1. The famed Manansala portrait of President Marcos. The portrait was a gift to the President from Gen. Hans Menzi around 1970. It has been lost since 1986, and rumored to have been destroyed in the storming of the Palace. This reproduction is on the dust jacket of “The Marcos Years”, a book edited by Ileana Maramag and published in 1972. By all accounts, and according to the Marcoses themselves, it was FM’s favorite portrait of himself. If he was to be king, he would also be a Philosopher King.
2. A historical man, even when recreating a nation in his own image, will still commune with the past, even in the privacy of his own study; they will have models for leadership; they will be compared by their contemporaries to their generation’s common model for leadership. See In the Shadow of FDR by William Edward Leuchtenburg. In the history of the Philippine presidency there have only been two models, Quezon and Marcos; in both cases aped but not fully understood by the majority of politicians and very little understood because what was imitated was the caricature.
4. Marcos unique because possessed of both a political and intellectual model for the presidency: Quezon for wielding power and Laurel for a political philosophy. Yet Marcos himself was different in his political approach because of his perception of himself as a provincial grandee (see his recorded interview where he emphasized his father’s political prominence prewar, his being a second-generation politician) and thus a conservative approach to power and its source: more ambivalent about the cosmopolitanism of either model; in this sense Quezon and Laurel arguably more modern in their approach in being less concerned with ties to the past and more interested in actively fashioning a modern nation-state. In contrast, FM interested only in a veneer of modernity but more inclined to accept, even encourage, the violence, ethnic chauvinism, hierarchical approach, of provincial society.
This is a hunch. Return to French historian pointing out the Blood, and not territorial, definition of the Philippines in the Malolos Constitution versus Soil, definition of the Philippines from 1935 onwards. In this transition Marcos might be situated somewhere in between: between an orientation towards Volk and that of nationhood as Soil? But also: Johann Gottfried von Herder and the Volk as Tree, requiring firm roothold; MLQ’s organic approach, “I want the country to be like the Molave,” versus nostalgia of Marcos, “This nation can be great again.” The former was essentially an Enlightenment view, the latter, Romantic; or was there an overlap?
Yet what is essential here is both MLQ and FM, besides models of political success, also sought to almost single-handedly refashion nation: the lynchpin in both cases arguably Laurel, and by extension, Mabini in his arguing the political necessity of strongman rule. Plebiscatory democracy; Partyless Democracy; Social Justice themes developed from turn of the Century to 1930s; though Mabini-MLQ-JPL mistrust of military not shared by FM, who viewed army as knife to cut Gordian Knot.
FM was a student of history and perhaps more intellectually accomplished at this than all his predecessors and successors; but as with MLQ, FM suffers from being understood in terms of caricature of the dictator; more so in that FM belonged to a generation steeped in a sense of history while legacy of societal decay since FM’s fall has been a country essentially purged of a sense of history. This applies as much to the educated as the rest.
Return to theme: essential lesson for those who only marveled at FM from a distance is not his love of learning or shrewd use of history but rather the simpler notion that success is its own reward and that nice guys finish last.
5.Yet there is a clear effort by Escudero to avoid references to the past. This passage from John Nery in his column, Column: Kiko, Chiz, Amina, Candy – and consensus May 19, 2009:
One example: To the question about personal heroes (Which historical person living or dead do you most admire?), Escudero said, None. His answer (in mellifluously monotonous Filipino, and readily available on his website) started in this wise: “Ilang ulit nang tinanong sa akin yan, matagal ko nang pinag-isipan ngunit wala akong maisip ni-isa.” My translation: “I’ve been asked that many times and have thought about it a long time, but I can’t think of anyone.” He went on to say: “Dahil para sa akin walang iisang kumakatawan at nagtataglay nang lahat ng katangiang kapupuri-puri [Because for me, there is no one who embodies and symbolizes all that is worthy of praise.]”
This is passing strange. The question was not Who is perfect? but Who do you look up to?
Escudero proceeded to state that perhaps what we ought to do is to choose what is admirable in our historical figures (“mga magagandang ginawa ng mga personalidad sa kasaysayan”) and avoid their mistakes. But that was the point of the question, wasn’t it? Give the Filipino people an idea of who you consider admirable. Escudero then wrapped up his two-minute answer with an appeal to imagination: Imagine a person with all these qualities, he said. “Iyon siguro, hindi man totoong tao, ang dapat natin tingalain [Maybe that is the one, though not a real person, we should all look up to.]”
Pure drivel. I think in avoiding the true question, Escudero is betraying the anxiety of influence. As I’ve written before (the first time, I think, was in 2005), Escudero strikes me as the acceptable face of the Marcos restoration. Here’s a thought in search of a consensus. Perhaps Escudero declined to answer the real question because the people may not be ready to hear him profess any admiration for the late dictator.
6. Another passage from John Nery, in Column: Giving Chiz his due, June 2, 2009:
On other occasions I have written slightingly of Chiz Escudero’s speaking skills, because he seemed at times to use his eloquence to tell creative untruths, to mask the weakness of his position.
Who was it who said the problem the politician has is to say as much as possible while revealing as little as possible? “Less talk, less mistake,” Genaro Magsaysay’s dictum. Could it be Escudero is attempting to evade the burden of history, of caricature, of unfair because impolitic, comparison?
Yet equally possible and to my mind more possible that he is the exemplar of his generation in viewing history as at best, a burden but more likely, as simply irrelevant; and also, an exemplar of the approach, then, to governance simply in tactical and not strategic terms; the first non-Romantic: and also, freed of the notions of the presidency as Chief Modernizer of the Land; does this make him the first Postmodernist, even?
But that would be to attribute an actual reverence for –or rebellion against, sometimes the same thing even if expressed in negative terms– history, even ideology.
7. Escudero is interesting as the first of his generation to be within winning distance of the presidency; his generation is the first to be within reach of the highest office that grew up without having lived through, much less appreciated, the regular changes in regime and relative stability that provided the sense of historical continuity that his elders still feel; he –we– has no recollection of a time without FM at the top, or of the regular changes in administration prior to FM, which carried with it the both the lessons of the limits on power or the orderly transfer of it; and no sense of organic growth but instead, the colossal thud of of a regime that entered senescence as his (our!) generation went through adolescence; and hence, the trauma of the propagandized Marcos as Fulfillment of History suddenly being replaced with Marcos as False Messiah; yet enough residual memory of the earlier years of the dictatorship to lead to unease with both interpretations –and contempt for the chaotic two decades since.
8. But in and of itself the rise of an Escudero candidacy is as historic and a shift every bit as remarkable as that which took place with the election of Magsaysay in 1953, sending the prewar generation into terminal political decline.