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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.
Richard Gordon had specialized in hearings in aid of exoneration. He had done it twice before. Back in September last year, he replaced Leila de Lima and presided over the Senate justice committee’s inquisition of Edgardo Matobato, using Arturo Lascañas to debunk his testimony. This allowed Gordon to gavel the hearings on killings to a close in October (only for Lascañas to recant his previous testimony in February of this year, to the astonishment of the ruling coalition; De Lima was thrown in jail and senators who dared attend an anti-Marcos and anti-EJK rally were ousted from their committee chairmanships).
Gordon loyally refused to reopen the hearings on killings when Amnesty International reported cops were getting paid to undertake liquidations. It took Panfilo Lacson to accomplish what Gordon failed to do: Go through the motions of hearing Lascañas, followed by gaveling the proceedings to an abrupt end, which killed the issue — for a time — until the liquidation of Kian delos Santos made the country recoil in horror leaving no senator contemplating re-election unmoved. A hearing had to be held, under the chairmanship of the steadier Lacson. Policemen had to be sacrificed as the government found itself on the defensive.
But in the meantime, Gordon still had yeoman work to do, this time as chair of the Blue Ribbon committee, inquiring into that other topic that refused to go away: the Bureau of Customs and a multibillion-peso-valued drug shipment that got through. Both House and Senate hearings raised so many questions, President Duterte had to throw Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon overboard while maintaining the man was merely misunderstood. Even this half-hearted sacrifice wasn’t enough to calm the waters.
Three days into his hearings, Gordon piously insisted hearsay was beneath his committee’s notice, and that he would not be a party to an unfair inquiry into the Davao vice mayor, even as questions arising from testimony before his committee wouldn’t go away. Not least because strict standards weren’t applied to one of his colleagues, De Lima, and because too many references had been made to Paolo Duterte. At the start of September, Gordon still insisted he wouldn’t invite alleged personalities in the so-called Davao Group. After all, the witness who’d implicated them had — surprise, surprise — apologized and “cleared” through a press statement the officials he’d previously squealed on. The Palace for its part cooed that see, there’s no reason to force these humble officials to go to the Senate.
But as it turned out, this was merely the latest skirmish in what’s been a fighting retreat on all fronts. The President had attempted to turn the tide of outrage over drug war liquidations by assigning lethal arrest specialist Jovie Espenido to Iloilo City, which served to spark a kind of public opinion mutiny among Ilonggos who reacted with a kind of Iloilo-style irritation that can only be described as anger over a Davaoeño president’s imperialism. The President had to pull back, withdrawing the assignment and keeping Espenido in place in Ozamiz City. New revelations about another liquidation—of Carl Arnaiz, murdered around the same time Delos Santos was slain—means more cops have to be sacrificed rather than go on the offensive.
Along the way, Gordon has been reduced to being a sideshow, gunning after Antonio Trillanes IV in a manner reminiscent of how Eduardo Quintero was flayed after making his Constitutional Convention expose in 1971 (Gordon was then the youngest member of that body). His bluster is due to his being punch drunk after the hammering he has been getting from the public over perceptions of double standards in the conduct of his investigations.
Of what use are allies in such a situation? This explains why, after the crowing of the Palace, the President and his daughter, the mayor of Davao, both advised Paolo to attend the senate hearings anyway. Which he is expected to do, tomorrow. The President’s advice to his son — go, but plead what the Americans call the Fifth — is not just paternal (thus politically beneficial) but also lawyerly (thus, politically harmful), advice. It brings to mind what the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski once wrote: “When is a crisis reached? When questions arise that can’t be answered.”
On January 1, 1970, two days into his second term as president, Ferdinand E. Marcos made a huge announcement. He wrote about it in his diary. Unlike most diaries, his was never meant to be secret. Rather, it would be his version of events for future publication.
So what was his big announcement? He said that he was giving all his worldly goods, meaning his wealth, to the Filipino people. He also mentioned that much of his wealth came from the Yamashita treasure. He described what he was doing as a noble act. He had no more political ambitions, he said. Instead, the Marcos Foundation would give generously to education, science, and all those kumbaya things.
On January 3, he praised himself some more, noting with satisfaction it had made the news the world over. But, he wrote, doing the accounting for all his worldly possessions was more difficult than he thought. And he mentioned that no one was fit to succeed him as president.
On January 5, he wrote that he was having a lot of difficulties with the Marcos Foundation because an inventory was required and it turned out there was that thing called legitimes for the children –this was lawyer-speak for the share the law guarantees to one’s children. And then Marcos mentioned a big oopsie in his grand plan: “there are some assets that may not have been included in any statements of assets and liabilities,” he wrote, adding that, “They have to trace them, account for them and pay the necessary taxes if any.” That’s the big oopsie.
On January 8, he mentioned the Foundation for the last time, saying that the Manila Chronicle had started to attack him and his foundation. At the end of that month, on January 31, 1970, Marcos released a statement to the Philippines Free Press, stating that he had decided on the trustees for the Foundation: Juan Ponce Enrile, Geronimo Velasco, Cesar Virata, Cesar Zalamea, and Onofre D. Corpuz, and that incorporation papers had been filed in the SEC.
Now let me pause our story to analyze Marcos’ style. On one hand, a big announcement: a total donation by means of a Foundation. On the other hand, putting forward a clever basis for the announcement. There is no way a politician would have honestly earned that much money so you need an amazing story to explain it: Yamashita’s treasure.
On one hand, a claim to unselfishness: I have no more political plans, this is why can be so noble. On the other hand, laying down the basis for your future intent: no one is capable of succeeding me as president, however unselfish I am. Why, maybe, one day, I might have to stay longer. For the country. Even if I gave away everything.
To this day of course, Marcos loyalists believe this version down to the Yamashita treasure, but at the time until now, others were skeptical of the whole tale. The Free Press on its own observed the problems Marcos had himself identified in his diary: a man can give away his possessions but not that portion to which one’s wife and children are entitled. The magazine also pointed out people found the Foundation hard to believe. In the end, a plaque was placed on the wall of the Goldenberg Mansion, stating the donation. But that was about it as far as the Marcos Foundation was concerned.
But the real work, according to oppositionist Charlie Avila, was just beginning to take place, involving the Grand Duchy of Lichtenstein. Marcos, according to The Guardian, had stashed away his loot the old-fashioned way, at the start. He basically kept it under the mattress or in boxes like any small-time provincial crook. Then he started getting more sophisticated once he became president. He first started stashing money abroad in March, 20 1968, when Marcos, under the name William Saunders, and Imelda, under the name Jane Ryan, deposited nearly a million dollars in four accounts in Credit Suisse.
Avila listed how the Marcoses then moved their stash to Lichtenstein which had iron-clad secrecy laws, where foundations could be established. On February 13, the Ryan and Saunders accounts were close and a foundation with the jejemonic name of Xandy –with an X—was set up; on August 26, the Trinidad foundation was set up in Lichtenstein. The next year, 1971, on June 21, the Azio Foundation was set up. Then on September 24, the Rosalys Foundation; by October it had a bank account in the Swiss Bank Corporation. In December, the Charis Foundation was set up. The list goes on and on.
