History as tragedy, history as farce

Sen. Bongbong Marcos in Pangasinan (Senate photo)
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FERDINAND MARCOS, JR. (“Bongbong”) was talking “revolution” last Saturday, October 17. The occasion was his formal declaration during a ceremony in Manila’s Intramuros (walled city) that he’s running for Vice President of the Republic in 2016.

He didn’t sound as if he were running for the country’s second highest post, however, but for its highest. He said he would “lead a revolution in the mind, in the heart, and in action (“Pamumunuan ko ang isang rebolusyon sa isip, sa puso, at sa gawa”). He also said “Hindi pa tapos ang rebolusyon. Hindi pa tayo lubos na malaya (The revolution is not yet over. We are not yet truly free).”

Marcos was of course right—at least about the Revolution’s being unfinished.

Then President Diosdado Macapagal (Gloria’s father) said exactly the same thing in his Independence Day address on June 12, 1963. The difference is that Macapagal devoted an entire speech to the subject, and elaborated on what Marcos merely stated.

The cry for revolution was echoing across the country in the 1960s. Macapagal picked up on it, and pointed out that “In the case of the Philippine Revolution, the fact that American power intervened at the very moment when the movement was about to achieve total success resulted in the rapid dissipation of the force behind it as well as in the abandonment of its ultimate objectives in the political, economic, and social fields.”

Continuing, he declared that “An exclusively Filipino revolution, following the overthrow of Spanish rule, would have addressed itself to the task of reconstructing Philippine society from top to bottom. It would have attempted to alter radically the economic and social relationships of the people as the only way by which the national economy could prosper through increased productivity so that the dead weight of poverty may be lifted from the backs of the people.”

Macapagal noted in the same speech that US intervention “interrupted this natural course of the Revolution. The development of our country was no longer dictated exclusively by the inherent logic of our economic and social condition. Inevitably, our development was conditioned by the purposes, principles, and traditions of the American people and their government.

“Our national revolution may thus be said to have been interrupted six decades ago, so that today and for a time to come we are faced with the remaining tasks of the Unfinished Revolution.”

These tasks, he said, include “the need to do away with the surviving evils of colonialism,” among them “the tendency to regard the achievement of national liberation or independence as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end.”

This attitude “is responsible for situations where the political power wrested from the hands of the alien ruler is merely transferred to native hands while it is not used to free the people from their continuing bondage to poverty, ignorance, and disease.”

Unless political power is so used, said Macapagal, “true freedom is denied to the people. For it is not enough that a people are free from alien rule; they must be given a chance to build their freedom from within through the enhancement of human dignity, greater respect for individual rights, and wider opportunity for productive and gainful labor.

In short, independence must “redress social injustice, economic inequality, and the degradation of poverty.” Otherwise, “independence must largely remain a pretense and a fraud. In this way, we in fact perpetuate the evils of colonialism under the cover of national independence.”

Running against Macapagal in 1965, Marcos Sr. tried to do him better by promising to “make this nation great again.” If Marcos Jr. appropriated the concept of the Unfinished Revolution from Macapagal, from another President—his father, Marcos Sr.—he apparently picked up the line about leading a revolution himself.

In Today’s Revolution: Democracy, a book ghost-written for him (the books he supposedly wrote and which bear his name as author were all ghost-written by various writers, academics and historians), Marcos Sr. had declared that what was needed was a “democratic revolution from the center”—meaning one led by the existing government, which he falsely claimed was independent of economic and political interests.

However, the “democratic revolution from the center” that Marcos, Sr. pledged to lead arrived in the guise of martial law and authoritarian rule, which was the very anti-thesis of democracy. If dictatorship was indeed in preparation for the making of a “New Society,” it turned out to be a near-permanent arrangement. By the time Marcos Sr. was overthrown in 1986, authoritarian rule had been in place for 14 years, and the “New Society” he claimed to have established as mythical as his war medals.

Marcos Jr.’s launch of his candidacy indeed reeked with repetition, not only in terms of the statements he was making, but also in the people who were there to witness it, among them his mother Imelda Marcos, the other half of what has been referred to as “the conjugal dictatorship;” and Juan Ponce Enrile, who as Marcos Secretary and later Minister of National Defense was the chief enforcer of authoritarian rule. Like a slap on the faces of the victims of martial law, Marcos Jr. was reiterating what he had said before: that the past is past, and we should forget about it.

Unfortunately, many Filipinos are agreeing with him, and even deriding attempts to remind or inform them of the crimes of the Marcos dictatorship. And yet the past is responsible for much of the present, among them the continuing poverty and violations of human rights, the dominance of a few families over the political system, unremitting corruption, and generally, the persistence of the same ills Macapagal said in 1963 had to be addressed.

His borrowing from the past notwithstanding, Marcos Jr. is counting on collective amnesia about the past and mass ignorance of the present. To emphasize that he’s running in the belief that many Filipinos have forgotten or never knew what martial law and his father’s failed “revolution” were all about, Marcos Jr. made it a point to say that he was being supported by “the new generation,” quite simply because the older generations—or at least some of them—know enough about history to never again allow a Marcos in Malacañang.

Although he’s running for VP and not for President, Marcos Jr. could end up in Malacañang as his father did if he’s elected, the Vice President being, as the cliché puts it, “only a heartbeat away from the Presidency.” But it’s probably more realistic to assume that Marcos Jr. is running for VP in preparation for a Presidential run in 2022, when, in his and his family’s calculations, much of the electorate shall have forgotten how martial rule—the supposed prelude to the “revolution from the center”—savaged the entire country.

It would then be a case of history repeating itself—a reprise of the national tragedy that was Marcos’ rule being reincarnated in the travesty of another Marcos Presidency, during which, if we’re to judge from the statements of Marcos Jr., he’ll be echoing the same claims and quite possibly the same approach to leading a “revolution from the center”.

Rather than being transformed, the country would remain as frozen in time and its people in penury as they have been since the 1960s when the elder Marcos took up Malacañang residency. If history repeats itself in 2016 and beyond, this time as farce, the joke would be on every Filipino who, by not remembering the past, would be condemned to reliving it.

(First published in BusinessWorld. Image from the Senate website)

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