Those Filipinos aware of the record-breaking looting of the public treasury by the Marcos kleptocracy are hailing the Sandiganbayan’s conviction of Imelda Marcos on seven counts of graft. They had already lost hope that any of the billions diverted to Swiss bank accounts, real estate, and jewelry and art collections in Bern, Paris and other world capitals will ever be recovered, or that any form of legal retribution against the thieves is forthcoming, but have been heartened by the graft court’s decision 27 years after charges were filed against the Marcos family matriarch.
Despite the bluster of President Rodrigo Duterte and his equally loud lieutenants, yes-men and accomplices in the Cabinet, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, his regime is in reality completely without anything that even approximates a rational and coherent platform of governance. It is making things up as it goes along, and patching together ad hoc attempts to make it seem as if it were addressing the urgent problems that haunt the nation, most of which are of its own making.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., then an outgoing senator, ran for the vice-presidency in 2016.
He has refused to concede defeat to Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and is contesting her victory before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).
Well-known are his far from secret ambitions for the presidency of the Republic, to which his winning the vice-presidency was the intended prelude. But President Rodrigo Duterte only recently made his assuming that post even in the immediate future possible when he said he would resign only if Marcos, Jr. succeeds him.
He has declared that he’s ready for the presidency in the wake of the Duterte endorsement. And Mr. Duterte’s August 25 appointment of regime partisan Teresita de Castro Chief Justice makes Marcos, Jr.’s winning his protest before the Supreme Court sitting as the PET more than possible within her short term of 41 days. (It starts August 28 and ends with her retirement on October 8 this year.)
These have naturally aroused fears among those who survived his father Ferdinand, Sr.’s dictatorship (1972-1986) that partly thanks to Mr. Duterte, Marcos, Jr., who has justified and defended his father’s regime rather than acknowledge its crimes and apologize for them, could be president of this country.
Meanwhile, Ferdinand Jr.’s sister, Ilocos Norte Governor Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Romualdez Marcos, could quite possibly run for the Senate next year. Her involvement in the conspiracy to oust former House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and to replace him with former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and her joining and taking center stage in the organization and consolidation of Sara Duterte’s “Hugpong ng Pagbabago” political party, have not helped dispel those fears, but on the contrary have further fanned them.
The Marcos sibling’s mother, one of the wealthiest women in the world, Imelda Romualdez Marcos the imeldific, was a two-term congresswoman who can still aspire for another elective or appointive post even at the age of 89. And above it all is the family’s alliance with the Duterte despotism, which they helped elect in 2016 by contributing heavily to Mr. Duterte’s campaign war chest.
All these have alerted human rights defenders, victims of human rights violations, and the surviving members of the broad resistance movement that fought the Marcos dictatorship because of its toll on Filipino lives and fortunes and on the nation as a whole, to the imminent danger of the Marcoses’ once more ascending the pinnacles of power and their imposing on this country a repeat of their dead patriarch’s horrendous 21-year governance record. (Marcos, Sr. was first elected in 1965.)
The numbers in that record speak for themselves. A hundred thousand (100,000) political and social activists, student, worker and farmer leaders, opposition politicians, doctors, nurses, social workers, Moro and other indigenous peoples, artists, writers and independent journalists among others, were arrested and detained during the Marcos tyranny, and in hundreds of cases tortured in military and police-constabulary camps and “safe houses” all over the Philippines. Some 3,500 were also murdered and hundreds more forcibly disappeared, never to be heard of again.
A $360 million foreign debt the elder Marcos had inherited in 1965 from the previous Diosdado Macapagal administration had ballooned to $28 billion by the time he was overthrown in 1986. The country is still paying off that debt 32 years later and will continue to do so until 2025. During Marcos’ reign as absolute ruler, billions of dollars in public funds and foreign loans were also diverted into Swiss bank accounts or spent on million-dollar shopping sprees, and on real estate, jewelry and art purchases in the United States, Europe and other countries.
In the same period, the number of Filipinos living in poverty increased from 41 percent of the population to nearly 60 percent, while a war raged in Mindanao and other parts of the archipelago. At the same time, Marcos’ dependence on, and empowerment of, the police and military transformed them from institutions subordinate to civilian authority into power brokers whose support has become crucial to the stability and survival of any regime including the present one. Despotism has since become a constant threat, although it has assumed a different, though still recognizable form in the awful present.
But it wasn’t only the economy and the institutions of the country’s already limited democracy — the courts, Congress, the free press — that the regime savaged. The arrest, detention, torture and extrajudicial killing of poets and other writers, and of visual artists and journalists, also set Philippine cultural life and development back because of the many killings, because many of the survivors were prevented from practicing their craft, and/or were forced to leave for other countries.
Contrary to the revisionist version of history Marcos, Jr. and his trolls, media hacks and other propagandists are peddling, what happened from 1972 to 1986 wasn’t just between his father and the late Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., whom the regime assassinated upon his arrival from the United States on August 21, 1983.
It was a struggle between the dictatorship of a bureaucrat capitalist with a boundless appetite for pelf and power, and the Filipino people to whose legitimate demands for the democratization of Philippine governance and society he responded by making himself president for life and absolute ruler, and by arresting, imprisoning, torturing and murdering the best and brightest of at least two generations.
It should be obvious why those who survived the Marcos siblings’ father’s brutal rule and those aware of both history and the roots of the country’s present state of penury, injustice and uncertainty cannot forget that past — which is what both Imee and Ferdinand Jr. mean when they urge the people to “move on.”
Not only does forgetting the past risk its repetition. From that past may also be traced much of what’s wrong with the present, among them corruption, the monopoly over political power by a handful of dynasties, widespread poverty and underdevelopment, continuing human rights violations, political instability, social unrest, and the perennial threat, already morphing into reality today, of the return of authoritarian rule.
As if they had yielded to the widespread demand for accountability, the Marcoses are asking “what more” their critics want. The answer, though exceedingly clear to anyone with an ounce of understanding of the present, eludes them still. But it is both evident and simple enough: what they want is for the Marcoses rather than the rest of the country to move on.
They can do that not only by acknowledging and apologizing for the suffering their late patriarch’s rule caused hundreds of thousands of men and women, as well as for the deaths in, and injuries to, entire communities, the damage to the entire country, and the foul legacies of martial rule that still haunt us all today. They can also return to the people the billions stashed away in foreign bank accounts and vaults all over the globe.
Most of all should they move on by putting a stop to their constant and unrelenting attempts to inflict themselves on the people of a country who have long suffered and resisted the terrors of being ruled by the most incompetent, most brutal and most self-aggrandizing political class in Southeast Asia. Only by seriously and honestly abandoning their presidential and other political ambitions, and only then, can the process of truly and earnestly moving on begin — towards this country and its people’s reaching some closure on the darkest and most destructive episode in recent Philippine history.
First published in BusinessWorld. Image from “The Marcos Family,” a painting by Ralph Wolfe Cowan.