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In his book, “China in Ten Words, Yu Hua tells a story about what it was like growing up in China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
This was the era when, to regain control over the Communist Party, Mao unleashed students to go against his enemies, branding them traitors to Communism.
At the heart of the Cultural Revolution was a massive personality cult centering on Mao. The anthem of the time was, “The East is Red, and Mao was called the sun.
Which brings us to Yu Hua’s story. One day, a classmate watched the sunset and remarked, “the sun is setting.” The next day, the classmate was denounced in front of the whole school. By saying the sun is setting, the kid was accused of saying Mao was dying.
The kid was bullied and teachers and students alike tried to force the child to confess that he was a counterrevolutionary. What saved the kid was he got so confused, he gave contradictory answers in between wails and sobs. It convinced enough of the mob that he was innocent.
After Mao died, his widow and allies, called the “Gang of Four,” tried to sieze power but instead lost the power struggle.
After the destruction and killings of the Cultural Revolution, the surviving leaders rallied around Deng Xiaoping, who ushered in reforms, but only up to a limit, as the Tiananmen Massacre proved. That limit was, control had to remain one-hundred percent under the Communist Party.
Deng also pursued a more consultative approach to leadership. No one, after Mao, should again be considered the sun. Leaders would be bland, even grey, but there would be stability and instead of winner-take-all power struggles, members of the party could expect to smoothly move up, then bow out after fixed periods of time.
Ziang Zemin, the successor of Deng, in turn demonstrated this new type of collective leadership. He would have two, five-year terms, and then retire.
His successor, Jiang Zemin, also followed this type. He too would rule for two five-year terms, and the power structure would be such, that everyone would move up and move out.
But Deng belonged to the generation of the revolutionary fathers of China. Ziang and Jiang in turn belonged to the successor generation, who had also risen through the ranks. But when Jiang retired, China’s new leader turned out to be a different kind of Communist altogether.
Xi Jinping is what is called a “princeling,” that is, he is a son of one of the pioneer generation of Communists. A new kind of Communist, a dynastic one. Like many other princelings, he had risen to power in the shadows and with the patronage of elder Communists from the first and second generations.
Now, he is due to embark on the expected: a second five-year term, after which normally he would be expected to bow out. But something is happening that is making China watchers unsure if this will actually be the case.
Let’s use The Atlantic as a guide. A couple of thousand reliable party representatives from all over the country will elect a couple of hundred from among themselves, to form the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In turn, the Central Committee will elect two dozen from among its members, to form the Politburo of the Communist Party. The members of the Politburo will then pick seven from among its members, to constitute the Politburo Standing Committee, and this Committee in turn provides the top leader, the General Secretary of the Party who inevitably becomes President of the People’s Republic of China.
Tomorrow, the ceremonies will be kicked off by Xi Jinping laying out the next five-year plan for the party. People will be listening to see what he says. Then, perhaps by October 25, Xi will make another speech and introduce the party’s new leaders. People again will be watching to see who are announced. Will the Standing Committee, for example, be composed of people perceived to be loyal to Xi? And Will Xi follow tradition, by introducing people who will start to be promoted as Xi’s successors in five years? This is, after all, how Xi himself came to be known—introduced in the People’s Congress in 2007 ahead of his assuming power in the next People’s Congress in 2012.
Part of the drama is the way the Chinese prefer to conduct political maneuvering—behind the scenes, and in the shadows. All the public sees is a prearranged ritual, designed to convey unity and strength. Whether results meets expectations will determine how the world sees China in the next five years. Will it remain a predictable dictatorship? Or one returning to an older era of personality cults?
In politics, the most direct path from point A to point B is a zigzag and not a straight line. To try otherwise is to line up possible opponents all in a row: big business, media, the military, the bureaucracy, the Supreme Court, foreign allies (or those with influence), the Church, and the political class. Creating one collision after another heightens the risk factor in terms of the two variables — public opinion and time — that can get in the way of achieving your objective. In his time, Ferdinand Marcos, who famously said never make a decision when you are angry, hungry, or happy, mastered the management of time and public opinion as he island-hopped his way to dictatorship, isolating or co-opting each possible opponent in turn. Cory Aquino, intent merely on presiding over a constitutional handover of power, was able to weather a collision with the military. Fidel V. Ramos, in attempting Charter change, nearly did it, except memories of Marcos were still too fresh. Joseph Estrada was reckless. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo first played the China card to stay in power, then moderated her aims to finishing her term and laying the foundation by means of midnight appointments, to ride out her successor’s term. Benigno Aquino III alienated big players by taking a level playing field too seriously, anointing a successor perceived as a traitor to his class by his peers, offended the middle class by attempting to confront emotion with reason.
What the President’s — or his coalition’s — objectives lack in detail or focus are more than made up for by ambition. Eliminate direct election by the public of the head of government; unite executive and legislative to assure department control by legislators (securing, in turn, iron-clad fiefdoms for local barons while eliminating national figures as rivals); and reorganize (purge) the bureaucracy, while allowing local business to sell out to foreign ownership. All of this under cover of the very thing the ruling coalition wants to eventually eliminate as a factor in our politics: national opinion, which confers (and takes away) public support on presidents.
The President’s dilemma — as the Plaza Miranda government rally last Sept. 21, and the barely – noticed gatherings at the Quirino Grandstand and Plaza Independencia in Cebu over the weekend showed — is that online fervor and high survey ratings still can’t be translated into warm bodies to publicly show support. At least, this hasn’t been the case since the campaign. Convinced that the best defense is a good offense, the President continues to present a moving target: when it became indisputable that public opinion had turned against the police, the President made a cosmetic announcement yesterday: The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, he said, will now do all the talking on the so-called war on drugs (a smokescreen he’s been belching since January, with statistics handed over last May and repeated trial balloons in August and in September).
He must govern by fear. Big business has been taught to toe the line by avoiding expressing anything other than praise, what with the fate of those businesses that have angered the President or his people. Media remains on the defensive as audiences shrink. The military, under sane and cautious leadership of Delfin Lorenzana and Eduardo Año, is holding the line against political adventurism by civilian leaders (even the recent appointment of Gen. Rolando Bautista as Army Chief does not change this). The bureaucracy is what it is. In the Supreme Court, yesterday’s decision on Senator Leila de Lima suggests the four appointments of the President so far (with at least two more by next year) are fortifying a comfortable majority in important decisions to come. The China card neutralizes all other foreign opinion. The Church is still practicing prudence. This leaves the political class, which has a breather in terms of barangay elections finally being postponed, while depriving the President of the opportunity to appoint OICs. While the Comelec (and one assumes, enterprising politicians) figure out what to do with the 59 million blank ballots already printed, the May 2018 polls presents a problem: All the machines will have to calibrate, not now, but in a year.
This is why Koko Pimentel announced PDP-Laban will stop accepting new members this December. Carpet-baggers from the executive branch can be kept out this way, fortifying those in politics before the current era — and ensuring their relevance even beyond the current dispensation. With dropping ratings comes the imperative to position for a post-administration future. After the budget passes next month, impeachment will eat up congressional time, but Charter change has to be concluded by May next year. Otherwise May 2019 will serve as the prelude to the 2022 presidential derby.
Posted at Oct 09 2017 07:43 PM | Updated as of Oct 09 2017 09:45 PM
For anyone in politics, each snapshot is also a means to measure how high, or low, Damocles’ sword is dangling. Because for every administration, public opinion as measured by the polls, is like a referendum. More than a taking of the pulse, a survey is an reaffirmation, or a possible rejection, of the mandate that administration got at the start.