Then martial law on September 23 –not 21, mind you—happened in 1972. It suddenly all made sense, at that point. Of course you could give everything to the Filipino people in 1970. As president for life by 1972, you now owned the Filipino people. The national treasury was your piggybank, the laws could be decreed to benefit yourself. You had the Marcos Foundation for decoration but as we just saw, the real action was taking place in banks and with property brokers abroad. The world was your presidential oyster. Cracking open that oyster has taken over a generation.
And the story of how that oyster got fat and contained multiple pearls has been unfolding over thirty years, in New York, in Zurich, in Lichtenstein, in Hawaii and throughout the Philippines. It’s a story too complex to get into here, but you’re probably familiar with parts of it. Cronies tasked with hiding Marcos’ share of the loot, either taking the loot for themselves or giving up parts of it to the government so they can keep the rest, or both. Stories of jewels, of paintings, properties, shares of stock. A PCGG that has some successes and some spectacular failures. And throughout, the Marcos insisting on innocence even though by law, their loot is not theory, but fact: compensation for human rights victims during martial law and our highly flawed land reform program are both funded from Marcos ill-gotten wealth.
Which brings us to last week. The president blurted out that the Marcoses were keen on a settlement of their cases and were willing to return some gold and some money. According to him, the Marcoses had kept the gold, not because they stole it, but to keep it safe for future generations of Filipinos. To use an image popularized by Jessica Zafra, at that point millions of eyebrows were raised so high, they shot into orbit. Governor Imee Marcos was asked about it, and she replied, with untypical understatement, that they didn’t know anything about that sort of thing and better talk to our lawyers, thank you very much.
The President may have been indiscreet, but the Marcoses might be hoping that the third time’s the charm. That’s because this wasn’t the first time a president tried to push for a settlement with the Marcoses.
President Estrada, a Marcos loyalist, in his time proposed abolishing the PCGG. He wanted a settlement. It’s likely he was even willing to bury Marcos in the Libingan. But he ran out of time. President Arroyo proposed settlements too, during her time, but she lacked the popularity to settle matters with the Marcoses and major institutions back then still had the spine to keep her in check. Today, the situation is different. The Senate is meek and mild; the Supreme Court is far less intimidating than it used to be. The PCGG lacks backing from the top. The Ombudsman has been threatened. And, in case you’ve been living under a rock all this time, there is the possibility that a Marcos restoration will take place, courtesy of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, which happens to be the Supreme Court.
So your eyebrows may be in orbit, and some of you might ask, how can the Marcoses settle when it would be tantamount to an admission of guilt? Think of it another way. A settlement would allow that most precious political thing: a clean slate. Thirty years erased, just in time to plan for the next thirty.
(SPOT.ph) August 31 marks the birth anniversary of a great Ilocano (not the one you might be thinking), Ramon Magsaysay. Even as you’d tuned out in expectation of the long weekend, you probably picked up some news about the Magsaysay Awards, given out on his birth anniversary in a splendid annual ceremony that always makes the news.
But since you’re still in long weekend mode, let’s keep things light. In the Philippines, there’s more than the usual two things you can be sure of in life: death and taxes. The third is, campaigns during elections. Whatever political color you wear (or not), there’s one other thing you can’t ignore when campaign season rolls around. It’s the political jingle.
Now there’s a different, Urban Dictionary meaning to this word, but let’s stick to the oldie but goodie one most people know: a catchy song, usually for advertising purposes (the word itself means “to make a light clinking or tinkling sound,” or “to rhyme or sound in a catchy repetitious manner.”
Your grandparents might have heard of a band leader named Perez Prado (you can watch him perform in this clip), who would punctuate his music with yells. About 20 years ago, I was delighted to read, in the liner notes of one of his albums, a quote about the Philippines.
Some context. Perez Prado was the composer of the original “Mambo No. 5” which later got a second lease on life remixed as part of one of those flash-in-the-pan earworms, in this case, because of Lou Bega. The Mambo craze swept the Philippines in the 1950s and the President at the time was Elpidio Quirino. He was what you’d call an Old School kind of guy, belonging to the older generation whose idea of a wild and crazy time was dancing the tango instead of the waltz (you can actually watch him dance with a whole bunch of Manila Spaniards in Malacañan Palace). His opponent in the election of 1953 was no less than The Guy himself—Magsaysay.
Well, Quirino, in the Perez Prado album liner notes, was quoted as saying the Mambo craze sweeping the country was “a national calamity.” But of course. It was what kids liked, and it seemed kids weren’t going to write Quirino on their ballots. Instead, they were going for…Magsaysay, who decided what he should do is have a jingle—a Mambo.
Now it wasn’t a new idea, actually. Even before Magsaysay entered the scene, a sports columnist turned hard-hitting politician, the original Tough Guy in our politics (polo shirts, Ray-Ban glasses, cursing and getting into fistfights), named Arsenio Lacson. At one point President Quirino got so mad at him, he sent a tank into the streets of Manila to chase him down. The result was Lacson got elected Mayor of Manila. He had a political jingle—a “Lacson Mambo,” don’t you know.
Someone in the Magsaysay campaign must’ve thought, we’ve got to play one of those Mambo songs for people. They’d already composed a march, titled “We Want Magsaysay,” composed by a young up-and-coming guy named Raul Manglapus.
For the Ateneans among you, you might know that Raul Manglapus, besides being a senator, was also a pretty good amateur musician. He composed “Blue Eagle, the King,” for example. Manglapus’ march was everything you could possibly want: It was rousing, rhythmic, and eloquent:
Except for one thing. It was hopelessly old-fashioned. The era of military marches was just too Old School. Sure, the Katipuneros had attacked Spanish forts led by marching bands. It’s not hard to be brave if you have a band crashing out “Alerta, Katipunan!” as you prepare to attack.
During the 1920s and 1930s, bands up and down the country in an era before radios and record players were in every home, memorized the “Collectivista March,” which was the political anthem of Manuel L. Quezon (it was so catchy at the time that during World War II, the Hukbalahap recycled it, giving it new lyrics for their cause).
But this was now the exciting 1950s! And so Manglapus went back to his piano and eventually banged out the “RM Mambo.” Nice, someone must’ve said. It’s a “pure” Mambo, after all. But somehow not…catchy.
And even zanier was the “Mambo Magsaysay” in Ilocano, which must have been particularly delightful because the Ilocano from Zambales, Magsaysay, was running against the original Apo, his fellow Ilocano Elpidio Quirino. It had everything you could possibly want. Catchy lyrics in Taglish! A chorus everyone can sing! And so it stuck. It was so sticky, that during EDSA in 1986, June Keithley kept playing it from her Radyo Bandido perch overlooking Malacañang. The ghost of one Ilocano musically haunting another, get it?
Not least because Ferdinand Marcos in his time hadn’t bothered with pop music for political campaigns. When he was able to establish his New Society, he picked an old-fashioned march, the last hoorah of a musical form for public purposes.
If you’re a certain age, you will remember “Bagong Pagsilang” because you had to sing it in school:
But betcha it never put a smile on your face the way the “Mambo Magsaysay” still can! And in one sense, Magsaysay’s groove still grabs us—every three years, but like all mega hits, the copycats never quite capture the freshness of the original.
