The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:49:00 12/23/2009
BACK in 1986, an American editorial cartoon showed Ferdinand Marcos in pajamas, his fist raised in the air, a scowl on his face, and a blasé Hawaiian customs officer saying to him, “Yes, Mr. Marcos, besides martial law do you have anything else to declare?” Thus, in india-ink cartoonist’s lines, was the fall of the Great Dictator exposed.
What must have it been like in December 1985, when the Marcoses spent what turned out to be their last Christmas in power in Manila? We now know it was their last, but no one knew at the time that it was. Marcos might have been aging and ailing, but his KBL was firmly entrenched, he knew all the ins and outs, he seemed to have all the aces. After all, he wouldn’t have called for snap elections if he didn’t think he was playing with a marked deck.
And yet we know from Carmen Guerrero Nakpil that the Marcoses had been treading water for over two years. Recalling August, 1983, she wrote, “I asked [Imelda] whether she and the President had watched Ninoy’s funeral on TV, and she said, yes, they’d done so, together, in his bedroom. And that they’d been crushed, struck dumb by the enormity of what they were seeing on the video screen. She added that they had felt overwhelmingly humiliated because they had little inkling of the public mood, and that Marcos had said, ‘So, after all these years, all our efforts, our trying and striving, it has come to this?'”
Nakpil concluded, “Ninoy did not die that day on that sunny Sunday afternoon in August 1983 at the Manila International Airport, for that was when he began to live forever in the hearts of his countrymen. It was Ferdinand Marcos who died that day, and he knew it.”
Nakpilâ’s brother, Leon Ma. Guerrero, once observed that “There is in every man a secret and obscure instinct that gives him a warning of his fate,” though in every man too there must be an often superior compulsion to believe fate can be changed or mastered by a summoning of the will. If Marcos knew his fate, he could also have believed he could change it.
The final holiday of the person whom the website Hot Manila posthumously called The Man of Steal comes to mind, together with the question of whether his final holiday in power was spent in a delusional state of mind, because of the lady whom the country may yet end up calling Wander Woman. She is spending what, theoretically at least, is supposed to be her final holiday in power, too: a final holiday as prelude to what so many devoutly wish will be either imprisonment or exile.
In August of this year, Cory Aquino was laid to rest and President Macapagal-Arroyo, by all accounts, having temporized over whether to come home, made her dawn visit to the Manila Cathedral, then held a Mass at the Palace and then stomped off to seclude herself, leaving her loyalists at first waiting for instructions then quietly sneaking off to go home and watch the funeral on TV. Did she do the same? And did similar intimations of her political mortality afflict her mind in a manner similar to what the Marcoses experienced 26 years before?
She knows more than most what it is like for a president to see power slipping through his fingers, the fair-weather friends slipping away, the hallelujahs from the faithful faltering, the isolation and paranoia as those who have feasted at the presidential table scramble for seats at his successor’s. Raul M. Gonzales, her father’s press secretary, once recounted that as he contemplated having to leave office, depression drove President Diosdado Macapagal to drink. In one White Horse-addled moment, Cong Dadong even toyed with calling out the military. Gonzales recounted that he had to remind his boss that Marcos had made inroads in the military, and Ilocano officers would disobey orders to deny Marcos the presidency, and, with a sigh, Macapagal relented and dropped the idea.
In Macapagal’s day, elections were held in November, and presidents were inaugurated on Rizal Day, December 30, which is one reason the Quirino Grandstand faces the Rizal Monument and the Independence Flagpole that commemorates our becoming a sovereign republic in 1946. Defeated presidents thus had to endure a final Christmas in the Palace.
My father once told me about visiting the Garcias during their last Christmas in the Palace, and he said it was one of the most depressing things he’d ever experienced. It was like a wake, with President Garcia as the living dead. Hardly anyone bothered to show up, and there was sepulchral silence in the Palace’s great staterooms.
Those were days, however, when an unwritten tradition guaranteed defeated presidents peace and quiet after they left office, the people’s depriving them of a mandate apparently being punishment enough, making persecution by their successors politically unpalatable. Since 2001, this hasn’t been the case: when Ms Arroyo approved the arrest of Joseph Estrada, she was, in a sense, signing her own warrant of arrest. She has long disclaimed any desire to be popular, but she has surely hoped against hope she could, at least, count on some residual goodwill.
August proved, and events since then have repeatedly underscored this, that she will have neither peace nor security once her time in the Palace is up.
Marcos, talking to Time’s Hong Kong bureau chief Roy Cowan in 1974, said, “Never make a big decision when you’re angry, hungry or happy.” It’s hard to see how, in the coming months, the President’s decision-making won’t be done while under the influence of one, if not many, of these emotions. To contemplate the disgrace of imprisonment or exile is an invitation to try to trick fate. The alternative is an editorial cartoon, circa 2010, with a Portuguese or Spanish customs agent asking the blasé question, “Si, besides martial law, Señora, do you have anything to declare?”