But, of course, there are two ways of looking at the same snapshot. You can look at the different responses, and report them individually: broadly speaking, approve, disapprove, and don’t know. Each response is reported separately and you have Gross Numbers. So the chart above, for example, only tells you the gross numbers for satisfaction. But there’s another way and it uses taking approval and subtracting disapproval, and the result is a net number. At a certain point, if the disapproval gets big enough, you start having negative numbers, as you can see in the chart below. It’s simpler and also more exciting for reporters. Note that the lines more or less maintain the same ups and downs.
For now, let’s use Net numbers simply because the media taking its cue from the Social Weather Stations (SWS), which likes to use these figures because they’re easier to report and, I might add, they can be more dramatic Two of the most significant things looked at by SWS are satisfaction and trust. How satisfied are you, with the President in terms of his doing his job? How much do you trust the President?
As you can see from this chart on satisfaction, there’s a rule of thumb: there is no way for any president to go, but down, in public opinion as time passes. Some presidents will recover, lose, recover again, and so on. Others nosedive and hardly recover. As more points get added –more snapshots are taken—all sides look to see if a pattern can be seen.
The other way these snapshots are useful, is to see if there is a picture of health or not, in comparison to previous presidents at the same time in their terms. Presidents Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rose to power not on the regular, June schedule, but earlier; so their timelines are different. President Estrada didn’t have a September survey one and a half years into his term. So the best we can do is to compare the President, now, with two of his predecessors at the same point in time in their terms. At plus 48, he is not doing as well as Fidel V. Ramos (FVR( who had plus 62 and Benigno Simeon Aquino III (BSA) who had plus 56 this time in their terms.
Now before we go on to further zeroing in on his performance results, let’s refresh our memory about two things. The first is geography. That is, where a President can count on people because they delivered votes to help him win. Two places count the most for the President: Metro Manila, and Mindanao. Which is not to say he didn’t do well in other places. But these are the places he did best.
The other thing is, well, the people. What kind of people delivered for the President to help him win? Looking at the exit polls in May 2016, Mahar Mangahas observed the wealthier, the more educated, and the younger you were, the more likely you were to be a supporter of the President, and more males and non-Catholics went for him in comparison to his rivals.
Bearing all of this mind, looking at the surveys since he took office combined, the President can take comfort in Mindanao being steady in its support. He has a problem with the Visayas, which has dropped the most steeply, although National Capital Region (NCR) and Balance Luzon have dropped too.
As far as the President is concerned, urban and rural opinion are practically the same, though he had done better among urban people in the past.
But in terms of his core support, they remain with him, firmly indeed. That’s the green line indicating you, the likely ANC viewer, who belongs to class ABC. In contrast to you is the sharp decline among the poorest of the poor, Class E. And a significant decline in the biggest portion of our population, Class D, as well.
As far as men and women are concerned, the President has faced a steady decline among men, who used to prefer him more. In the recent past, he had enjoyed an increase in female support but he’s lost it, with slightly fewer women approving than do men.
In another core demographic of the President, College Graduates among whom he did well in 2016, he has done the worst. That’s the pink line, which started dropping sharply this year. All other levels have dropped as well except for those with Some College or Vocational education, who are holding the steadiest.
How does it all come together? For this we have to thank JC Punongbayan, who is a doctoral candidate at the School of Economics of UP. Looking at the President’s performance ratings year on year, that is, from two snapshots, September 2016 and September 2017, he’s zeroed in on where the President has gone.
It’s generally negative, across the nation, regions, economic classes, ages, sexes, and educational levels –with the exception of Class ABC–you, the viewer—which is the only place where he is marginally better today than he was in September last year. The President has lost the most satisfaction in Balance Luzon and the Visayas, among rural Filipinos, among Men, and among those ages 35-44 who are young parents, perhaps, followed by millennials 25 to 34 and seniors 55 and above.
Now this brings us to the second question: trust. The President, before he won, had only slightly over half of the public trusting him. When he won, trust went through the roof. It stayed there, in the low eighties, until June this year.
Much has been said and written about how victory crowns our officials with public trust. In a sense, the winner takes all. All the power, and all the trust of nearly all the people. But since June, the latest snapshot tells us something different. Trust has dropped nine percentage points since then.
Last September, that is, a year ago, I looked at the President’s trust numbers and made some observations. It was very early on his term, and the changes were tiny. So tiny, they were statistically not worth mentioning. So, in looking at the numbers then, I put forward a thesis. Either these tiny changes were little hairline fractures that could develop into wider cracks, or they were things that would go away and not matter in a few months or a year.
Just as JC Punongbayan did with the President’s satisfaction ratings, I went back to look at the snapshots from September last year, to see where public trust has gone, in the full year since. I’m grateful to SWS for providing a copy of their detailed findings on trust.
Last year, I noticed that it was in the Visayas that Little Trust in the President grew. As it turned out, year on year, the erosion was slow but sure; and added to this was a drop in trust in NCR which doubled in a year, and in Balance Luzon, though not quite the 6% change that would really matter. Also significant is that the number of people undecided about whether they trust the President has doubled in a year, too.
In terms of urban and rural citizens, last year the President had improved his trust ratings among rural people whose indecision went down and who decided to trust him. But in the year since, the President is down 13 in terms of rural trust although urban trust seems to be holding. Indecision, too, has doubled among rural people while little trust doubled among urban people.
For the ABC classes, satisfaction in performance is matched by trust in the President. But indecision has doubled, taking away some who’d formerly lost trust. In Class D, however, distrust has nearly doubled and trust is down, overall; for Class E. trust has gone down by no less than 16, with indecision and distrust both doubling.
As for men and women, tiny cracks had begun to reveal themselves in September last year among men. As it stands today, in a year the President has gone down 10 and 12 points each among men and women, with more women shifting to indecision, and little trust hitting low double-digits.
As far as educational attainment is concerned, last September, the President was solidly popular among those with a College degree; he’d gained a tiny amount among those with some College education; but little trust back then tripled among those with only some elementary education. In the year since, the President has lost most from those with some College education, down 13 points in trust, with indecision nearly doubling and distrust doubling; he’s down 11 points among College-educated people, indecision has doubled, and distrust has doubled. A similar drop among those with some elementary education.
So, what do these latest numbers tell us? Let’s not forget the big picture. By most measures, seven out of ten to six out of ten Filipinos are satisfied with the President’s performance and trust him, if you look at the gross numbers. The net numbers tell a slightly different story: at +48, the President’s job satisfaction is no longer a majority opinion. Trust in him, net-wise, though, is better, with +60. But in both cases, this is a far cry from where he was just last June, and where he’d been, steadily, from the June before that.
So, in a year and a half, the President has gone from exceptional, to normal or even slightly less than normal, compared to the only measure that matters for someone like him, his predecessors. This comes at a time when the President is gearing up for a lot of big battles, involving politicians who can read the numbers as well as he does. His popularity, still very high, reveals that he is now a victim of his past success: more normal numbers means he is not, at this point, a political superman anymore.
For a couple of days now, the PNP Chief has been belching fire at the media, the public, and anyone else critical of the casualties on the “war on drugs.” He blames the media, for example, for highlighting a few (undeniable) liquidations, resulting in doubts being cast over the methods or even validity of the PNP’s efforts. As of this writing, his latest assertion is that critics are ungrateful, considering the blessings of the anti-drug effort. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve been experiencing his outbursts in real time so there is no need to enumerate them in detail.