And for something serious, why not watch The Magsaysay Credo. You might learn a thing or two in just a few minutes. It’s enshrined in the Magsaysay Building along Roxas Boulevard, and is usually included in the program for the Ramon Magsaysay Awards.
(SPOT.ph) Chances are you only thought about National Heroes Day in terms of it making a long weekend possible. And now, you’re looking forward to another long weekend thanks to our Muslim brothers and sisters. That’s great. But before your long weekend hangover gives way to the next one, pause for a bit and look at this work of art.
The title of this horrifying picture is “Saturn Devouring His Son” (“Saturno devorando a uno de sus niños“) by Francisco Goya, painted 1819-1823. In the caption to this image from WikiArt, it says, “Between the years of 1819 and 1823, Goya painted a series of paintings on the walls of his villa at Quinto del Sordo, all of which portrayed terrible, fantastical, or morbid imagery. These paintings are now called the Black Paintings, referring to the mental state of Goya during this dark time in his life, due to his bout with illness, which made him deaf, as well internal strife in Spain. This painting was completed on the walls of his dining room, and is a rendition of Saturn, the Roman mythological character, who, fearing that his children would one day overthrow him, ate each one of them upon their births.”
This image brings to mind Pierre Vergniaud, who issued a warning to his fellow revolutionaries in France on March 16, 1793. “Citizens,” he said, “we now have cause to fear that the Revolution, like Saturn successively devouring his children, has finally given way to despotism and all the calamities that despotism implies.” On October 31 of that year, he was beheaded. Many more were to be guillotined before the reign of Terror in the French Revolution gave way to a dictatorship—Napoleon’s.
We are children of revolutions, which we consider romantic and glorious. After all, they are launched against tyranny; they are fought to achieve freedom. What we are less often taught, because it’s messy, is that revolutions have a price. As the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuskinski wrote two centuries later, this time describing the fall of the Shah of Iran, “Revolution must be distinguished from revolt, coup d’etat, palace takeover. A coup or a palace takeover may be planned, but a revolution—never. Its outbreak, the hour of that outbreak, takes everyone, even those who have been striving for it, unawares. They stand amazed at the spontaneity that appears suddenly and destroys everything in its path. It demolishes so ruthlessly that in the end, it may annihilate the ideals that called it into being.” After years of despotic rule, the Shah quickly fell, only to be replaced by a deeply conservative and repressive Islamic regime.
The French Revolution inspired our own revolution against Spain in 1896, just as the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and of the dictator Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti in early February 1986 was taken by Filipinos as a sign of things to come—correctly, as it turned out, as Ferdinand Marcos fled the Philippines two weeks later. In 1896 and 1986, revolutions led not just to disappointment, but to the defeat of many of those who had sacrificed most in the struggle. Many reasons are given for this except, perhaps the most obvious one: It’s in the nature of revolutions to eat their own children, as that French politician warned, just as it is in the nature of revolutions to destroy many of the principles that inspired them, as they proceeded to demolish the regime they hoped to replace, as the Polish journalist pointed out.
Now this isn’t about 1986, but rather, 1896. That’s because August marks the fateful days when the Katipunan, finding itself betrayed, decided to go ahead with the revolution against Spain, despite the misgivings of some of its own members, not to mention the earlier skepticism of those it had tried to attract to its side, such as Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna. Rizal, whose attitude towards revolution was complicated to say the least, ended up its first and most famous casualty: Bonifacio would point to Rizal’s death as one of the injustices that they were fighting to avenge. Luna would denounce the Katipunan, only to join the revolution when it was resumed, ending up one of its most uncompromising figures. You’ve seen the movie.
August 1896 may include National Heroes Day, but one has to ask, why doesn’t it include our independence day? After all, the revolution began in August 1896. What we now celebrate as independence day, June 12, took place in 1898 when the revolution resumed, having been fought to a standstill by the Spanish in 1897 and our leaders going into exile in Hong Kong that same year.
Formerly, we celebrated independence day on July 4, which is the day in 1946 when the independence lost to the Americans was finally recognized by the Americans and global community of nations—that is, until Diosdado Macapagal threw a tantrum with the Americans over payments to our veterans, and, already disliking July 4 because more people would go to U.S. Embassy parties than Philippine Embassy ones when he was a young diplomat, and also, seeing that young people were getting radicalized and that July 4 commemorating the success of our peaceful campaign to restore independence was less exciting than the good old days of the First Republic, he decided historians pushing for June 12 had a point and made it official.
So, to this day, there remain proponents of both dates. But surprisingly, relatively few, if any, who insist it should be in August.
Why should this be? There are two reasons, I think. The first is that as a people, we are legalistic. Or at least our leaders and some influential scholars are. On the other hand, we also tend to confuse heroism with sainthood, so it’s difficult to take any position about significant figures in our history without it getting bogged down into something that surely resembles the debates and hearings held by the Catholic Church when it deliberates on whether to proclaim someone a saint.
Here’s the legalistic point of view. Proponents of June 12 like it because it was a formal occasion. There was a proclamation of independence written in flowery language; there were officials waving from a window. There was a band, and it performed a national anthem. A national flag was presented to the people. A dictatorship was proclaimed, too. A lawyer’s, military officer’s, local official’s, and protocol minder’s delight. But again, it was not the start of our revolution, it was the resumption. Nor was it the height of achievement, if you want to measure these things according to documents and institutions. Apolinario Mabini, as nit-picky a lawyer as you would have ever hoped to meet, was in the audience and had a fit.
First of all, he said, in a Monty Pythonesque moment, a bunch of cronies standing by a window is no basis for a proclamation of independence. Who made you the determinants of our national destiny, anyway? Second of all, why did you proclaim a dictatorship and worse, one that was a protectorate of the United States when you didn’t have a shred of evidence the Americans would recognize whatever it is you just proclaimed here in Kawit? So changes had to be made, including not one, but two rounds of ratifications of the proclamation of independence, and the transformation of the dictatorship into a revolutionary government that sounded more serious than a scene out of an operetta. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1899 that we became what we now repeatedly take pride in pointing out to others: the first constitutional republic in Asia.
Here enters the question of sainthood. The father of the Revolution was Bonifacio. We consider our first president, officially, at least, to be Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo was able to obtain this title by means of a showdown over the leadership of the revolution in which Bonifacio not only lost, but ended up executed. Aguinaldo won, but his victory led to the defeat of the revolution that Bonifacio began. Not only had the Spanish sent reinforcements and waged a ruthless war, but the Katipuneros who found themselves the soldier of a revolution that was embarking on devouring its own children, were discouraged by what they saw going on. But Spain blundered into a war with the United States which set its eyes on the Philippines as a glittering prize, a base for cornering the China market, so it winked and nudged and flattered Aguinaldo into resuming the revolution armed with nothing but the frustrated dream of freedom of his countrymen and vague unofficial promises from the Americans.
