Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Marcos redux

Noted Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo once wrote that the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II caused a big spike in crimes. Due to the harshness of the economic conditions, many Filipinos were driven to criminal activities, which continued even with the restoration of the Commonwealth government and the inauguration of the Republic in 1946.
Agoncillo observed that “morality had gone down since many people did not care whether they violated the laws of the country provided they earned enough money. Also, relatives and friends of unscrupulous politicians were not afraid to commit crimes because they knew their political-friends would protect them.”
When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, it was the same lame excuse that he used to justify his decision – rise in criminality including crimes of rebellion and insurrection. The promise of the New Society that Marcos peddled around, however, did not solve or mitigate the upswing in criminality. Instead, criminal behaviour was accelerated by his own dictatorship and crimes against the people. He sheltered and protected his business cronies from prosecution of the law so they prospered at the same time that his family amassed their stolen wealth.
Philippine Independence Day as traditionally celebrated on June 12.
Modern-day Philippine independence should be celebrated from the day the Marcos dictatorship ended, which seems to offer a better and clearer perspective of national freedom. Never mind the 1898 declaration of Philippine Independence that was outlived by American colonization at the turn of the 20th century. Besides being a mere aspirational quest for self-determination, the Philippines never really became independent after the Philippine-American War nor during the brief Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.
Ferdinand Marcos disturbed the peace of the independence years from 1946 to 1972 with his dictatorial rule, which, as a matter of historical fact, was merely a period of nominal independence from American colonial rule.
To reckon our independence from the time Marcos was forced out of Malacañang is indeed a more significant celebration of the triumph of people power. It also sends a strong message to the Marcos loyalists that their political era is just a sad chapter in Philippine history, a miserable interregnum that brought large-scale oppression of civil liberties and gave almost a license for those involved with the dictatorship to ransack the country of its wealth with impunity.
If history is to be taught so that important lessons can be learned, we should start teaching our children that modern-day Philippine independence commenced from the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship until democracy was restored in 1987. It may not be the ideal democracy the people wanted, but it was the stepping stone of our country’s struggle for genuine political and economic rights.
The former enemies of Philippine society are now resurrecting the bankrupt ideals of the new society under Marcos. They are attempting to rewrite history to portray Marcos as a benevolent dictator who cared for the Filipino masses, who built more roads and bridges, hospitals, schools, and centres of culture and entertainment than any of his predecessors and successors combined. As if his achievements in concrete are the best measure of his greatness, when the truth is, these infrastructure projects bound our people with debts so enormous that people wallowed in poverty not only during his presidency and continue to do so to this day.
They are spreading the big lie that Marcos instilled discipline and a genuine respect for the law when the honest truth is that his cronies and friends ignored the law for their own personal benefit without fear of apprehension. Those who opposed his government became victims of repression.
They crow about his oratorical skills and decisiveness compared to the bungling incumbent in Malacañang who could not even stand up against his fellow leaders in the region. That he would never have allowed our neighbours to bully us just because we are a smaller nation.
The biggest enemy our country has faced in its struggle for independence was not its colonizers, whether it was Spain, the United States or Japan. Its biggest enemy was within and one of its own.
A caricature of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos, first and only
dictator of the Philippines, 1973 to 1986.
An American writer visiting the Philippines during the early period of struggle against martial law in 1984 interviewed a plantation owner in Mindanao who happened to be a former supporter of Marcos. The plantation owner said: “The most humiliating thing about dictatorship is not the repression; it is that you wind up a collaborator yourself. It all seems so easy at first. You smile; you say nothing; you give money when they ask for it. Then something happens that makes you see the truth. I realized three things: that the whole Marcos system was rotten, that I was as much a part of the system as any soldier or spy, and that enough was enough. I had to do something.”
Many others have suffered their private humiliation at the hands of Marcos and his agents and turned their fear into loathing the government. That kind of outrage was enough to galvanize an entire nation, to transform the private humiliations of millions into a national upheaval of defiance and pride. That moment happened when millions marched on EDSA to demand Marcos to step down, braving a convoy of soldiers and tanks and aircraft hovering above. That should be the day we should commemorate our independence.
But instead, we choose to continue to celebrate our independence from Spain, reducing the rite into a symbol without substance and meaning. We stage marches and parades, hold festivities like fiestas and beauty pageants, which do not give full meaning and significance to our celebration.
To many of us, our independence day celebration has become shallow and empty. The declaration of independence by our revolutionary heroes in Kawit was not the culmination of our national struggle for self-determination. American colonization made it impossible for us to be a free nation. Japan gave us “independence” when its army drove the Americans to win the sympathy of Filipinos, to show that they were better than the Americans. When the Americans finally granted our independence in 1946, they tied us to a string of dependency that allowed them full rights to exploit our natural resources and used our waters for their military bases.
Then Ferdinand Marcos took our freedoms away in 1972. He was worse than a colonial ruler or a modern-day monarch. When the people drove him away to the islands of Hawaii in 1986, it marked the first time that we were free again to restore our democratic rights. But the nature of politics that we inherited from the colonial past and the tight control of the economy by our oligarchic elite remain the biggest stumbling blocks to the full realization of our democracy.
We may not be totally free as what a genuinely free society should be. But at least, we should be free to choose a date when to celebrate this freedom, a time to remind us that our freedoms are still fragile, that we cannot be complacent in the face of a significant threat from collaborators of the Marcos dictatorship in our midst to attempt a comeback.
Our history has been hitherto a history of one oppression after the other. Rizal’s death transformed him into a national hero and triggered a rebellion against the Spanish autocracy. Two years after Rizal's execution, the Spanish-American War broke out, and U.S. forces quickly ended more than 300 years of Spanish rule in the islands.
The Americans proclaimed themselves liberators; they turned out to be oppressors. After having conquered the Philippines, the United States decided it had no stomach for empire. In 1935, the islands were granted commonwealth status, and the United States promised the Filipinos independence within ten years. The Japanese, too, said they came as liberators when they invaded the Philippines in 1941. Finally, we became an independent republic in 1946, only to be shattered once again in 1972.
Ferdinand Marcos destroyed the country’s democratic institutions. But then Marcos was repeating an old Philippine pattern. Proven or not as to his complicity with the assassination of Benigno Aquino, he made possible the rise of another nationalist icon like Rizal that would be responsible for inspiring mass demonstrations and protests leading to his downfall in 1986.
Now the stirrings of a comeback of the Marcos era are just beginning. Our national independence is being threatened again.
Never again, we should say to this cabal of Marcos loyalists. What better time is there to express our collective will as a nation but during this independence day celebration.