What his comments do reveal, is that he is caught between his role as PNP Chief and a hard place, which is the increasingly harsh snapshots of public opinion the surveys of Social Weather Stations represent. Three snapshots come to mind, which means a quick review is in order. The first two date to last November, when SWS found 74% nationally believed drug suspects shouldn’t be killed, and December, when SWS found that 78% feared they or a loved one might be killed. Yet the public in both surveys expressed satisfaction with the anti-drug campaign (84% in November) and said there’d been a reduction of drug-dealing in their neighborhoods (88% in December).
Question 1: Asked “Many of those killed by the police in the anti-drug campaign did not really fight against the police,” 54% agreed (20% strongly agreed, 34% somewhat agreed). Undecided were 25%, while 20% disagreed (8% strongly disagreed, 12% somewhat disagreed).
Bearing in mind that the survey had sampling error margins of ±3% for national percentages, ±6% each for Metro Manila, Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the regional results were revealing as well. In Metro Manila, 63% of the population agreed, 18% disagreed, 19% were unsure; for balance Luzon, 56% agreed, 18% disagreed, 25% were unsure; while in the Visayas, 50% agreed, 24% disagreed, and 26% were unsure; and Mindanao, 49% agreed, 22% disagreed, and 28% were unsure. In terms of socio-economic classes, for class E, the poorest of the poor, 58% agreed; for class D, the majority of our population, 54% agreed; while class ABC, the upper and middle classes that have been the strongest base of support for the administration, 40% agreed.
Question 2: Asked “Many of those killed by the police in the anti-drug campaign are not really drug pushers,” 49% agreed (17% strongly, 32% somewhat), 24% disagreed (11% strongly, 13% somewhat), with 27% undecided. SWS observed that “the proportion of Filipino adults who believe that many of those killed are innocent of selling drugs is higher in Metro Manila than the rest of the country. In Metro Manila, 58% agree that many who have been killed were not drug pushers, followed by the Visayas at 52%, the rest of Luzon at 48%, and Mindanao at 45%… Belief in the innocence of those killed by police is lowest among class ABC at 38%, followed by class Eat 45%, then class D at 51%.”
As for Question 3: “Many are lying and pointing to their personal enemies as drug users or pushers in order to give an excuse for these people to be killed by police of vigilantes,” 51% agreed (19% strongly, 32% somewhat), 21% disagreed (10% strongly, 11% somewhat), while 28% were undecided. SWS in its report said there was “a higher rate of agreement in Metro Manila (63%), where most of the killings have occurred, than the rest of the country [where the] level of agreement in Mindanao is 51%; in Visayas, 42%; and in the rest of Luzon, 50%.”
At first blush the numbers tell that in late June this year, in terms of all three questions, those that agreed with them were almost twice as many as those who disagreed. Furthermore, aside from those who agreed, the next-largest percentage represented people undecided on whether they agreed or not –a large percentage overlooked in most commentaries on these results. And that those who on the whole, believe the PNP and that those killed are what the PNP claims they are, is a minority compared to those who hold contrary or uncertain opinions.
But most overlooked –both by PNP Chief de la Rosa and most people encountering these numbers—is that although the SWS report was issued on September 27, they only give us an insight as to where public opinion stood four months ago. In his public rages against the media and the public, de la Rosa seems to think the surveys are the result of reports on the liquidations that took place in Bulacan, Caloocan, and other places in August, because his response to being asked about the survey results was to complain about the attention paid to the case of Kian delos Santos and others. But this isn’t the case.
It’s actually far more troubling for the PNP. Two months before the mass liquidations in August, public opinion had already turned against the PNP. Most commentators (myself included) have assumed all along it was the killing of Kian and others, which finally made the public recoil in horror and outrage. Instead, what the SWS June numbers tell us is that the August liquidations probably confirmed what the public had already been thinking all along. There is a fundamental difference between the two: being jolted awake in August is different from concluding that what you already suspected, is in fact the case.
The difference is in intensity, and suggests the next numbers people will be looking at, should the three questions be asked again: where will the one-third, still undecided last June, be by the time the survey takes place?
Even as the Philippine-American War was still raging, the Americans started holding local elections, drawing away power, prestige, and taxes from our First Republic. For all the screaming headlines in Metro Manila, it’s still in local governments that the authentic face of our democracy—or lack of it—can be seen. And the most basic unit of local government is the barangay.
Of course, it used to be known as the barrio, as in Barrio Fiesta, Barrio Captain, or even that modern slur, barriotic. In Spanish times, the Teniente del Barrio was also known as the Cabeza de Barangay, who, in the earliest barrios, were the datus or local leaders who accepted Spanish rule. In exchange, Spain made them permanent, hereditary chiefs exempted from the annual period of labor required by the Spanish crown.
The various cabeza de barangay, in turn, elected the gobernadorcillo who was a kind of combined mayor and judge with a term for two years. When a cabeza de barangay died without heirs, or a new barrio was created, the gobernadorcillo in turn was influential in recommending the appointment of the new cabeza de barangay.
All very cozy indeed, until the Americans came along and made everything elective. But since the gobernadorcillos had been elected in the time of Spain anyway, everyone knew what to do, and that was, to campaign as they had always campaigned: with bands, food, promises, and if necessary, the use of the police. The cabeza de barangay became the barrio captain, the bedrock of political machineries from the turn of the 20th century until 1972.
[[Link: until the Americans came along and made everything elective
Adrian Cristobal once observed something to the effect that what Ferdinand Marcos really wanted to be was the Super Rajah ruling over all the minor datus. So it comes as no surprise what he did from 1972 to 1974: first, in December, 1972, he created Citizens Assemblies to solve the problem of his proposed constitution losing if a proper plebiscite was held. Instead, he created something called “Citizen’s Assemblies.” In January, 1973, he renamed the citizen’s assemblies as barangays. And in 1974, he decreed the abolition of the barrio and its replacement with the barangay.
This was part of a then-fashionable process of making everything native, but as you’ve seen, it also helped erase from memory the democratic system that had existed before. The 1987 Constitution, in turn, preserved the barangay as the basic unit of our government which it is today.
But here’s an interesting thing, courtesy of a scholar named Damon Woods and a provocative piece he wrote titled “The Myth of the Barangay,” which is also the title of a very interesting collection of his essays published by UP Press. Woods basically argues that historians have repeatedly based their belief that the basic pre-hispanic political unit was the barangay, on the basis of a Spanish friar’s report from 1589 on the Tagalogs.
The problem is, the friar, a Franciscan named Juan Plasencia, never used the word barangay.” It was put in by an American historian, Frederick W. Morrison, when he translated the report for Blair and Robertson in 1903. Every scholar since, Woods says, just carried over this invention and made up increasingly elaborate theories about the barangays that never existed. Instead, Wood argues the Spaniards invented the idea of a barangay—that is why they established the position of cabeza de barangay to replace the title of datu. They had to invent the concept and title because they did not fully understand the societies they were conquering and how they were really organized. Instead they roughly tried to match their own society with its kings, dukes, barons and knights, to what they encountered here.