Still, to be sure, when it resumed, the revolution succeeded—against Spain. This is what we commemorate on June 12, on Aguinaldo’s terms, as he made sure no one would forget by turning his own home into a gigantic shrine to his achievements—genuine, to be sure, but also pointedly in contrast to the first phase of the revolution, which was made possible by Bonifacio building Katipunan, inspiring it, and leading it, including the creation of a government which, however, had little to do with lawyers or mayors like Aguinaldo who would have wanted (and later made sure to have) something more formal, more official.
The problem is that Aguinaldo in turn got overtaken by events. The independence he proclaimed was then destroyed by the Americans. What followed was over 40 years of campaigning to get that independence back, which was finally achieved in 1946, half a century after the revolution first began in 1896. Only for us to discover independence isn’t an easy thing, and that where once we worried about foreign tyranny, around the corner would be a home-grown one, which would come to an end, relatively peacefully, in 1986—90 years after the revolution first began in 1896. Still, Aguinaldo outlived his contemporaries and made sure 1898 would live larger in the official imagination than 1896.
Here is where what seems to me a rather irrelevant argument over secular sainthood muddles the picture. Both Bonifacio and Aguinaldo were tough men. Both were ruthless in what each believed was the national cause. Revolutions require tough choices not for the faint of heart.
If you go to Don Bosco Mandaluyong, on the wall of what used to be a convento, there’s a historical marker saying that in one of the rooms of that building, the Katipunan was betrayed on August 19, 1896. You know the most famous version of the story (there are others) from your textbooks: a Katipunero, Teodoro Patiño, got into a fight with a fellow Katipunero, Apolonio de la Cruz, who was his supervisor in a newspaper. Patiño told his sister, who was a nun in Mandaluyong, about the secret society. She got upset, was noticed by her mother superior, who, upon hearing the nun’s secret, summoned Patiño and told him to spill the beans to an Agustinian friar who then raised the alarm with the authorities who mounted a raid on the newspaper. This led the Katipuneros to regroup in Caloocan to decide on when to begin the revolution.
Now there are accounts that claim Patiño was actually instructed to spill the beans, because Bonifacio felt the more cautious among his fellow Katipuneros had to be nudged in the direction of finally taking the plunge. You’ve also probably heard the view that the Katipunan framed wealthy and influential Filipinos who refused, or had misgivings, about either joining or supporting the revolution. Consider further that even prior to the revolution breaking out, organizing the Katipunan and keeping it secret required discipline and firmness, and you get the picture that leading a revolution isn’t for the faint of heart.
When the revolution, once it began, did better in Cavite than it did in the vicinity of Manila, and when the Katipunan broke into two factions in that province, the stage was set for what was essentially a coup d’etat against the existing Katipunan government. What we now know as the Tejeros Convention saw Bonifacio out-maneuvered at every turn by a simple stratagem. Deny your opponent, in this case, Bonifacio, his previous advantages, by insisting on new rules of the game you’ve already mastered. The proposal to succeed the Katipunan with a new government made the arena of decision a political campaign, and not a question of membership by those who’d been in the Katipunan since the start. Aguinaldo was a provincial mayor. He was used to elections. He knew how elections were won—and they aren’t won, for example, by applying to a barangay the rules that govern, say, the Free and Accepted Masons (on whose practices many of the Katipunan rules had been based). So the outcome was to be expected—as was the inability of victors in this country to shake hands with those they’ve defeated. Someone always has to kick a man in the face when he’s down, it happened in Tejeros, it’s kept happening ever since.
But such confrontations—ruthless, scheming, bloody—are par for the course in all revolutions, whether two centuries ago or in the previous century. Remember Vergniaud in 18th-Century France? How about Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, who systematically liquidated all moderate independence figures, until he was the last man standing? Again, it is in the nature of revolutions, which doesn’t prevent all the flawed participants to be recognized for the parts they played in what transpired. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
If this collision of these two perspectives, to my mind, is what’s made it impossible to achieve the consensus required to propose our independence day being in August, we have to add to these two opposing perspectives, a third factor: the inability of historians to achieve a consensus among themselves as to when certain events actually took place. If Bonifacio and Aguinaldo have their ferocious proponents, then actual dates can have equally ferocious proponents. When they’re professors or academic historians, then it can become a battle of definitions.
Today we commemorate the “Cry of Pugad Lawin,” but once upon a time, we used to commemorate the “Cry of Balintawak.” Today we commemorate August 23, but once upon a time we used to commemorate August 26. There’s a difference of perspective, among other things, that marks why some support one date and others prefer another. It involves the question of when we should consider the revolution to have begun. Was it the decision to revolt? The tearing of cedulas, important because it was the document used to signify you were liable to render free labor to the government? Or was when there was the first encounter with Spanish troops? For many Katipuneros, they commemorated August 26, the first battle. Starting in the 1960s this changed to August 23, the decision to revolt, proposed by historians although many Katipuneros remembered it happening on August 24.
Up to 1922, it seems surviving Katipuneros agreed on the “Cry of Balintawak,” and the date August 26. Starting in 1922, a group of Katipunan veterans insisted the “Cry of Pugad Lawin” was more precise. Since 1962, this has been official, dating the start of the Revolution to August 23, including the tearing of cedulas. But this is contested by other historians who point out it is based on memoirs of people who weren’t present at the time for the events they described. The problem with both sides is that they happened to be living the revolution when it took place, and not pausing to meticulously record what happened, and where, in a place that was basically woods and farmlands anyway. My favorite map of the stomping grounds of our revolutionaries during those tension-filled August days of decision, happens to come from a 1960s children’s book, Kangkong: 1896. I love it because it’s vague. You may have lived through amazing, historic, days, but then as now, how many of us could be precise about where things took place? “Sa may kwan, bandang ano, sa alam mo nang dating nandun…”
So the battles that began in 1922 took place among increasingly elderly individuals with long memories for grievances but less than precise ones for places and even dates, and over time historians would pick and choose which faded memories to prefer over others. It is a fascinating story, one that historian Jim Richardson has tried to summarize online (with the able help of the younger generation of Filipino historians).
You should read what he, and many other gifted, passionate, historians have worked hard to resolve over time. Personally, I think it is only a matter of time before we reach the level of maturity, as a society, when we can be more judicious, and therefore fair, to all concerned: not least in recognizing what revolutions are and that complexity is more interesting than secular sainthood. But for now, the confrontations of the past continue to have echoes in the position papers and books of our historians. But this means, and explains, why we haven’t yet had that national light-bulb moment when we can all sit up and say, “Why, independence day should be in August!”
There’s other stuff you can access online, too. You can read about the Katipunan, Bonifacio, the Tejeros Convention, and the First Republic in Heroism, Heritage, and Nationhood. You can look at the ebb and flow of the first and second phases of the Revolution against Spain and the Philippine-American War, in The Historical Atlas of the Republic. Personally, if you only have time to read one book on the Philippine Revolution, then do read Apolinario Mabini’s La Revolucion Filipina, translated by the late Leon Ma. Guerrero.
All business involves risk, but there is a difference between commercial and political risk. Commercial risk can be gamed out; political risk cannot. The greater the political risk, the higher the incentive to wait and see, restricting plans to those already in the pipeline while conserving resources and risk by refraining from expansion or new ventures.
