The last of the birthday supplements
This article appeared in The Philippine Star Features: The President at 56, the special supplement of the Philippine Star to mark the 56th birthday of President Benigno S. Aquino III, February 08, 2016, A-25
By Manuel L. Quezon III
THIS month is heavy with memory.
In 1986, on Feb. 5, Jaime Cardinal Sin warned that Catholics would employ civil disobedience measures if the election proved fraudulent. On Feb. 7, the snap election was held. The Commission on Elections claimed Ferdinand Marcos was leading while the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections reported that Corazon Aquino was winning.
On Feb. 8, Aquino, who was ahead on the Namfrel count, claimed victory. The next day, on Feb. 9, thirty computer workers at the Comelec tabulation center in the Philippine International Convention Center, protesting the tampering of election results, walked out and sought refuge in Baclaran Church.
On Feb. 13, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter condemning election fraud, essentially withdrawing the “mandate of heaven” from Marcos. Two days later, on Feb. 15, the Batasan Pambansa in stormy session proclaimed Marcos the winner, and opposition assemblymen walked out to protest massive cheating during the election.
On Feb. 16, the “Tagumpay ng Bayan” took place, when Cory Aquino led a mammoth rally of more than two million people at the Luneta where she launched a nationwide civil disobedience campaign and the boycott of Marcos-crony firms to force him to concede defeat. People gave up beer and ice cream, and stopped paying their electric bills.
On Feb. 22, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos revolted against Marcos and holed themselves up in Camp Aguinaldo. The reason was Gringo Honasan had (according to the research of historian Al MCCoy) been rather indiscreet about their plans to mount a coup against President Marcos, and so the dictatorship was set not only to foil the Honasan Plan –Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would do a star turn on the river wall of Malacañan Palace and lead troops to to not only foil, but capture, the putschists—but were ready to round up the rebels. So the rebels holed up in Camps Crame and Aguinaldo. Thousands of people formed a human barricade against the expected advance of Marcos’ troops (but they were so tightly jampacked around the Palace that the troops ended up immobilized). Jaime Cardinal Sin appealed over Radio Veritas for people to send food and help guard the barricades.
On Feb. 25, in separate ceremonies, Cory Aquino took her oath of office at Club Filipino as president of the Philippines while Marcos was sworn in at Malacañang. Later that evening, Marcos fled to Clark Air Base en route to Hawaii. The next day, President Aquino formed her Cabinet.
An entire generation has grown up after these events, but memories of those February days must be particularly vivid this time around, as we mark three decades since democracy was restored. I can think of one person for whom this EDSA month will be particularly heavy with memory: President Benigno S. Aquino III, who marks his birthday not only on the 30th anniversary of his mother claiming victory against the Marcos Machine, but also his last birthday in office. He was inaugurated into that office at the age –fifty—that his father had died, felled by the bullets of the dictatorship. He does so, with far too many veterans of those heady People Power days having strayed far from the promise of the era, and in some cases, having reverted to their Marcos loyalist days.
I can think of one thing those pining for a Marcos restoration, a reversal of the past nearly six years, and a return to the boom-and-bust because spendthrift, imprudent, and selfish ways of the past, probably hate about the President’s birthday. The entire government hasn’t been mobilized to sing the praises of the President, and flood the papers with paid protestations of loyalty and how the Commander-in-Chief/Chief Executive is the best thing for the country since the invention of milled rice. To be sure, there will be some who will do so, because old habits die hard. But there remains a stark difference between the clouds of incense that greeted official birthdays in the past and today, which most people will be celebrating not because they need to curry favor with the present tenant of the Palace, but because we now celebrate Chinese New Year as a holiday.
And that is as it should be. The very existence of supplements such as this should, if the public continues on its current path of increasing maturity and prosperity, become a relict so ridiculous it will no longer be deemed worthy of consideration on the birthdays of future presidents.
Which is why, if the President is worth a pause on this day, it should because it leads us to deeper reflection: in the three decades since we sent the dictator, his family, and his lieutenants packing, when have we ever been more united when it comes to an incumbent? The best gift any official can ask for is to be in good standing as far as the public’s opinion is concerned.
So ask yourself why this is so. I think it has something to do with the absence of official impunity and its substitution with a hard-headed, old-fashioned insistence that those privileged to be on the top should do the right things, to the best of one’s ability, knowing the public will understand if you’re not perfect.
Then, as now, the hallmark of official impunity was what Marcos himself, in his private diaries, dismissed as “technical legalism,” that combination of brute force, a dismissive attitude toward public opinion, and insisting that national leadership is about credentials, or pure will, and not about integrity. It took a bar topnotcher, after all, to engineer a legal system that put a premium on the appearance of legality while ignoring the court of public opinion, substituting it with the blunt reality that possession is nine-tenths of the law.
The late Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez, one of the traditional politicians who knew how dangerous Marcos would be and tried to derail his climb to power, once said, in an an Amang-ism the late publisher of this paper, Max Soliven loved to quote, “In the long of time, we shall success!” Success was impermissible for those for whom an Aquino victory in 2010 meant permanently consigning them to the wrong side of history as in 1986. The people denied them that success and the restoration they craved.
Yet, as the RAM putschists once put, their dreams will never die. To those carrying the flame of the Marcos dictatorship have been added those who once fought for freedom but who, “in the long of time,” set aside their old affiliations to embrace the Marcos mantra of guns, goons, and gold.
And so it is, that they, for one, will be cheering today. “His birthday, in Malacañang—his last!”
But as Rizal said –there are no tyrants where there are no slaves. The people proved it in 1986. They will again in 2016.