There’s a lot more in the article, such as, the word bayan being more accurate as far as how people then actually viewed where they lived and their relationship to each other, and how the word bayan, in turn, evolved into our present use of it to mean country while still meaning our localities as in ancient days. But all this is to suggest a basic reality about our barrios turned barangays: whatever style of government is on the surface, the ancient pulse of our society—hierarchical, dynastic, violent—beats in every barangay.
Here then is how the ancient collides with the modern. Here’s a modern-day legal fiction. The barangay is supposed to be non-political. Yet barangay officials are the local leaders on which all other leaders depend. So the result is a typically Filipino exercise in hypocrisy. All politicians claim the barangay is democratic, and nonpolitical, and they all conspire to keep the barangay political and undemocratic, because officially and unofficially, the barangay is the basic building block for all power blocs.
Last week, the Senate finally passed the bill postponing barangay elections. The House had been pushing for such a postponement for some time, after Congress already postponed the elections from October last year to October this year. The House wanted it postponed all the way to 2020. The compromise is to postpone it to 2018.
Now here is where the hypocrisy comes in. You know we have presidential elections every six years, and legislative and local elections every three years. So we had presidential, national, and local elections in May 2016, and are due to have national and local elections again in May 2019, also known as the mid-terms. Notice, however, the barangay elections don’t adhere to this schedule. Technically, they’re supposed to take place after national polls, in October. But they hardly ever do. This administration is not unique in postponing barangay polls. Its predecessor rescheduled them. And so on.
Ask yourself why. To be non-political, of course! How noble. Except the practical reason is, any candidate from mayor on up, needs the barangay to form the basis of their political machine. How can you rely on your machine, if its component parts are busy competing in an election? Solution: hold barangay elections on a different date –and you wonder why local leaders keep winning? And you’re surprised that these grateful leaders, in turn, make sure to keep extending the term of the barangay officials that helped them win?
Here’s another example. Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections used to be held on a separate date for a similar reason. Out of sight means out of mind, and ARMM could provide a bonanza for national candidates in trouble in an election. But if you synchronized ARMM and national elections, ARMM leaders would be busy fighting their own campaigns to help needy national candidates. So they kindly desynchronized the elections. Finally, in 2013 they got synchronized. Whether this has killed the old use and abuse of ARMM votes still remains to be seen.
Back to the barangay. You might remember the President had proposed that instead of extending the terms of current barangay officials, he should have the power to appoint Officers-in-Charge (OICs) when current terms expire until new elections are held. Knowing on which side their bread is buttered, Congress rejected this. This disappointment might help explain something curious. Despite Congress finally passing a barangay election postponement, the President seems to be taking his time to sign it into law. In the meantime, the barangay election gun ban for this whole month began last Sunday. In the absence of a signed law, the Comelec has to proceed according to schedule.
As Emil Marañon III has calculated, as of June 20, 2017, there are 56,737,237 barangay election voters, and a subset of 20,920,968 Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) election voters. This is because Congress recently amended the SK election law expanding the vote for SK to include everyone between the ages of 15 to 30 who will in fact, receive two ballots on election day on October 23. That’s a lot of happy candidates competing to make barangay voters happy, too. What’s at stake? Budgets. Take two barangays at random. Barangay San Bartolome, Quezon City in 2013 had a budget of 29.8 million pesos. Barangay Bel-Air in Makati City in 2016 had a budget of 167.5 million pesos.
Except you can imagine that the President now asking, what’s in it for me? All the local and national leaders will have what they want, while he doesn’t get what he wanted, which was to break the local machines and build one independent of them. Instead, all postponement does is it makes all the other politicians stronger and the presidency dependent on them.
The congressional photo-finish in which the House of Representatives adopted the Senate bill — which itself adopted the House bill — postponing the barangay polls from October this year to May next year, means the bill can go straight to President Duterte for his signature. Congress has handed the President a capon disguised as a victory. He gets a second postponement of barangay polls, but with the presidential proposal to appoint OICs for the barangays excised from it.
Senator Foghorn Gordon, who’s committee report had originally backed the President’s scheme to appoint replacement barangay chairmen on the basis of the President’s purported drug matrix, ended up outvoted. But these allies can see the President at tonight’s scheduled Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting and still hand him a bill to sign and crow about.
A year and a half have passed, but the administration’s extravagant agenda of achieving permanent control has so far, proven a dud. The plan had been to proceed along three, interrelated fronts. The first was to pass a law to reorganize the entire executive department. The second was to create an independent political movement to rid the President of dependence on the temporary loyalty of fellow local leaders and their mercenary political machines. The third was to mobilize the bureaucracy and this new movement — and coopt the political establishment—by abolishing national, direct elections of the chief executive, fuse the legislature and Cabinet, and neutralize the nationally-elected senate (an irritating foil to executive overreach) by means of a unicameral parliament with some sort of Federalist decoration.
As I’ve been tracking in this column, the effort to create an independent movement has failed. The President’s (rejected) proposal to appoint barangay OICs was thus a last-ditch effort to displace uncooperative local machines, something that was supposed to happen in tandem with the formation of an alternative national movement to push his agenda independent of local barons.
This failure has consequences as far as the jockeying for influence within the Palace is concerned. On Sept. 15, the President signed Executive Order No. 40, which restored to Special Assistant to the President and PMS head Bong Go’s control, offices (Public Concerns Office, Cabinet Support Office, Directives Monitoring Office) that had been taken away from him and awarded to Secretary of the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco Jr. early in the President’s term. While the order reiterates that the Secretary of the Cabinet will still enjoy support from the PMS, it reduces Evasco to a clerk who prepares agendas but is dependent on resources coming from Go, and staffwork by offices now under Go’s authority. Changes in departments — like social welfare and development, and agrarian reform — formerly headed by people similarly-minded to Evasco, means their new heads will likely be more dependent on Go than Evasco to get access to the President. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea also remains the weakest in living memory.
Why do these intramurals matter? As Amang Rodriguez famously observed, “politics is addition.” What is being added to is the ranks of those opposed to the present dispensation—even the hitherto pliable Senate had senators crossing factional lines yesterday, with 16 signing a resolution calling for an investigation into the killing of children, and only seven senators holding the administration line.
Without a movement, the administration will also be hard-pressed to mobilize in terms of its remaining schemes: to purge the executive through a reorganization law and some sort of constitutional change, both still in play. Not only has a lot of time been lost, but warm bodies will have to be mobilized sooner or later, either to reassure congressmen that Charter change remains viable, and to obtain a victory in a plebiscite.
Over the past year and a half, the numbers of administration supporters prepared to go out and stand up to show support is relatively small. This explains what seems a mystery: The polls consistently provide snapshots of overwhelming public support, but that support is nowhere to be seen aside from the internet. But of course. Having campaigned on a rejection of People Power, it derived its mandate from a plurality that believes the presidency is a one-man show, which means he sinks or swims on his own.
If the constitution remains unamended by the 2019 mid-terms, then the political class and the public will start being drawn, inexorably, to planning and speculating about the 2022 presidential derby. To continue raising the possibility of martial law or revolutionary governments at that point will only aid, not hinder, the President’s slide toward lame-duck status. At best, he could still produce a parliamentary system — for which Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is uniquely poised to be the best – equipped as the first prime minister.
In 1960, Richard Attenborough went to the new Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu. This was one of those beautiful Pacific islands whose peace had been shattered during World War II when they were turned into busy air bases for the Allies. The sight of cargo planes unloading the riches of the West—from Spam to tents tractors—impressed the natives of Tanna island who enjoyed the bounty of GI goods. Then, when the war ended, the Americans left and suddenly the cargo was gone. The islanders turned the experience into the basis of a political and religious movement, which has come to be known as a Cargo Cult.