It took the murder of a foreigner and not a Filipino to stop the war on drugs — temporarily — at least because of the fallout after Jee Ick-joo was strangled in an SUV near the office of the Philippine National Police chief. It was the worst time for bad news, as the last two quarters of 2016 — the first six months of the present government — had already shown a decline of 10.7% in foreign investment commitments.
In June, Kang Chang-ik, president of United Korean Community Association in the Philippines said he expected tourism arrivals to drop because of martial law in Mindanao (arrivals from South Korea, year-on-year in May, had increased 35.84% according to the Department of Tourism). The prediction seems to have an anecdotal basis, with Bohol resorts reporting most cancellations coming from Korea, Japan, and China in May.
Business keeps its head down and does not invite political attention. So decisions are blandly explained away on purely commercial grounds. On Aug. 24, the Philippine Star reported South Korean firms are “packing up” and shifting their manufacturing operations to Vietnam, with Lee Ho-ik of the Korean Chamber of Commerce saying the reason is the “higher cost of doing business as well as lack of incentives in the country.”
These are undeniably liabilities as far as prospects of investments in the country; when you add others of a political nature, the tide of confidence doesn’t just stall, it’s reversed.
Back in April, Cielito Habito in his column pointed to “dark clouds” over the economy, specifying inflation, a renewed rise in the unemployment rate, slowing GDP growth, the peso climbing above 50 to the dollar, and a minimal growth in exports meaning more money was going out than coming in, as well as a slowing down in the deployment of OFWs as causes of concern. In June, a report mentioned BPO investments were down 34.96% amid “fears of political uncertainty.”
In July, he diplomatically pointed out, “Something unique to the Philippines is happening lately that is leading to a net outflow of dollars — hopefully not a diarrhea — that merits close attention from both our economic and political authorities.” As a former chief government economist, he is careful with his words avoiding the term “capital flight,” but surely this is what crossed many readers’ minds.
That same month, S&P cut its growth forecast for the country to 6.4% from 6.6%. In September last year, it had warned that the war on drugs combined with President Duterte’s statements on security and foreign policy meant “that the stability and predictability of policymaking has diminished somewhat.” Meaning, political risk. At the start of August, the IMF cut its growth forecast for the country to 6.6% from 6.8% because of slower-than-expected first quarter numbers.
Last Aug. 25, Habito devoted another column to the peso rate, pointing out its depreciation is mixed news (good for OFWs, bad for importers, for example), but along the way mentioned foreign investments are down by 23%, portfolio investments have been leaving, again diplomatically noting “investor sentiment seems moving the other way, for reasons internal to us.” Something the foreigners had been saying, as clearly as jargon allows, since last year.
To compensate for all this, the government has done two things. It has tried to sustain the policies of the government it replaced, which would hopefully isolate any fallout from its political interventions in business, whether in online gaming, mining, the reclassification of agricultural land, cigarettes, real estate, or ride-sharing services.
The government, as all governments do, trumpeted a new scheme to make people bullish about the prospects of the country. The mantra would be “build, build, build,” with glittering promises of massively ramped-up investments in infrastructure. It would be funded by tax reform. Two days ago, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez warned that he would advise the President to veto the very bill the administration had so strongly pushed, putting the blame on the Senate when it was the House that had passed a defective, “watered-down” bill. So much for a massive House majority, apparently incapable of being policed by the Palace. But then blaming the Senate is par for the course though what you’d least expect from supposedly professional economic managers: politics.
As the Marcoses kept vigil over the tomb of the late dictator, the President who buried Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery gave the impression he had pronounced a death sentence on Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog.
The President, you might recall, tagged Mabilog in his inaugural narcopolitics in August last year.
A week ago, that is, last August 21, the President noted that he believed the supply of shabu in Iloilo City was “pretty much gone,” to which Mabilog responded with an enthusiastic thank you to the President by way of reporters the next day.
The Libingan statement suggests Mabilog was like a mouse in the paws of a cat. Sometimes the cat lets the mouse escape, briefly, for the sheer pleasure of doubling down on the mouse’s terror when it’s caught again a few minutes later.
The cat’s play came to a close when the claws came out as the President began addressing Jovie Espenido, saying he was assigning him to Iloilo City. He went down memory lane pointing out how Espenido had asked to be assigned to Leyte, and a mayor there was killed; he asked to be assigned to Ozamiz City and a mayor there was killed.
Now, the President rhetorically asked, still addressing Espenido, you want to be assigned to Iloilo City, where Mayor Mabilog has been identified as a protector of drug lords: I wonder if he’s going to remain alive?
The President bewailed blame being pinned on his humble person when, as he put it, it’s Espenido who pulls the trigger. That being said, if you do the country a favor, I will support you, the President added.
But the President did give Espindo some concrete advice. Follow the rules of engagement. If the lives of your people are in danger and they are in the actual performance of their duty, you are duty-bound to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that aside from procedures, operations will probably include the elementary precaution of ensuring no CCTV cameras are functioning when operations take place. When Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. was killed, no CCTVs were working. When Ozamiz City Mayor Rolando Parojinog Sr. and others were killed, no CCTV cameras were working, either.
You may know the phrase, “dead man walking,” from the film starring Sean Penn. It is said as a condemned prisoner is led to his place of execution. The National Heroes’ Day message was blunt: Mabilog is a dead man walking. Physically, or politically, is really beside the point.
Three mayors and a vice mayor are already dead. Two of them, Mayors Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom and Rolando Espinosa, were killed even after previously surrendering to the authorities. As we saw this morning, he got a medal for it.
A mayor, a former mayor, and two vice mayors have been arrested.
But many more incumbent and former mayors and vice mayors remain on the President’s list: 13 in Luzon, 14 in the Visayas, and 25 in Mindanao.
After the Libingan event, the President went to eat chicken in Pampanga, followed by a scheduled to return to the Palace to meet with the parents of Kian delos Santos. No one should doubt the President would be kind, sympathetic, and serious in promising action. Not only was it a murder that shocked and horrified a significant portion of public opinion but because, as an old saying goes, it was a blunder worse than a crime.
Or, in the Newspeak of our present era, Kian’s death is what is called an isolated incident, one that will be punished, to be sure. That others point out there have been over 30 children killed in the War on Drugs is neither conceded, nor considered relevant.
That Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan, during his funeral Mass homily last Saturday, listed more than a dozen such murders in Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas alone, is also neither conceded, nor considered relevant.
What is relevant, as we saw ton National Heroes’ Day, is that a further intensification of the War on Drugs is at hand. He already said there can be no reduction in the intensity of that war; he has already pledged that the waging of it will never be diminished by foreign or even domestic opinion.
You might think that with 52 local executives on his narcopolitics list, a list that began to be waved around a year ago, the President would have ensured that cases would have been built by now so that instead of just four arrests and an equal number of slain local officials, the 52 would be facing charges that would either bankrupt them in court or actually lead to convictions, or both. But you’re missing the whole point.
Cases kill trees but do not fatten the fishes; what is the banging of a gavel compared to the satisfaction of bullets and grenades?
