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Sep 14

The Explainer: Rehabilitation

August was a month full of momentous events and anniversaries, and September’s just as memorable. On September 9, the birth anniversary of Sergio Osmena, the presidential candidacy of Benigno Aquino III was announced; and yet, on September 11, Ferdinand Marcos’ birth anniversary made the news because of a Tribute Concert at the Cultural Center for his widow, Imelda; and on September 28, the 99th birth anniversary of Diosdado Macapagal, the Marcoses will mark the death anniversary of Macapagal’s political rival, Ferdinand Marcos.

Circles within circles but all of them pointing to one problem we’ll tackle tonight: how does one achieve political rehabilitation? Yesterday’s hero may be today’s has-been; who can be, in turn, tomorrow’s comeback kid. It’s here today, gone tomorrow night on the Explainer, and I’m Manolo Quezon.

 

I.

 

Last Friday Madame Imelda Romualdez Marcos got a well-deserved tribute from the Cultural Center of the Philippines by way of a concert to mark the CCP’s 40th anniversary and the birthday of Madame’s beloved husband. Earlier this year, her 80th birthday crowned her as Queen of the Geriatric Glitterati, underscoring a social status unimaginable back in say, 1986.

As the present administration tries to put some teeth into it’s coalition’s campaign for 2010, what all the surveys say is a government that beat the Marcoses in terms of unpopularity, has its work cut out.

The President herself may be preparing to bow out, but she’s got to be thinking, what with two sons set to seek re-election next year, whether she will have to wait for close to a generation to pass, as Imelda did, to have her birthday parties lovingly covered by the newspapers.

And since the country’s already in 2010 mode, we have to ask ourselves, when it comes to national politics, when you’re down, are you permanently out? Is vindication, or shall we say, political rehabilitation, possible?

Since it was Marcos’s birthday last September 11, and since Diosdado Macapagal’s birthday, September 28, is also Marcos’s death anniversary, let’s kick things off with this Free Press editorial cartoon by E.Z. Izon, circa 1965. It shows Marcos and Macapagal in the dead of night, digging up the corpses of issues past, against each other: the Nalundasan murder case against Marcos and the issue of collaboration with the Japanese against Macapagal.

Marcos, of course, had entered national prominence for becoming a bar topnotcher while in jail; he cemented his reputation by claiming to be a bemedaled World War II veteran, part of a group of leaders like Ramon Magsaysay who achieved electoral success in part because of their wartime service in the Resistance.

And so Marcos could use his status as a war hero to call into question the patriotism of Macapagal, even though Macapagal, who didn’t fight in Bataan but who lost his first wife to starvation, claimed he secretly supported the guerrillas.

The counter-charges of being a murdered didn’t stick, either, because much as Macapagal might bring up the Nalundasan case in which Marcos had been accused of shooting his father’s political rival in Ilocos Norte, then Senate President Marcos could claim he’d proven his innocence in the proper forum –the Supreme Court.

But political dirt has a way of keeping things messy, even if you think you’ve washed off the mud. In 1965 and 1969, Marcos would be elected and re-elected to the presidency, but with his time running out in 1971…

A grenade attack in Plaza Miranda during the Liberal Party’s senatorial miting de avance, was pinned by the opposition and the public on Marcos. And even if Marcos insisted he was innocent, no one believed him until long after his death, when one of the most seriously wounded, Senator Jovito Salonga, came around to expressing the belief that the attack had been undertaken by the Communist Party of the Philippines.

In the twilight of his presidency, Marcos would discover that what had formerly been taken as true was now all disbelieved.

Aside from this iconic image of Mrs. Marcos by the Indonesian painter Baseki Abdullah,

It’s companion portrait of President Marcos became an equally iconic representation of the New Society and its assertion the Real Makoy as a genuine soldier-statesman.

But by the year of Ninoy Aquino’s death –a year, ironically, many people assumed it was Marcos who wasn’t going to make it- the Great Dictator was writing this in his diary: the prose is vintage FM, and here he’s thundering against scholars like Alfred McCoy and oppositionists like Boni Gillego, who’d dared question the authenticity of Marcos’ military medals:

Their pettiness has besmirched with the foul attention the honorable service of all who have received medals and citations in the last World War. They have not excluded me. But instead have made me their special target as the most visible of those who offered blood, honor and life to our people.

