaging about the “reformed AFP.” Unsurprisingly, no human rights violator from the uniformed services has ever been punished to this day.
Apart from impunity, there is also the Honasan phenomenon. “Gringo” Honasan was an Army colonel, head of the shadowy group Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and Enrile’s right-hand man when they launched the failed coup attempt against Marcos. This triggered events that culminated in the EDSA “people power” uprising. He was a recidivist coup plotter: the RAM is implicated in the double murder of the Leftist trade-union leader Atty. Rolando Olalia and his driver as part of a sinister destabilization plot against Cory Aquino to bring Enrile and his militarist pals to power. Honasan was granted amnesty by President Fidel V. Ramos, himself an ex-general; subsequently, Honasan was able to recycle himself into a senator of the republic.
Thus the myth of the military as savior of the people against hopelessly corrupt politicians and of a military coup d’état as a democratic option to change a despised ruler is one that continues to lure Filipinos looking for a quick way out of rut we are in.
But the role of the United States as a singular force imposing policies that perpetrate the stunted domestic economy and the subservient rule of the small privileged elite is most unclear to our people then as now.
US backing is the main reason martial law lasted that long. Then US Vice-President George W. Bush lavishly praised Marcos during a 1981 state visit for his “adherence to democratic principles and democratic processes” despite his presiding over one of the world’s most repressive regimes. The US finally decided to junk Marcos when he had become a liability more than an asset to US interests. The EDSA “people power revolution” thereafter became a model for US-backed regime change.
The prevalence of the myth of US benevolence, altruism and protective role continues and has even intensified despite US-led imperialist intervention and aggression worldwide. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the relative ease with which the US and the Aquino government rammed through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a grossly unequal agreement detrimental to national interest and the people’s welfare.
In sum, the failure of successive administrations to improve our people’s lives despite the restoration of elections, Congress and other formal democratic institutions and processes cannot be attributed mainly to national amnesia or to what is decried as the Filipino people’s short memory, but to our colonial and neocolonial education — or more accurately, miseducation — that persists to this day.
Only a nationalist and democratic counter-consciousness deliberately and determinedly nurtured can serve as an antidote to the malady of Filipinos pining for another Marcos for their deliverance.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
September 21, 2014