The Romans demanded bread and circuses –and we shouldn’t forget that for the Romans, this included arenas where the Emperor could give a thumbs-up, or thumbs-down, to the applause of the crowd. The whole point of power is to leave no doubt that you, and you alone, decides who lives and who dies.
In a strange and macabre way, because in politics, the most direct path between two points is never a straight line but more often than not, a zigzag, the President in the Winter of his life, is like that man in the poem by Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The President was rather subdued when he went on air for a press conference after having dinner with the Palace press corps. He didn’t take the bait when asked about Kian delos Santos, preferring to double-down on his support for the police. It’s not as if he could be reasonably expected to go beyond a pro forma approval of an investigation into that murder. From the very start, he has been candid about the bargain he has offered the country and which, despite the manner that made many recoil at the sight of the CCTV footage, many still support.
That bargain is simple and threefold.
To the police, unqualified and total support, down to the guarantee that even if any cop ends up convicted for following his instructions, they are assured of a presidential pardon.
To the public, he offers nothing less than full absolution for whatever transpires in their name. That absolution comes in the form of the President repeatedly assuming full responsibility for everything and anything connected to his war on drugs. The public — absolved of responsibility — can therefore rest easy on the pretext that whatever happens, however grisly or harsh, it is not of their doing, since they have neither the power nor the capability to cause the doing of what is being done.
Furthermore, if the policy of liquidations claims innocent victims, that may be slightly regrettable, but not really. A nation instructed that it is a victim will have little sympathy to give while it is luxuriating in the feeling that collective revenge is being exacted on its behalf. That is why the President has been so insistent on rejecting what he considers alien: Western concepts of due process or the rehabilitation of offenders. He is compelled to insist on an eye for an eye, the third part of his grand bargain with the police and the people.
That the President is very careful to ensure that he entertains his audience whenever he makes a public appearance does not mean he isn’t mindful of being consistent. He is remarkably consistent about what he believes is the thing that truly matters. What truly matters is not just sustaining, but intensifying, the fundamental basis for his public support—his policy of liquidations. He does not quibble about methods and has little patience for those who do. He is like one of those 19th-century writers who brought out their novels in installments. Anticipation — and tension — must be sustained. There must be an escalation. There must be drama. There can be momentary pauses, to be sure, but this only serves to heighten blood lust: Deadlines are moved, then abandoned in favor of a wider, deeper, total struggle. One made possible only by The Leader—for he knows as well as anyone — the moment he won the presidency during the televised debates in 2016. Asked about the presidency, his rivals tried to outdo each other in eloquence while he simply replied, “The presidency is about leadership.”
The kind shrewdly premised on the grand bargain he is fulfilling today. As Nietzsche once wrote, “Pure will without the confusion of intellect — how happy, how free!” Joy through Strength. You can almost imagine a kindred thought emblazoned over every police station in the country: Work sets you free.
All else is an exercise in instilling obedience, from the President’s early appearances before the police where he sternly admonished them that unlike the military, he wouldn’t abide by any Board of Generals but would, instead, personally scrutinize and approve every promotion because the cops didn’t deserve any institutional latitude. From his thundering that he knew that certain cops had proceeded to liquidate their drug assets even before he took office, that is, when those assets weren’t being rubbed out by higher-ups in the drug trade, he reminded them he was all-knowing.
That he would, often in the same set of remarks then tell the public he was shocked at the enormity of the drug trade was not, as some might believe, a confusing contradiction. He segments his audience. He speaks the language of the cops just as he speaks the street slang of the public at large. It all comes together in what follows: the waves of liquidations punctuated by the spectacular elimination of prominent, previously considered untouchable, targets.
He could have purged the police first, for no crime exists without the toleration if not connivance, of the cops. But to have the effect needed to sustain applause, liquidations have to be wholesale. Which is what makes the policy unsustainable and in the end, futile. It will only lead, as it has been leading, to moments when the guaranteed absolution suddenly feels unclean.
Ninoy Aquino was no saint. Achieving heroic virtue –which is what sanctity is—is hardly possible in the grey world of politics.
His early life was an exercise in career-building so he could restore the family name, disgraced by his father’s collaboration with the Japanese which made him one of the most hated men in the country during the war. His early career in politics was unusual only in that it represented a meteoric rise: youngest mayor, youngest governor, those were his claim to fame. He was eloquent, but also considered glib by quite a few; he was intelligent, but then there are many keen minds in politics, not all of them using their talents for the public good. He could have been president, though we don’t know what kind he would have been. Some believed he would be as, or more, ruthless than Marcos; others felt he understood the social volcano that was our society and would side with reform.
Ninoy Aquino was no saint but he became a hero, because unlike religion, heroism can coexist with complexity. It can, and often does, thrive in the grey murkiness of political and public life precisely because both lead us to points of decision where we can choose to serve something greater than ourselves, those abstract but meaningful things given grand names like freedom, democracy, decency.
Ferdinand Marcos viewed Ninoy as enemy number one. That is why the very first person arrested as September 22 gave way to September 23, was Aquino.
One of his fellow prisoners later recalled how, after being finger-printed in Camp Crame, Ninoy and several others were put on a bus. Ninoy told his fellow prisoners, if the bus reached Buendia and turned right, it meant they were going to Luneta to be shot. Along the way, he saw people standing by the side of road, staring at them, faces full of curiosity but without any signs of sympathy. “Look at our people,” Ninoy told his seatmate, Napoleon Rama, “They know that we’ve been fighting for their rights, that we’ve risked our lives and that freedoms have been taken away from them, and yet, they are not doing anything… Look at them, they’re just watching us, curious, so, I don’t think there’s hope for the Filipino.”
That was the human and expected reaction for someone falling from power: bitterness at how quickly the applause of yesterday turns into the indifference of today. As one of his early co-prisoners later wrote, “Every year in prison is a year thrown away out of the limited span of man’s life; it is the death penalty by installment: life without freedom is not life.” Of all those he arrested in the dead of night, Ninoy was the one Marcos kept in jail the longest. He subjected him to trial by a kangaroo court; he and Jose W. Diokno were placed in isolation cells; he, and his regime, and a society conditioned to obey, ostracized his family.
And here is where Ninoy changed. We are told he rediscovered his faith. He also discovered something alien to the restless ambitions of a politician: the quiet stillness, the surprising strength, of a developing conscience. Unable to make speeches, he relied on his pen; deprived of human contact except when rationed out by the dictator, he became filled with empathy and the kind of imagination that allows you to transcend your past and envision a future where rich or poor, Moro or Cordilleran, radical or conservative, could live together on the basis of something other than fear and the surrender of your rights. Most of all it allowed him to take a leap of faith that to this day, we don’t fully appreciate.
That leap of faith was to give Marcos, who had deprived a nation of choices, the freedom of choice. He would come home to a sick and dying Marcos and appeal to his sense of history, to whatever remained of what must have been there once upon a time, some sort of instinct to serve the public good.
As he told the late Teodoro M. Locsin, “First, he must step down. Resign. He has had so many years of power! Now, he can resign. He can retire from public office to the thanks of a grateful people that will forget what it had suffered in its joy at being free again. We are a forgiving people. What a graceful exit that would be from power. He’ll go with honor.” Locsin shook his head, later called Ninoy naïve –but marveled at his bravery.