So I must fight the battles of Bataan all over again. We must walk our Death March in the hot April sun once again. The Calvary of the USAFFE must again be told.

And even if Third Republic had given way to New Society that, in turn, had been replaced with the 4th, or New Republic, Marcos’ image of permanence and power crumbled in the wake of questions that continue to haunt even in death-

Such as the thousands of victims of political murder during the Martial Law era; or,

The questionable dealings, financially, especially, of Marcos himself.

And yet, even if Marcos had to flee and died in exile because of People Power, a generation afterwards, some veterans of the era anxiously wonder if a kind of posthumous rehabilitation of the New Society hasn’t taken place.

The surprise appearance of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his sister, Aimee, at the wake of her father’s revolutionary successor, Cory Aquino, was generally greeted with both tolerance and even a kind of respect.

BongBong Marcos himself, onetime congressmen, then governor of their home province, is widely talked about as a probable senatorial candidate in 2010. While his mother had lost her 1992 and 1998 bids for the presidency, this is one Marcos candidacy people seem to be taking seriously –and without a great deal of hostility.

Rehabilitation by means of reconciliation is nothing new. After two decades of non partisanship, in the 1920s Emilio Aguinaldo reentered the political fray, and in 1935 actually ran for president again; in 1941, Aguinaldo and his former political enemy, Quezon, publicly reconciled; and the political rehabilitation of Aguinaldo began.

By the early 1950s, Aguinaldo had well and truly recovered his status as an elder statesman, and even his pension, removed by the National Assembly in the 1930s, was restored. President Quirino made Aguinaldo a member of the Council of State.

And besides rehabilitation by reconciliation, Aguinaldo achieved his by another means, too: there’s rehabilitation by longevity, where your outliving your rivals and critics dulls all criticism of you.

By the Macapagal administration, Aguinaldo’s victory in terms of public opinion was complete, with independence day being shifted from July 4 to June 12.

When we return, we’ll take up a thread we saw with Ferdinand Marcos Jr. –rehabilitation by means of posthumous vindication. Other sons who wanted to recover the lost luster of their father’s reputations, is what we’ll cover when we return.

 

II.

 

To topple Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, a widow and a former senator had to unite. Cory Aquino, of course, was the widow of Benigno Aquino Jr., who in turn, had been a childhood friend of Salvador H. Laurel. Both Ninoy and Doy had been driven, in their political careers, by a desire to vindicate their fathers.

On December 11, 1941, in what’s now the campus of PSBA in Quezon City, this cabinet meeting took place under the shade of a mango tree. It was the last cabinet meeting of the Commonwealth government prior to it’s evacuation to Corregidor and then exile. During this meeting, the man on the right, President Quezon, instructed the man in the middle with glasses, Jose P. Laurel, to stay in Manila and cooperate with the Japanese to help protect the public.

The officials you see here, photographed during a visit to the Emperor of Japan in 1943 –Jose P. Laurel, Jorge Vargas, and Benigno Aquino Sr.- ended up hated by many of their countrymen because they stayed in government to do what they could to act as a buffer between the Japanese and the public.

Ninoy Aquino, for one, became a daring politician –a man in a hurry- because of the trauma of seeing his father become so unpopular during the war, and then only to die of a heart attack during a boxing match before he could resume his political career. Ninoy vowed he’d be so successful his father’s memory would be vindicated.

He started off as a journalist, covering the Korean War, and then as a bridger of divides, including helping to convince Hukbalahap military supremo Luis Taruc to surrender to the authorities.

In the 50s and 60s and into the early 70s, he was a political whiz kid, a risk-taker, mounting a meteoric political career that always carried with it two goals: to pursue his own ambition and to make his success a crowing achievement for his father’s memory.

Last month the country got a crash course in how it all went wrong when martial law was imposed, but by ending his normal political career, ironically martial law made Ninoy a better man –and a statesman and no longer a politician.

In this letter Ninoy penned a revealing letter to his son, Benigno III, or Noynoy, Aquino explained his principled and no longer merely partisan, opposition to Marcos; and also wrote these lines to his son:

Your grandfather, my father, was also imprisoned by the Americans because he loved his people more than the Americans who colonized us, Ninoy wrote, adding, He was finally vindicated.

