Marcos Heirs Prove Incapable of Leadership

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Marcos Heirs Prove Incapable of Leadership

by Manuel L. Quezon III

The big theme for the year 2005 wasn’t the crisis confronting Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. What 2005 was really about was the passing of one generation, and the inability of what should have been the successor generation, to properly assert its leadership — in no small part, due to its having grown up under the mortal enemy of the previous generation.

In 2005, the generation that opposed Ferdinand Marcos was decimated: Jaime Cardinal Sin, spiritual leader of two People Power uprisings; Haydee Yorac, noted lawyer and symbol of integrity in public office; and Raul Roco, the reformists’ favorite politician, all passed away either soon before, or in the early part, of the crisis that engulfed President Arroyo.

The death of Cardinal Sin was, perhaps, the most grievous blow of all. Together with former President Corazon Aquino, they represented a virtually irresistible tandem when speaking up about morality in politics. Without Sin, the Philippine Catholic Church became trapped in the quicksand of indecision; and without the Cardinal, Cory Aquino was effectively deprived of half of her drawing power.

Yorac’s passing also deprived the country of a powerful moral voice. Widely recognized a fearless, incorruptible, and sensible, she could have drowned out the buzzing of the lawyers who (successfully, it turned out) attempted to confuse the issues confronting Mrs. Arroyo. The death of Roco — who lived barely long enough to say that the president of the Philippines should resign — also deprived the opposition of a leader who could have led the fight both in the streets and in the halls of Congress. Instead, those opposed to Mrs. Arroyo found themselves orphaned twice over: The death of actor Fernando Poe, Jr. had effectively left his followers leaderless, while the moderate reformists opposed both to Poe and Arroyo were left adrift with the demise of Roco.

With these leading lights of the Edsa revolts of 1986 and 2001 (and in between and after) gone, it became starkly clear just how badly the post-Marcos era failed in producing a new generation of leaders. The death of three individuals should have inspired the taking up of the torch, so to speak, by those who had grown up with these leaders as their inspiration. Instead, what the Philippines got was a surfeit of Marcos relicts, and their heirs.

The Marcoses took the lead by gleefully occupying the void left in the administration camp with the departure of Mrs. Arroyo’s reform-minded Cabinet members, and the decision of Mrs. Aquino to call for President Arroyo’s resignation. Imelda Marcos cracked the whip over her family, cowing even the notorious (at least in her mother’s eyes) Imee Marcos, a vocal critic of Arroyo but who conveniently didn’t show up in Congress when it became time to vote for or against impeachment.

Other relicts of the Marcos regime found themselves in an extremely useful situation: Senators Edgardo Angara (whose LDP party was small, but with 10 votes in the House of Representatives, big enough to matter by refusing to support impeachment) and Juan Ponce Enrile (Marcos’s chief henchman in the early years of the dictatorship, and perennial coup-plotter during Mrs. Aquino’s administration) were avidly courted by a beleaguered president.

And aside from two other Marcos-era creations, former President Fidel V. Ramos and House Speaker Jose de Venecia, both of them senior citizens, center stage was taken by a generation of politicians who belong to what Filipinos call the “Martial Law babies.” Whether in opposition to Mrs. Arroyo, or speaking up in her defense, they proved themselves eloquent, but inept when it came to the law, or the legal and other research necessary to make a case iron-clad. Long on rhetoric but short on substance, they were dramatic, mentally and morally elastic, but essentially incompetent. The real decisions were made by their elders, who did the homework and in a few cases, had the guts; and while the younger politicians ended up grabbing the headlines, the end result was an incumbent still in office — months after the opposition crowed that the president was doomed.

Ferdinand Marcos taught two generations of Filipinos that nice guys finish last, and that the law is something to be used tactically, and not viewed as possessing integrity. He also reduced politics to an exercise in the voracious accumulation of wealth, without regard for either actually helping posterity or recognizing the responsibility of leaders to leave a country at least marginally better off than before they entered the scene. If you view politics, as I do, as being as much about self-restraint in exercising power, as it is about achieving power and holding on to it, then Marcos’s legacy was truly politically corrosive.

And yet success breeds imitators, and the majority of Philippine politicians have relinquished even the pretense of statesmanship in favor of the hurried, and completely unfettered, quest for big money. Marcos’ tactics were too well-honed, and too effective, to be abandoned (those who refused to adopt the Marcos way proved extremely negative examples, either remaining unelected by the people or, having been elected, quickly shoved aside and forgotten in the mad, post-Marcos stampede for power and privilege).

So it was, that in 1992, the first post-Marcos presidential elections, the dictator’s widow, Imelda, and his favorite crony, Eduardo Cojuangco, raked in so many votes that had the two not been mortal enemies, and thus split the Marcos vote, they would have easily have won the presidency and achieved a Marcos restoration. They divided the vote, however; and so Fidel V. Ramos squeaked through, amidst allegations that he had perfected the Marcos method of simply ignoring the actual votes by doing the cheating in the computation of ballots.

In 1998, I wondered if the victory of Joseph Estrada, an unrepentant Marcos admirer and beneficiary, wasn’t the last gasp of the vaunted Marcos machinery. It had been mobilized, to good effect, to bring out the vote, and the vote for Estrada was, in many ways, a backlash against the post-EDSA faces whose opposition to the dictatorship was tarnished by their being every bit as greedy (and more clumsily so) than the Marcos regime’s kleptocrats. Estrada’s being kicked out of office seemed a merciful repudiation of the Marcos legacy; and my initial views have been confirmed by the inability of the Estrada machinery to turn essentially a moral issue, against Mrs. Arroyo — patently immoral though she appears — to so many in the population.

And so there you have it: On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Marcos’ ouster, his heirs have truly come into their own — and proven themselves incapable of effective leadership in a democracy.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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