Ninoy was not naïve. There was logic in the choice he wanted to offer Marcos. There was logic to his coming home at a time, we often forget, no one knew if the dictator had long to live, and where Manila swirled with rumors about who was poised –or posing—to seize power in the vacuum that would exist the moment the dictator died. Whoever actually ordered the assassination remains unclear because clarity is impossible in such a confused situation; the most our legal system could do was put some low-ranking people in jail but even there, President Arroyo took it upon herself to pardon them. A typical parting gift to Ninoy’s widow, then dying of cancer.
Not just Marcos but his minions had made their choice. Ninoy came home to die, and the entire country and the world bore witness to it. And it was the calm embrace of the possibility of it, that made even those still skeptical of Ninoy, recognize his heroism for what it was. As Raissa Robles later wrote, it was the brazenness of it, on the part of a regime that had already murdered so many, but usually in darkness, and thus beyond the public’s view, that was the tipping point.
How often have we heard it said a picture is worth a thousand words? Even if to this day you do not consider Ninoy a hero, review those last seconds of his life, as he was taken from the plane to the tube and then down the stairs on which he was shot, and you have to ask what sort of regime was so afraid of unarmed words that a bullet was the only answer?
Marcos then, as many still do today, argued the bullet was needed to enforce discipline and peace. Locsin, reflecting in 1986, had an answer to this argument. “The gun makes all challenge ineffectual. The mind becomes dull. Absolute power does not only corrupt absolutely, it stupefies. There is no need for intelligence when the guns serves. The blade of the mind rusts. Absolute power brings absolute stupidity.” This is why Marcos and Imelda were later shocked, we’re told, to see the outpouring of grief for Ninoy.
This is why the adulation of recent months has given way to a fearful pause, when people saw that now infamous CCTV footage of a 17-year-old kid named Kian delos Santos. There comes a moment, without exception, for all who hold power, when they take a step too far, and the public recoils, whether in disgust, disappointment, anger, or all three.
It has nothing to do with what sort of person the victim was or wasn’t and everything to do with what those who hold a monopoly on legitimate force are not supposed to be: not just stupid, but criminally so. Because once committed, the only justice possible is to merely make an example of the trigger-happy while pointedly ignoring the reasons for their becoming trigger-happy in the first place. We saw this utter defeat on Karen Davila’s show, as the father of Kian gave short answers and pleaded with the President for something to be done, though we all know he knows as well as anyone does, that his plea is addressed to the person who made Kian’s death an inevitability.
This what Ninoy told a friend, as he prepared to go home. “When we start to feel the pain of those who have been victimized by tyranny,” Ninoy said, “it’s only then we can liberate ourselves… The feeling right now is ‘Fred was tortured, thank God it’s Fred, not me.’ That’s the tragic part. Society is atomized. Until the Filipino nation can feel the loss of one life as if it was their own, we’ll never liberate ourselves.”
Day in and day out, everyone is watching the operatic confrontation between Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista and his wife, Patricia Bautista. Setting aside the whole question of when domestic tragedy becomes a controversy involving official ethics, I’d like to focus on something else. Overlooked in the whole drama is the question of divorce.
Before the Spanish conquest, divorce existed in our various societies: “Among them were the Gaddang of Nueva Vizcaya, the Igorot and Sagada of the Cordilleras, the Manobos, Bila-ans and Moslems in Mindanao, and the Tagbanwas of Palawan.”
Writing in Philippine Studies in 1953, Deogracias T. Reyes described divorce under Spain. It was governed, he wrote, by Canon Law and the decrees of the Council of Trent, Catholic regulations which were accepted as part of the law of the land by the Spanish civil authorities. Three grounds were recognized:
If one spouse wanted to enter a religious order and the other spouse agreed;
Adultery on the part of either husband or wife;
If one spouse became heretic.
But the result of such a separation was neither the annulment of the marriage nor the marital bond dissolved. He categorized it as relative divorce, that is, legal separation.
With the arrival of the Americans came the separation of Church and State. On March 11, 1917, Act No. 2710 was passed by the Philippine Legislature allowing absolute divorce on two grounds:
Adultery on the part of the wife; or,
Concubinage on the part of the husband.
In either case, criminal conviction was required first. Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison went as far as publishing an article saying he believed the law was too restrictive. A former Associate Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Frederick Charles Fisher, also published an article saying the law was incompatible with the modern problems of the Filipino family –imagine that!—and said the law should be liberalized.
The most sweeping change took place during the Japanese Occupation. Jorge B. Vargas, who was then Chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission which exercised de facto power at the time, issued Executive Order No. 141 on March 25, 1943, which repealed Act No. 2710. It allowed absolute divorce on eleven grounds: aside from adultery and concubinage, it added attempted murder, contracting a marriage with someone else without dissolving the previous marriage, catching a “loathsome contagious disease,” impotence on the part of either spouse –imagine that!—incurable insanity, conviction for a crime with a penalty of at least six years imprisonment, repeated bodily violence to a spouse, desertion for at least one year, unexplained absence from the home for at least three years, and slander to the extent that living together was rendered impossible.
An interesting note is that in the 32 years the previous divorce law had existed, only 200 divorces had been allowed by the court. In the two years the new law was in place, the number rose to 600 divorces.
But with the return of the Americans and the restoration of the Commonwealth came a decree declaring all laws issued during the Japanese Occupation null and void. So, Act No. 2710 came back into force.
Still, some people kept pushing to liberalize the divorce law. Congressman Hermenegildo Atienza—father of Lito Atienza, who is now party-list representative essentially of the Catholic party—was the first proponent of the abolition of divorce. On June 24, 1946 he filed a bill to remove the requirement for a criminal conviction prior to a divorce. A Code Commission established by President Roxas to revise the even-then antique Civil Code, considered liberalizing divorce, but Roxas asked the commission not to go into it because, as former UP President Jorge Bocobo explained, the president didn’t feel the country was prepared for a great division on the issue. But the cat was out of the bag. Public hearings erupted in emotional debate. Catholics appealed to their representatives to abolish divorce.
In 1949, Teodoro M. Locsin, writing in the Philippines Free Press, chronicled how this happened. The proposed Civil Code reached Congress, and Catholic civic groups leaped into action. In April, 1949, telegrams flooded members of Congress. Bishops weighed in, “broadly hinting,” as Locsin reported it, that congressmen and senators who liberalized divorce would suffer defeat in the coming November elections. The bishops said they were okay with the divorce law as it existed, but under no circumstances would they consent to liberalizing its requirements.
Locsin wrote that the response of lawmakers to this was to be more popish than the Pope: not only would they not liberalize the divorce law, they would go further and repeal the divorce law altogether! The ball got rolling with Rep. Lorenzo Sumulong filing a bill in the House. Locsin’s description of how a bad law was going to be made worse by the new law, is worth quoting in full.
“Under the present law,” Locsin observed, “a man may secure a divorce from his wife only after sending her to prison for adultery. He must send her to prison; he must feel no pity, grant no mercy, if he is to be free of her, and free to marry again. In the case of the woman, she must send her husband to prison for concubinage if she would be free to remarry.”