The Cargo Cult members Attenborough interviewed built red crosses, had a mystical radio that had no wires but which transmitted mysterious signals to a lady in a trance, its members carried bamboo rifles, and painted “USA” in red on their chests. They threw away their money, and cleared landing strips in the forests, expecting a savior named John Frumm to come back and bring cargo in a plane to make them all happy and rich. There have been new variations on this mythology. When Prince Philip visited in 1974, there arose a Prince Philip Cult, for example.
The scientist Richard Dawkins, after viewing Attenborough’s program, says Cargo Cults can be said to operate on the Science Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, which is, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In the face of such magic, Dawkins said Cargo Cults prove four things:
1. Cults can spring up with amazing speed;
2. The origination process quickly covers up its tracks, meaning the explainable disappears into the unexplainable belief;
3. Similar cults can spring up independently, which suggests the tendency of people to want to believe;
4. Cargo cults have similarities not just to each other, but to older religions, which undergo their own kind of evolution for the religions that survive.
Fast forward to 2017 and a kind of Cargo Cult of our own, which grabbed our attention when, over the weekend, thousands appeared in UP Los Baños, seemingly out of nowhere. These people had paid thirty pesos each to ensure a monthly income of ten thousand pesos for four months, representing their share of the Marcos gold. This was promised by an organization calling itself One Social Family Credit Cooperative, which sold a pamphlet copyrighted 2016 by something called Bullion Buyers Limited, or BBL.
BBL is said to have been founded in 2011 by Emmanuel Destura and Felicisima Cantos. Destura claimed his father, a former Bicol mayor, had been entrusted by Ferdinand Marcos with gold in Switzerland. Charged with estafa, they went into hiding in 2013, only for Destura to reemerge in UPLB last weekend, speaking for One Social Family which was using the materials of the now-banned BBL.
We know all this because luckily for the public, Joel Ariate Jr., a university researcher at UP’s Third World Studies Center, has been on the trail of this group ever since his mother encountered one of its recruitment drives in Bicol in December, last year. It’s your standard networking, or pyramiding, scheme. You pay two thousand to recruit, in turn, other members who pay thirty pesos each, who then get that forty thousand pesos in four months promise. But as a leader, your two thousand pesos gets you a promise of one million pesos, to be followed thirty days later by one million dollars. Yes, dollars.
Cause and effect. Gold glitters in the news starting in August, and pyramiding gains a new lease on life in September—armed with a brochure as propaganda for the rehabilitation of the Marcoses. The pamphlet issued in 2016 originated in 2004 and part of its contents made it into Solicitor-General Jose Calida’s submission to the Supreme Court defending the burial of the late dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had to disassociate his clan from the scammers in UPLB, but the propaganda had been spread. Manna from Marcos had proven itself a powerful motivator of faith and greed.
The second, more exciting one, was chronicled by Sterling Seagrave who wrote “The Marcos Dynasty” among many other books. It’s a kind of Dan Brown conspiracy theory except it claimed to be non-fiction.
Today, the number tossed around is that the Marcos gold amounts to 7 thousand tons of gold. A financial analyst I recently talked to observed that amounts to close to fifteen trillion pesos or a year’s worth of GDP. Working backwards, in 1965-86 average values for gold, back then it would have been worth 74 billion dollars or twice the Philippines’ GDP in 1986. You cannot stockpile more than the entire country is worth. Nor keep it hidden since it’s almost twice what the US government keeps under guard in Fort Knox.
But without even touching the kooky topic of gold, enough has been researched to suggest a far more logical source for the Marcos billions. He made his fortune the old-fashioned way, he skimmed it.
As a congressman and then a senator, Marcos mastered the prime sources of graft in those days in the 40s, 50s, and 60s: import and dollar licenses, when the economy was heavily regulated by the government, and Chinese immigration quotas.
As The Guardian summarized, and we’ve mentioned this before, from his second term onwards, he went from skimming to plundering. It’s just that the numbers, by any measure, are staggering and the corporate raiding that took place was so intricate it fulfills Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law. Put it another way, any sufficiently advanced system of plunder is indistinguishable from magically manufacturing gold bars.
When the Makabayan bloc bolted the ruling coalition in the House of Representatives, the drama of their decision was tempered by a continuing reality: their comrades in the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, as well as the under- and assistant secretaries and consultants in the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment, and Department of Agrarian Reform remain firmly ensconced in the same executive branch their House colleagues now take turns condemning. One of their own even joined the executive, the announcement of Luz Ilagan’s appointment by President Duterte being announced that same day.
But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as the old saying goes. The Liberal Party (LP), for its part, also remains half-in and half-out. In the beginning, it chose to be part of the ruling coalition both in the House and the Senate. Just as it took the President to wink and nudge some of his more prominent radical appointees out of their offices (thanks to the Commission on Appointments and the twin innovations of the three strikes and you’re out, and secret voting when it comes to presidential appointments), it took the administration’s eviction of LP senators from their committee chairmanships to make them stand up against the administration as a bloc. So far, the Liberals haven’t been forced to do likewise, and so they remain part of the ruling House coalition. In that sense, Makabayan congressmen demonstrated a swifter recovery of their convictions.
From the start, the ruling House coalition managed to create both an overwhelming majority but also, a pliable official minority in the manner that Marcos, once upon a time, had his “Marcos Liberals” even as he was already president of the Nacionalista Party (NP). Every administration, bar none, enjoys a majority in the House on the convenient but strange belief that the winning president possesses a near-total mandate from the people — and who are representatives to buck what the people have decided? What is rather unique, though, is the creation of a kind of company union which is what the official minority is.
Then again, as Thomas “The Boss” B. Reed — one-time Speaker of the US House in the early 1900s — once put it: “The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch.” Whatever one thinks of the compromised nature of both the LP and the Reds, the fact that their choices have caused irritation with their supporters and allies suggests their continued relevance. No one, for example, is wasting time or breath figuring where groups like Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, NP, Lakas, Kampi, National Unity Party, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, Nationalist People’s Coalition etc., stand because their stand is at once immovable and eternal: they are the components of the Coalition of the Willing of whoever happens to be in the Palace.
What they have are convergent interests, as shown by proposals in both the Palace and the House, aimed at bringing this coalition closer to its collective dream of a unicameral parliament free of messy national elections because the public possessing a direct vote to choose a chief executive who then fills Cabinet posts congressmen would love to have for themselves. Why, they’ll even gladly extend the President’s term to 2025 (last week’s Palace-sponsored proposal by Lito Lorenzana) or dissolve themselves and hand him legislative powers for a time (as laid out in the draft constitution filed by Reps. Aurelio Dong Gonzales Jr. and Eugene Michael De Vera in early August), to make this possible.
The problem of blocs like Makabayan and the Liberals and other, smaller parties such as Akbayan — however pragmatic they wanted to be — is that on one hand, both the Palace and its majorities in the House and Senate have been too crude for comfort, and the party leaders belong to coalitions of their own in which public opinion matters. So they are increasingly under pressure to show some spine.
