The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:57:00 02/24/2010
BACK IN 1998, TEODORO L. LOCSIN JR. wrote an essay for the literary journal Pen & Ink, and quoted some lines from one of Danton Remoto’s poems:
But in the empty palace,
He walks slowly;
Everything, everything’s gone
Save this long hallway
That seems to have no end.
Locsin recalled, “I was there, that very evening, in that hall, right after Marcos fled. It felt exactly like Danton Remoto says it in his poem.”
Some years earlier, Locsin had mercilessly mocked the TV mini-series “A Dangerous Life” for incongruous scenes of Sri Lankans making the “Laban” sign while chanting (as Locsin put it) “Curry! Curry!” after a Sri Lankan chief justice with a velly, velly, Indian accent administered the oath of office to Laurice Guillen, who portrayed “Curry” Aquino. Yet who can forget that powerful scene in which Ruben Rustia as Ferdinand Marcos, preparing to depart the palace, bestowed a solemn kiss on his desk in his last few minutes in the country?
Lord Acton famously observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Marcos viewed himself as a great man; his country ejected him as a bad one.
In the time of the Caesars, as they rode in triumph, someone would be tasked to whisper in their ears, “Memento mori,” or “Remember, you will die.” A feature of papal coronations was the interruption of the litter bearing the pontiff three times, so he could be presented with a staff on which was a piece of slowly burning cloth, with the injunction, “Sic transit gloria mundi!” (Thus passes the glory of the world!)
In 1981 Marcos was mercilessly mocked when Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” was performed at his “inauguration” - at the time for the astounding vanity of it all but later on, in the fully Greek (Ancient, that is) sense of a chorus that informed theater goers of the hidden meaning or true feelings of the protagonists in a play. And the lines –
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,
King of kings, and Lord of lords;
– became the musical foreshadowing of the hubris (extreme haughtiness or arrogance) that, as the ancient Greeks also loved to point out, results in nemesis (divine retribution). The nemesis being, first, Ninoy Aquino, then Cory Aquino.
Marcos had achieved fame because of an assassination – the killing of his father’s political rival Julio Nalundasan, for which the young Ferdinand was convicted although the sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court – and achieved infamy because of another, that of Ninoy Aquino. He maneuvered to keep people guessing about his actual culpability for both, and yet they will always define the start and finish of his political career, and his underlying attitude to power: whatever the veneer of legality applied to his acts, all relied on buttressing wiliness with force.
The ultimate lesson, as Marcos himself crowed in his diary after his martial law gamble succeeded, was that “nothing succeeds like success!” (itself an expression coined by Sir Arthur Helps in 1868). The best that might have been expected was that violence simply begets more violence, and in that case, holding a plenitude of armed might, Marcos would always succeed. And so it was for so long, as his opponents confronted him with armed resistance.
This is not to disparage those who resisted martial law by means of armed struggle. But it is to point out that collectively we seem to hold those who resisted peacefully but still paid the ultimate price for their integrity through martyrdom, in the highest esteem of all: Rizal, Abad Santos, Aquino. It could be, as the Spanish intellectual Miguel de Unamuno put it, writing of Rizal as both the Tagalog Christ and Hamlet, that a people used to being powerless but longing for redemption have always known the futility of fighting fire with fire; or who believe that it requires a “great soul” (which is what the reference to Gandhi as “Mahatma” means) is the most effective nemesis to hubris.
This day reminds us, then, that in the face of what the desire for power and the ruthless use of it in order to keep it does to leaders and the led, it is rare, indeed, for leaders who have clawed their way to the top to listen to the Lincolnesque “better angels” of either their or their people’s nature. Yet surely it is a cause for deep pride and even deeper humility that time and again we, the people, have held up holding true to that better nature as the more authentic expression of our national characteristics and beliefs.
A blogger, Scriptorium, once observed, “The Edsa ideal, that the people can and must battle injustice by peaceful means, remains the public ideology, a part of the political climate that any leader must reckon into calculations. The Center as Center, guarded by Church and People, is even now stronger in the Philippines than elsewhere in the world (where Left and Right tend to possess greater force), and remains the popular base of truth and justice against lies and tyranny.”
The tyranny of today is both more insidious and bolder than that of the Marcos years. The lying, cheating and stealing, as the phrase popular since 2005 puts it, have relied on the Marcos playbook – divide and conquer and proclaim always you represent the “silent majority” – as modernized by the Republican playbook of the Bush years, which relies on mobilizing minorities and ignoring the politics of consensus.
After all, the negative consensus has been there since 2005, but until recently, a positive consensus couldn’t form. Put another way, almost everyone agrees on what they are against, but most have been hard put to agree on what they are for. It remains to be seen whether in May the country can achieve a majority consensus by means of its choice of leader.