Now “Under the proposed law,” Locsin added, “abolishing absolute divorce, a man must not only be without pity and send his adulterous wife to prison if he would be rid of her and be able to remarry. He must harden his heart, plot and plan; lay a trap for his wife, catch her in the act of adultery and shoot her to death. He must kill.”
Locsin added, “If the husband of an adulterous woman hesitates to kill, then he must condemn himself to a life of perfect celibacy for the next 20, 30, 40 years. He must suppress all natural desires, he must be perfectly chaste. He is expected to be, under the proposed law abolishing absolute divorce. For the alternative would be to get himself a querida, which it is certain neither the Catholic Church nor our congressmen would countenance, or to take his faithless wife to himself again, to be, in short, as the Spaniards put it, a pendejo consentido.”
Locsin closed by quoting scripture” “It was St. Paul who said,” (he wrote) “‘Better to marry than to burn.’ Under the proposed law abolishing absolute divorce, a man who is the husband of an unfaithful woman must kill, or remain a cuckold.”
But, of course, votes matter so Congress in its political wisdom abolished divorce, except for one part of the population –Muslims. For everyone else, it condemned couples wanting out to living out a sham. As Locsin wrote, “when a wife becomes adulterous, or making of her marriage vows a joke, or when a man takes a mistress and openly lives with her and keeps her under circumstances ‘scandalous,’ the family may continue to exist, but in name only. Its foundations are gone, it is an empty temple, a mockery and a sham. Nothing remains of the ties that had once bound a man and a woman together. There is only a festering sore.”
To be sure our laws, similar to Catholic doctrine, allows annulment. But consider the grounds for annulment under our laws. There are six: the absence of parental consent, mental illness, fraud (meaning consent to marry was obtained by deception), marriage resulting from intimidation, force, or undue influence, physical incapacity to consummate the marriage, or having an STD at the time of marriage. Infidelity, by the way, is not considered grounds for annulment.
What this tells us that to the stress and disappointment that accompanies the collapse of a marriage must be added conditions that permanently disgrace one of the parties concerned. A case can be made that our laws make a battle between two spouses wanting to end their marriage, a battle to the death, maybe not physically, but in terms of their standing before the law and therefore, society.
Since at least 2005, the times have been a-changin’ with divorce bills being filed in Congress. If, before 1949, our legislators were more committed to the separation of Church and State, then perhaps our present era marks a return to a more secular time. Or at least, one in which Bishops have lost their veto power over legislation. I’m reminded of a story, perhaps apocryphal, about Ferdinand Marcos. It’s said that whenever he thought Catholic bishops were being too independent, he would call them to a meeting, open his drawer, and pull out a divorce decree.
But you see, while an enjoyable story, typically Marcos had it all wrong. Lost in his behavior and those of politicians since 1949 has been the public good –what couples reaching the end of the road in terms of marriage deserve. Sympathy, not judgment, under the law.
It ain’t necessarily so, that in diplomacy, actions speak louder than words. As we will see, a huge amount of time and trouble goes into the carefully-crafted statements that result from meetings of diplomats. These are read very carefully because words do matter. In the case of Asean and China, for example, actions can punctuate the most carefully-crafted statements, turning something vanilla into rocky-road flavor, or changing what was supposed to be an exclamation point into a question mark.
On Saturday afternoon, the news was that the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting had concluded without a communiqué or official bulletin being issued to tie everything together. The widely-reported reason was irreconcilable differences among some Asean member countries with regards to the group’s stand on China’s island-building in the seas in our neighborhood. Too young to have the stamina of a Carlos P. Romulo or an Albert del Rosario, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano was absent that day, because his throat was sore.
It would have been nice to have our Foreign Secretary in the thick of the action, trying to help achieve consensus. But all’s well that ends well, because later that night, a statement was finally issued.
The Manila statement said self-restraint and non-militarization was called for and that some member countries were concerned about land reclamation and other activities that served to erode trust and confidence and increased tensions in our region.
Now here’s where actions speak as loud, if not louder, than words. In the world of diplomacy there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Late last month, the first anniversary of the historic arbitration ruling on our country’s case concerning the West Philippine Sea came and went. There was a lot of commentary on this but, unnoticed by many, was something else. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi came to Manila to talk about the thing that China had formerly insisted must not be named: the arbitration case and its impact on Philippine-China and Asean-China relations.
To visit Manila, a mere few weeks before he was due to visit again for the Asean foreign ministers’ gabfest, was a clear and pointed message from Beijing. Manila, with photos of the Filipino and Chinese foreign ministers smiling widely, was now firmly in Beijing’s corner. A further message: Good Morning, Vietnam! You’re going to have to go it alone on this one.
Which is what happened. With our Foreign Secretary resting at home, Vietnam couldn’t even look to its Filipino counterpart to ask — what happened?
If no statement had emerged, it would have been a very neat reversal of what happened in 2012 — when the spoilsport at the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh was the Philippines. If Cambodia, long considered one of the — if not the — most reliable allies of China had its way, a vanilla statement ignoring the standoff between China and the Philippines would have been the result. After all, the default style of Asean is to limit itself to consensus and when no consensus exists, Asean simply keeps quiet. Prime Minister Hun Sen didn’t take into account President Aquino raising a fuss, which he did, and the result was no statement. Over the next four years, as more countries became concerned over China’s behavior, more Asean countries proved willing to quietly allow a more outspoken attitude toward China, while the Philippines and Vietnam found themselves allies on the question of China’s behavior in our region.
In 2016, Asean foreign ministers in Laos were able to issue a statement on the South China Sea, after years of dogged opposition from Cambodia. That a statement was issued at all thus became the main event, and not really what the statement itself said: This phrase — “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes” — had apparently led to the failure to produce a statement in two previous meetings; removing it made the 2016 statement possible. Everyone could leave happy – Cambodia delivered while Vietnam could fight another day.
And fight alone as it turned out.
Earlier this year, in April, the new Philippine policy became evident when the Chairman’s statement issued in Manila deleted words Filipino diplomats had previously fought long and hard to include in Asean statements. But it was not, as Prashanth Parameswaran writing in The Diplomat was careful to point out, a total surrender. The statement did retain mention of the importance of the rule of law and freedom of navigation and made one of those diplomatic “veiled” references to arbitration. What President Duterte’s statement as Chairman did do, was avoid making any references to the acts of China that had caused unease in the first place — something even Laos, the previous year, had allowed.
Henry Kissinger in his book on China preferred to refer to the country as the Central, and not Middle, Kingdom as most other books have it. This is a significant choice. As diplomats know, words can have multiple meanings and which meaning you allow, which ones you suppress, which ones you use in contrast to what others use and understand, represents both a challenge and opportunity. For us, who are now living in times of which Napoleon warned—China is a sleeping giant, he said, and when she wakes up, she will move the world—we can learn one fundamental thing from them. Words and actions matter in equal measure, but what matters most is to have a gameplan that spans generations, and not merely administrations.
Check out our Asean 2017 special site for important information and latest news on the 31st Asean Summit to be held in Manila on Nov. 13-15, 2017. Visit http://inquirer.net/asean-2017.