Ninoy was referring to the release of his father from jail, and how charges in the People’s Court to try officials for treason, didn’t prosper. But Ninoy was haunted by the lingering unpopularity of his father and it drove him to assert his own political principles as part of a long family history of principled opposition

–and culminating, of course, in the crowning glory of any leader, to die for his country, which is what Ninoy did on August 21, 1983, the anniversary of the Palaza Miranda bombing he’d narrowly escaped, because he showed up late.

Just as Ninoy bore his family history heavily on his shoulders, Doy Laurel, too, had seen his father imprisoned by the Americans and charged with treason by his countrymen, for heading the puppet republic established by the Japanese.

Laurel’s wartime role made him a target for assassination attempts by the guerrillas; and Doy knew how his father had sought political rehabilitation by means of the other kind of vindication politicians seek: election.

Not just infrastructure, but the well-ordered political established had been destroyed by World War II.

Men like Teofilo Sison, whom you see here and who was our first Secretary of National Defense, like Laurel and Aquino had faced charges of treason and some had never recovered, politically. Sison, for one, because he was actually convicted though later pardoned; Aquino, for another, because he died before he could resume his political career; Laurel would try to make a comeback.

But hanging over everything was the question of collaboration; in the 1946 elections, Osmena accused Roxas of collaboration while Roxas accused Osmena of being old and out of touch. Roxas barnstormed the country, Osmena made only one speech. Guess who lost.

And yet crowning his career with his greatest defeat, became for Sergio Osmena his greatest victory. And this suggests another kind of rehabilitation, a rare one for politicians who too often are considered only as good as their ability to win elections.

Here’s the late Teodoro M. Locsin Sr. telling us why Osmena could view defeat as a victory –and has gone down in history as a man who was ennobled by his defeats:

There is another kind of defeat, and it’s a rare one. Rare in history, and most rare in political history, for politics seems to bring out the worst, the meanest in men. It’s more than just honorable, it’s glorious, and that is defeat from self-denial: to lose when one might have won, out of a sense of high purpose. Such was the defeat of Pres. Sergio Osmeña in the 1946 presidential election.

Roxas, accused of collaboration, had viewed his victory as a vindication; his successor, Elpidio Quirino, who’d lost his wife and some of his children to the Japanese, brought up the collaboration issue against Laurel who’d been granted an amnesty by Roxas in 1948.

The 1949 elections had Quirino, a genuine victim of the Japanese Occupation, facing off against Laurel, who’d been puppet president under the Japanese, and who lost in a famously bitter and controversial election.

Laurel, having lst his bid for the presidency, decided to run, instead, for the Senate, because he felt he needed a popular mandate to settle, once and for all, his true standing before the people. When Laurel was successfully elected senator, he could rest easily having proven he’d been rehabilitated by the public.

And so he gave way, in 1953, to Ramon Magsaysay, to ensure only one opposition candidate would face off against Quirino –and when Magsaysay defeated Quirino, in a sense, Laurel had vindicated his 1949 loss, too.

Fast forward forty years, to the rise to the presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada-

Estrada had been mayor of San Juan for two decades when he was removed after the Edsa Revolution purged local governments of Marcos-era officials. This forced Estrada to train his sights on higher office –to vindicate himself.

But this would bring him up against his own Vice-President, who a mere three and a half years after their inauguration, would succeed Estrada.

Aside from his own legal problems, Estrada’s premature removal from office triggered in him the urge to find political vindication, and achieve a historical rehabilation.

He did this by means of two political proxies –his son, who was elected to the Senate;

And his wife, with the former First Lady also being elected to the Senate.

But this, in turn, has left Estrada still wanting an additional vindication –to return to the presidency- although it’s complicated by his having accepted a pardon from his successor, the President. Whether they will end up tied to each other, not by friendly obligations like this photo from Cebu just recently, but by a web of legal requirements because of the pardon, remains to be seen.

And this brings us to what we’ll be talking about further tonight: presidents, whether mere politicians or actual statesmen, are often haunted by their own pasts. Sometimes they seek the low road or the high road, to seek vindication, even after their terms; sometimes, all they want is to be rehabilitated after a period of disgrace. And sometimes, either of these yearnings becomes a filial obligation.

So join me for the Explainer Dialogues where we’ll ask, is a Marcos rehabilitation under way? And what about the Arroyo one, is it too soon to ask?

I’m Manolo Quezon. This has been the explainer.

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