Tomorrow’s many activities, ranging from a Mass in the UP chapel, the unveiling of a monument to Jose W. Diokno at the Commission on Human Rights and a concert, to the main event which is the rally at the Luneta — under the auspices of different coalitions of varying political colors and those insistent they have no color — is demonstration of this bubbling up of public opinion. An increasingly prominent and crucial part of these efforts to come together are being led by millennials. I wouldn’t say they’re color-blind, but rather, they’re agnostic when it comes to political colors. It is causing discomfort to their elders. But it is also inspiring hope. It is forcing an accounting of past behavior and assumptions on all sides. What it is, is a challenge. Pick your event, whether it’s of Tindig Pilipinas or Movement Against Tyranny, or something else. But first things first: Take a stand.
Marcos, clever man that he was, left behind a smokescreen to confuse future generations. He once told a convention of historians that he actually signed the martial law proclamation on September 17. But he was lying to the historians. How do we know this? We know it from Marcos himself.
A bit of background. He first floated the idea of martial law in 1969, in a speech at the Philippine Military Academy. In his own diaries, he started mentioning the need for martial law in 1970, and started detailed planning for it, by his own reckoning, in 1971.
Marcos gave the military a pep talk on September 14 to fill them in on what the senior generals already knew, since they had helped in the planning of martial law. By September 17, Marcos had sent his children abroad for safety. Marcos claimed in his diary, plans were finalized on September 18. On September 20, he complained he couldn’t sign the necessary papers because they had to be re-typed. He also mentioned he asked Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor to submit a report on his views on the plans for martial law.
Then came September 21. What happened on that day? Not martial law. Four things prove this.
First, Congress remained open, and in fac, opposition Senator Ninoy Aquino gave a speech in the Senate—his last—warning that martial law was coming within 48 hours.
Second, a big rally was held in Plaza Miranda. It was organized by the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties.
Third, in his diary, Marcos recounted that he met with the Northern bloc of congressmen worried about Ninoy’s speech. He told them what he intended to do. Fourth, Marcos then met the US Ambassador to confirm his plans for martial law. All the US Ambassador said was he hoped it could be postponed until after the US presidential elections in November.
So there was no martial law on September 21. It was, instead, the last day of freedom when people could say they went about their business normally.
To be sure, Marcos had planned to impose martial law on September 21, 1972. But something had gotten in the way. Congress was that thing. It was scheduled to go on recess on that date. This was important because Marcos wanted to make sure Congress was on vacation to reduce the risk senators and congressmen might try to oppose martial law.
But Congress didn’t go on recess on September 21. A joint committee of the House and Senate wasn’t finished arguing over the Tariff and Customs Code. Congressional leaders told Marcos they expected to adjourn on the 23rd, if the joint committee finished its work on the night of the 22nd.
This left Marcos in a bind and it explains what happened after midnight as September 22 gave way to September 23. Having gotten so far in planning martial law, but having had to delay it, Marcos and his generals feared they’d lose the initiative and more details would leak out since Ninoy apparently had sources of information. Marcos quickly had to find an excuse to impose it. That excuse was the supposed assassination attempt on Juan Ponce Enrile in the Wack-Wack subdivision, around eight o’clock in the evening of September 22.
Things moved quickly after that. Shortly before, or shortly after midnight, the joint committee on the customs tariff was interrupted when soldiers arrived to arrest Ninoy. Five trucks of soldiers had been sent to do the job. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, PLDT, the airport, were shut down in the early hours of September 23. Media, political, and other personalities and activists were rounded up also in the early morning hours.
This is why martial law was announced with silence: people woke up to discover that TV and radio stations were off the air. Later in the day, some stations started playing easy listening music and some stations aired cartoons. But Marcos’ speechwriters were slow, then the teleprompter broke down, and the speech had to be hand-written on kartolina. So it wasn’t until dinnertime that Marcos finally appeared on TV and the country found out martial law was in place.
So, why do so many people who actually lived through martial law, misremember when it was proclaimed?
Marcos once said that the people would accept anything so long as it was legal. Marcos said he’d imposed martial law on September 21. We know this wasn’t true, because the document itself was co-signed, not by Alejandro Melchor, his executive secretary, but by a presidential assistant. This was because Melchor had left for abroad before Marcos actually signed the martial law proclamation sometime between the evening and early morning of September 22 to 23.
Marcos went further to wipe the public’s memory clean. He later proclaimed September 21 as Thanksgiving Day. And in every speech, every documentary, every poster, September 21 was the date enshrined as the birth of the New Society. So much so that the public forgot what it had actually lived through. This is the power of propaganda. By altering the date, Marcos helped erase not only September 21 as the last day of freedom, but also how that freedom was lost between September 22 and 23. His lawyerly piece of paper, his Proclamation 1081, became the ultimate instrument for national amnesia.
So, remember September 21 by all means. Not as the fake news date Marcos wanted you to remember, but for the things he wanted you to forget: a still-independent Senate, freedom of assembly, and a free press. But remember what he wanted you to forget: that it was on September 23 that the nation woke up to discover all these things were suddenly gone. And that the next day, the last institution standing, the Supreme Court, received the warning: play ball, or be abolished. They played ball.
Senator Richard Gordon is the Foghorn Leghorn of our public life. Every session day is made vivid by his presence, why if he were living out a Looney Tunes cartoon, his committee hearings might go like this.
Foghorn Leghorn: “What’s the big… I say, what’s the big idea chasin’ my worm? You’re a cat, son. Cats don’t eat worms. You’re takin’ the food right outta my mouth! I don’t go around chasin’ mice!” [knocks the cat down]
Foghorn Leghorn: “Stand up boy, you’re trippin’ over your own feet. Now you stay away from worms and I’ll stay away from mice. That’s fair and square, and if you’d stop all your arguin’ and jawin’, you’d see my side of it!” [pushes the cat up a ladder]
Foghorn Leghorn: “Yap-yap-yap, keep that mouth flappin’ and do no listenin’.” [the cat falls off the ladder]
Foghorn Leghorn: “There’s nothin’ worse than a blabbermouth cat!”
The above being as good a summation of a well-balanced debate as far as Dick is concerned.
Now this here Dick crows with pleasure whenever the President stomps around and cackles in anger every time Trillanes does his own stomping in the Senate, but now he’s an Angry Bird who wants his colleague to be punished for (borrowing the style of Foghorn Leghorn for a moment, “Demeanin’, I say, this here noooble institution of the Seh-nut. Demeanin’ I say, son, with this his puffery and I his jiggery-pokery, son!” (“puffery” referring to the seriousness of his complaint as being no mere paper-wrapped pile of pique; but an odd choice: The word means “exaggerated or false praise,” while “jiggery-pokery,” meaning “deceitful or dishonest behavior,” is a pious insistence that the Senate is not a forum for grandstanding by mere oppositionists).
To be sure, the President and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV both have about as much polish and decorum as two bull elephants in heat. That is why their trumpeting and headbutting is so much fun to watch. But some senators are better than others, and woe to anyone who thinks Dick can get the Duterte treatment—never mind if Dick is delighted when Duterte gives a thorough dousing to others. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I say—Ralph Waldo Emerson said that, son.
But, in all seriousness, even this here Dick can have a point. Wide latitude is given legislators to say practically anything they please, on the sound principle that as representatives of the people — and senators, nationally-elected, are representatives of all the people to an extent only the president of the Philippines can equally claim — they should be able to freely express opinions and ask questions in the public’s interest and for the common good. But they owe their colleagues courtesy because they’re all ostensibly in the same institution to achieve the same thing, and if they argue, it should be on the basis of principles and not personalities.
