The Long View: Restoration

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Last updated 02:50am (Mla time) 09/14/2006
Published on Page A13 of the September 14, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

IT COULD have come much sooner. Theoretically, had Imelda Marcos and Eduardo Cojuangco joined forces in 1992, her 10.3 percent of the vote and his 18.2 percent would have swept Fidel V. Ramos’ 23.6 percent and Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s 19.7 percent aside. Cojuangco’s and Marcos’ loss, however, proved an enduring gain: There remained a hard core — roughly one-fourth of the population — that could be mobilized by the remaining political infrastructure of the KBL party. The same election, too, proved that the political legacy of the anti-Marcos struggle was a fatal division: Ramos, Ramon Mitra, Jovito Salonga and Salvador Laurel (with 51.8 percent of the votes cast for president) proved the overwhelming strength of the anti-Ferdinand Marcos veterans. The old rule of thumb was that politics is addition; the post-Edsa strategy would be politics is division.

In 1998, the man to beat was Joseph Estrada. I argued then that the historic challenge was not to view his victory as unstoppable, but to recall that at best he had a strong minority on his side. The lessons of 1992 were ignored, however. There was even greater division of the post-Ferdinand Marcos forces. Put together, Jose de Venecia, Raul Roco, Lito Osmeña, Alfredo Lim, Renato de Villa and Manuel Morato cannibalized each other; Juan Ponce Enrile and Imelda Marcos did far less damage to Estrada than his opponents did to what should have been a formidable constituency. The result? Estrada’s 39.6 percent of the vote — even less than Carlos Garcia’s minority presidency of 41.3 percent in 1957, but a landslide compared to the tiny percentages (15.9 percent for De Venecia, 13.6 percent for Roco, less for the others) of his rivals.

But the “anyone but Estrada” vote was formidable — 55.26 percent (the votes cast for Estrada’s rivals put together, except those for Defensor-Santiago and Santiago Dumlao, which I consider an anti-everyone protest vote) — but politically irrelevant. And so the myth of the Estrada landslide was born, ignoring the reality that a majority of Filipinos opposed his election — and would eventually welcome his fall; and ignoring, too, the lessons of two presidential elections: that while a slim majority remained hostile to the restoration of the Marcos machinery, that majority was helpless. What is the point of a larger majority, if it’s shattered into squabbling minorities?

Of course, arguing that greater political unity would have resulted either in a Marcos restoration in — 92 (presuming the Edsa People Power veterans had stayed divided, and Imelda Marcos and Cojuangco had unexpectedly patched up their differences) or an Estrada defeat in — 98 (presuming the different leaders had united on a single candidate) is speculative. But I think it indicates two things.

The first is that the veterans of the Ferdinand Marcos administration, including the Marcoses themselves, have managed to preserve their political machinery better than anyone else. And that they continue to have the capability to mobilize a significant minority of the voters — say, 25 percent — who look back fondly to the New Society, or are personally loyal to the “Apo” and his kin, and by extension reject Edsa and People Power. I am not alone in thinking this. This undercurrent of rejection is politically powerful, and gets even stronger as post-Marcos administrations mismanage the country and prove themselves no better than the Marcos-era leadership.

The second is that the post-Marcos bunch of leaders remain more interested in undercutting each other (thus, making the constituencies of the various leaders politically inconsequential) than in getting their act together and standing up for what the majority continues to believe was a pretty good thing: that is, Edsa and People Power. Now they’re dying off one by one, and there’s no one young to replace them, or follow them. Collectively, theirs is a story of 20 years of defeat — the only ones who tasted victory were members of the Ramos minority who decided to abandon all pretensions to Edsa. They are the new KBL, using the same tricks, and with the same objectives, but having perfected the technology for massaging the vote.

The Marcoses themselves have, in spades, something that many of their opponents lack: charm, vigor, celebrity status and even intelligence. They have today’s general air of disillusionment working on their side. The Marcoses themselves can piously point out they have no haciendas; Cory Aquino’s family clung to theirs.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is certainly no Chavit Singson: and even her worst critics admit Imee Marcos is sharp as a tack; everybody likes Irene; Imelda herself is unsinkable and remains one of the most famous Filipinos alive, regardless of the cause of her notoriety (as any actor proves, any publicity is good publicity). And as for robbing the public treasury and human rights, well, they can say they’re in good post-Edsa company. The
thing is, for Filipinos of a certain age, you will hear, “at least the Marcoses got something done” (and still do: Bongbong’s windmills are a genuine achievement). And for the young: What martial law?

But we would be mistaken to assume that the Marcoses have won the battle for history, though they may be poised, as many political observers tell me, to increase their political gains. Imelda Marcos, I keep hearing, is the woman to beat for the mayoralty of Manila: but is that because she is genuinely loved, or because the post-Edsa mayors of Manila have failed to deliver? If there is a tried and tested rule in Philippine politics, it is the contrarian, oppositionist instincts of Manilans — so what would an Imeldific victory say?

To the world and many Filipinos, a repudiation of Edsa, definitely. Though not really. A repudiation of the leadership, and deservedly so. It’s been in the works since 1992.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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