So is anything wrong with what Gordon wants, setting aside double standards?
Gordon’s press release ended with five examples of legislators suspended by either the House or Senate. None of the examples seems particularly supportive of what Gordon wants. Of the five mentioned, Jose Alejandrino was suspended from the Senate in 1924 for assaulting a fellow member, resulting in a case that established the internal rules and discipline of the legislature as a political institution beyond intervention by the Supreme Court. Jose Avelino was suspended from the Senate and ousted from the senate presidency in 1949 because — as Russell Fifield pointed out in a paper at the time — “he participated in the sale of United States Army surplus beer contrary to the prohibition of a member of the government engaging in such activity,” among other things. Sergio Osmeña Jr. was suspended by the House in 1960 for delivering a privilege speech against President Garcia — despite there being then, as now, a constitutional guarantee of immunity for speeches made on the floor or in committees. Juan Ponce Enrile’s suspension from the Senate in 2014 was upon orders of the Sandiganbayan, although he’d been censured (reminded and exhorted, as the ethics committee said at the time, to be more careful in the future) by the Senate in 1988, a slap on the wrist after he withdrew and apologized for remarks against Paul Aquino. Heherson Alvarez, for his part, was also censured in 1996 for writing a letter clearing a police official even as the Senate was investigating the policeman for possible complicity in a pyramid scam.
The only examples that seems relevant are Osmeña’s case — a political lynching if there ever was one — and Enrile’s slap on the wrist. Dick’s lip flappin’ suggests he isn’t bruisin’ for a mere slappin’. So yes, what’s wrong is that he wants Trillanes lynched.
Watch a clip from its start, courtesy of the Associated Press archives, and pay attention to two things.
First, from 0:08 (“I am happy to see…”) to 0:36 (“…an atmosphere of brotherhood amongst Filipinos…”) Here is vintage Marcos on full display. The sweeping gestures, the still-healthy baritone. The humblebragging. Marcos, we shouldn’t forget, prided himself in being a student of power. And he knew that the gamble he’d taken required the careful nurturing of the perception that it was about something greater than making himself president-for-life.
Now take a look from another portion of his press conference: from 3:40 (“We will uh, reform our society…”) to 3:56 (“It encourages revolution…”) Here was Marcos being remarkably prophetic about what would become the fatal flaw of his regime: corruption and how it made the reform of political institutions an impossibility because its lifeblood was plunder. What made the plunder so difficult to believe despite two decades of it was that Marcos himself was ostentatious only in terms of his intellect. In nearly every other respect, he retained simple tastes and maintained the kind of official decorum his office required. He left the high living to his wife and those who served him loyally. This meant that during the dictatorship, many people were able to reconcile his regime with the kind of comment the Germans used to say, when faced with the brutality and corruption of the Nazis: “Ah, if only the Führer knew!”
Oh, but Marcos knew. But he also knew the precise limits of what he could get away with. And for decades it worked. Until, of course, it stopped working. As it always does, sooner or later, so much so that for millennia, we have used and reused two concepts that have come down to us from the ancient Greeks.
These ancients spoke of that particular flaw of the gifted and the great, which they called hubris: excessive pride and even defiance towards the gods. The ancients also believed in a goddess they called Nemesis –the goddess of indignation against, and retribution for, evil deeds and undeserved good fortune.
Writing in his own diary in 1972, Ferdinand E. Marcos, surprised over how easily he imposed martial law, made this observation: “Nothing succeeds like success!” In 1981, when Ferdinand Marcos reached the pinnacle of his power, he held a splendid inauguration in which Handel’s famous Hallelujah Chorus was performed. The chorus’ lyrics, “and He shall reign for ever and ever,” troubled some observers who saw it as hubris. I doubt if anyone dared, at that moment, to remind Marcos of the ironic, but humble, last words of the Emperor Vespasian who, as he lay dying, remarked, “Oh dear, I am becoming a god.”
If you want to find a single instance that best summarizes the dictatorship, then you only have to look as far as the story of the Manila Film Center in Pasay. It’s been brilliantly told in Rogue Magazine, and you should read it. Take a note of this: the Film Center was the first major prestige project of Marcos’ New Republic, inaugurated in June, 1981 with the inaugural of the film center due in January, 1982.
In broad strokes, the regime decreed a magnificent film palace to be built in record time. And it was done, at the cost of 25 million dollars, equivalent to over 62 million dollars today. To make this possible, the expansion of the Philippine General Hospital was put on hold, so that funds could be diverted for this purpose.
The building had to be completed in three months with four thousand workers in three shifts laboring 24 hours a day. At 3 a.m. on November 17, 1981, scaffolding collapsed, and 169 laborers fell into a pool of quick-drying cement. Some were pulled out. Others had the exposed parts of their remains removed, the rest left in the cement. But the show had to go on.
The Film Center opened. The stars were there. But the place stank, the cement under the red carpets was still wet, and most of all, the glitter of the dictatorship had been tarnished by the manner in which the story was officially suppressed, but whispered and talked about around town. Hubris was undeniable. Could Nemesis be far away?
Indeed, within two years, Nemisis would come in the form of an assassination in the Manila International Airport and the beating of ati-atihan drums as people took to the streets to face teargas and truncheons in 1983 until they faced tanks in 1986.
To be sure, we have had no shortage of other leaders demonstrating hubris and confronting Nemesis since. But in terms of sheer longevity, and thus, sheer scale, the story of Ferdinand Marcos and his dictatorship remains an epic one.
So as we mark the centennial of this man, of whom it can be said he remains great–either a great visionary for his admirers, or a great monster for his victims and critics—what can be said that remains unsaid?
In 1996, Ben Kingsely was filmed reciting a poem for use in a commercial. The title of the poem was “Ozymandias,” by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, about an ancient account of one of the monuments, now lost, of the pharaoh Rameses II. Here it is:
In Ilocos Norte, where the cult of Ferdinand E. Marcos never abated, it’s a holiday by presidential proclamation. His family kicked off the day with a Mass and luncheon in Taguig, where the dictator’s remains were interred last year. This was followed by the unveiling of a strangely un-Marcos-looking but at least new, monument in Ilocos Norte.
By these rituals, the once and perhaps future first family wanted to communicate that the restoration of their political fortunes and standing in society is nearly complete, thirty-one years after their fall from power.
They are celebrating in Paoay tonight. They foresee a glorious dawn in their future. For the rest of you watching tonight, let me close with what the the late, great journalist Edward R. Murrow used to tell his viewers. Good night, and good luck.
(SPOT.ph) A hundred years ago today, Ferdinand E. Marcos was born. If things had gone his way, instead of mass and luncheon in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the unveiling of a statue in Ilocos Norte, where a holiday was proclaimed, the entire nation would now be gripped by Marcos mania from Aparri to Jolo, presided over by Ferdinand Jr. who, as vice-president, would be poised to receive homage as the future successor to the office his father held for 20 years.
Instead, the great debate over Ferdinand Marcos continues. But this debate, even as it gathers intensity because of the Marcoses being poised to achieve their great dream—political and social vindication three decades after they had to go into exile—is entering a new phase.
This is the phase when larger-than-life figures recede from living memory. What had formerly propelled attitudes towards them, personal like or dislike, no longer becomes the dominant factor in determining what one thinks of that person. While Juan Ponce Enrile has become a meme—a measure of time, a living example of the old adage that only the good die young—his living presence serves as a reminder that those who truly knew Marcos are mainly dead and only few are still alive. Even the unsinkable Imelda is 88 years old.
What this suggests to me is the need to understand, more fully, how Marcos was a product of his times, just as he molded the era in which he lived. There are three stories that help us figure him out. They date from his early years, when he was widely considered an up-and-coming figure but had yet to achieve the unlimited power and ability to mold his image that power granted.
The first is one that an uncle once told me about his student days in the University of the Philippines. He was an older contemporary of Marcos. He recounted how in student council elections in UP in the 1930s, the practice was for candidates to keep their voters captive, because rival candidates would not only do the same, but poach voters from their opponents. The candidates would herd their supporters to places outside the campus, plying them with snacks, until it was time to vote. Yet then, as now, the student press would thunder and shrill about democracy and the purity of the ballot.
Another story came from a retired general who took pride in his having saved Marcos’ life during his fraternity initiation. Before Marcos was a leader, he was a joiner. He joined all the upwardly mobile organizations campus life offered: sports teams (including the rifle team, which would feature in his trial for the murder of his father’s victorious political opponent in 1935), the ROTC, debating societies and of course, a fraternity. These were ties that mattered throughout life, in many ways far more important than today. Solidarity, in some cases, was fostered by brutality.
And the third story came from a gentleman who’d known Marcos well as a young man and in the early part of his political career. The young Marcos of the immediate postwar years was mercilessly teased by the well-connected friends he cultivated. A swimming party had been organized. Everyone was in their trunks, and Marcos appeared, in what were, even by then, rather old-fashioned white shoes, dressed up in a dress-down affair. His friends snickered, “white shoes” became his country bumpkin name for an intolerably long time, while Marcos just flashed his Colgate smile. He would, 30 years later, arrest many of them or harass them when they went into exile.
Together, these three stories provide insights, to my mind, on Marcos’ secret of success and why he did what he did—and how he was able to do it. He knew the difference between what people preached, and what they did. His oratory remained high-minded while he systematically analyzed every institution and every major figure in those institutions, to see not only what made them tick, but to determine what were their flaws. He mastered the methods of acquiring power—the fine speech, combined with the ruthless management of resources and people that mattered—and built the us-against-them bases of support that rewarded loyalty. He was ambitious, but he was patient; he was ruthless, but calm; he was systematic, but also, daring. He kept cool knowing revenge is a dish best served cold.
The world in which he navigated is gone yet eternal, too. Gone in that its particular modes of behavior have vanished but its rules remain embedded in our national DNA. UP no longer conducts elections in the manner of the 1930s, but our society still operates on a political culture of raiding, trading, and feasting that has been used to describe how power was gained and kept in prehispanic times: as familial, or personal, property. It is a culture that is fundamentally violent: Marcos being accused of assassinating his father’s political rival (his acquittal was widely attributed to then Justice Jose P. Laurel pleading with his colleagues to give such a promising man a chance) differs only in his having been prosecuted and convicted and then acquitted, and his performance in court, from the long, bloody catalog of local political families engaged in attempts at mutual extermination before and since. And it is a political culture in which Manila is the prize, but which is vulnerable to the ambitions of shrewd and calculating men and women from the provinces who rise up through the patronage of an establishment that surrenders and yields to the once promising men it raised up, only for those men to force the former patrons to bend the knee.
Still here, of course, is what made Marcos new: he was a political scion but in the overall scheme of things, not well established. And so he had much more in common with his classmates who were receiving a secular education in UP than their more pedigreed rivals in other schools who boasted then as they still do now, that they would be the future employers of those upwardly mobile but too earnest products of state education. Marcos could, and did, set out to prove he could rise through sheer merit. He could appeal to those who had to carve out a future that would have its fair share of success, but remain precarious enough that any danger to social order represented a clear and present danger to all of them. In other words, an exemplar of a middle class reliant on, but frankly unimpressed with, the upper class, afraid of the teeming multitudes of the undisciplined and dependent lower class, and thus, always impatient with anything getting in the way of stability and order. As Randy David has observed, “the middle class does not like elections. It prefers coups.” This is what Martial Law was, a particular kind of coup. They even have a name for it in Latin America: an autogolpe, or self-coup.
Marcos surrounded himself with self-made men who enthusiastically supported him when he set out to deprive those who’d teased them when they were nobodies, of the means that had kept them nobodies. In the process making themselves somebodies. This is the circle of life in our society, at once the thing that never changes, and which makes the present always different from the past.
It’s no coincidence that once he was in power, Marcos began to cultivate myths about his origins. All leaders do. His choice of myths was illuminating. On one hand, the claim he was descended from the Chinese pirate Limahong. On the other, that, somehow, Antonio Luna had contributed to his genes. A buccaneering spirit—piracy, not on the high seas, but in the halls of power—and a ruthless will to dominate, decimate, and thus, build anew, things Luna represented, can well summarize the negative and positive traits of Marcos. Everything else, the superficial veneer of intellectual ability, lawyerly prowess, calculating cunning combined with a gambler’s bold, brash throws of the dice, are precisely superficial because for all his ability to quote at length from his readings, and for all his mania for building a great wall of decrees that would firmly demarcate life before, and after, himself, the man’s thinking was premodern. To this day, highways and buildings are pointed out as his measure of achievement—forgetting how badly they were built, how expensively and yet shoddily they were constructed, and the fortunes he and his subordinates tucked away in the process.
Yet he knew and has been proven right, that quantity, not quality, is what matters; he also knew, as his campaign biography promised, “For Every Tear, a Victory” was not only the mantra of his life, but that of a society that knows only two ways to approach power and the powerful: with a subservient crouch when facing it, and with grimaces and contempt when it turns its back. He would do his best to ensure the crouch would become permanent and pervasive with his eyes and ears everywhere and he succeeded as only a few in our history have managed to achieve—but at greater cost, in lives and money. But even in those two things he took the measure of his people well. The many who died were on the whole, the powerless, the unknown; the money was enough so that whether chipped away at by disloyal cronies, found out by foreign governments, or seized by the governments presided over by his successors, there still remained more than enough to add a golden sheen to his kin.
A final point, on the healing balm of celebrity. When the documentary film Imelda was released, Mrs. Marcos tried to prevent the showing of the film in local theaters. The result was to make the documentary a roaring success as people ended up watching it in droves after the courts allowed the film to be shown. To my mind, there are two things that turned the tide for the Marcoses after the flight into disgrace and exile. The first was how well the heirs of Marcos—Imelda and Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr.—whose votes, if they’d only been combined, would have defeated any other rival in the 1992 elections and quite possibly all of them combined had they also managed to unite. Together, they obtained 19% of the votes. A formidable political base, six years after they’d fled, and three years after the dictator had died in Hawaiian exile. The second was the release of the 2003 Imelda documentary, because that is when she made the transition from the Achilles heel of her husband, into the matriarch of a clan in synch with the celebrity-obsessed zeitgeist of not only Philippine, but global, culture. Her grandson, Borgy, born in exile, would be the bookend to firmly establish their celebrity status.
The old and new that was Marcos is the old and the new in all of us, rich or poor, educated or not. And it is here, where, as memories fade and what was vivid in people’s minds now becomes second- or third-hand stories, that our ability to, one day, properly understand him, depends. We cannot understand our leaders until we understand ourselves: They are only the magnified versions of ourselves, neither entirely different nor entirely the same, only exaggerated.