Things fall apart

Imee Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte
Standard

The 31st anniversary of EDSA 1986 was marked — the government didn’t exactly celebrate it — with both chaos and indifference. The disorder was evident in the differences in the various groups’ and even the government’s separate and conflicting activities to observe it. Apathy was the usual response of much of the populace to an event whose significance has continued to elude them in the same way that they can’t tell what happened in much of Philippine history, thanks to what we laughingly call the educational system.

But indifference also characterized the Duterte regime’s own attitude. It downplayed the anniversary by holding the government rites marking it in Camp Aguinaldo. Duterte himself did not attend; instead he issued a less than memorable statement saying that no single group or individual can claim credit for “the bloodless (sic) revolution of EDSA,” most likely in reference to the Aquinos and the sunshine patriots of the Liberal Party and their allied pseudo-left groups which for years have been acting as if EDSA were their personal property and they have the franchise to it.

That’s true enough, and it wasn’t at all surprising that one of Benigno Aquino III’s loyalists took the trouble to harangue (it wasn’t a debate) about half a dozen people alleged to be members of the Duterte Youth group for daring to attend what apparently was an exclusive, A-List, members-only gathering led by Aquino partisans at the People Power monument on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue.

Those poor, clueless children did have the right to be there, but, some observers were quick to point out, they were actually from the minuscule Bongbong Marcos Youth group, which of course begs the question of what they were doing there. Was it because, the EDSA spirit not being anyone’s monopoly as Duterte said, the Marcoses too can claim credit for their late patriarch’s overthrow?

The ouster of the Marcos kleptocracy at EDSA in 1986 wasn’t due only to the efforts of one group or individual, and it was an event made possible by the sacrifice and dedication of the thousands of people who fought the Marcos tyranny for over a decade through means both armed and unarmed. But both the struggle that preceded and prepared for EDSA and the role of its armed component have been revised out of official and middle class versions of the event, which emphasize its supposedly being a “peaceful revolution” — a description that’s wrong on both the peaceful and revolution aspects.

The EDSA 1986 mutiny did overthrow the Marcos terror regime, but that was just about all it did. What it didn’t do was deliver on its promise of authentic change by democratizing political power so the truly revolutionary tasks of achieving authentic rather than illusory independence as well as social change could be pursued. After EDSA the same landed elite and the remnants of the bureaucrat capitalists from the Marcos regime, with the help of their minions in the police and military, made sure that any attempt at social, economic and political change would fail.

The consequences of that failure have been more than apparent in the last seven months. While things have been falling apart in this country for the last 300 years — it’s a process EDSA obviously failed to halt — it has visibly accelerated since the Duterte regime came to power.

The disarray starts with the center of power itself, from which not only profanities have been abundantly flowing like raw sewage. Duterte has also issued contradictory, puzzling, inconsistent and even pointless statements that, apparently unbeknownst to him, assume the character of State policy once they fall from his mouth.

These include conflicting public rants on the supposedly independent foreign policy he’s crafting; his blowing hot and cold over such issues as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), and, generally, the country’s stifling relations with the United States; his incomprehensible policies on China including his reluctance to assert the Philippines’ rightful sovereignty over the Spratlys; his canceling the peace talks between the government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) out of sheer pique despite gains already achieved, while the GPH peace panel coyly implies that the talks will continue, the defense secretary declares “all out war,” and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) uses these declarations as a license to harass, detain and kill unarmed activists and community leaders, fifteen of whom were killed last month.

His advisers and spokespersons have in fact been issuing “corrections” and “clarifications” on his diatribes. They’ve also been urging the media — whose reporters the regime regularly berates for doing their job of reporting what Duterte says — to use their “creative imagination” when covering Duterte, while themselves often contradicting him publicly.

The result is some agencies’ and even individual officials’ interpreting policy according to their biases and interests. It’s a situation whose dangers have been especially damaging to State compliance with human rights protocols. Every regime after Marcos’ has observed these selectively, despite the clarity of Constitutional mandates. The Arroyo regime, for example, came close to overturning the Marcos regime record of abductions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and enforced disappearances, with over a thousand men and women being killed or forcibly disappeared, while that of Benigno Aquino III turned a blind eye to extrajudicial killings and the killing of journalists. But the Duterte regime has already surpassed them both, with over 7,000 killed in the course of its now discredited “war on drugs.”

To justify the killings, it’s been argued that the human rights violations in previous regimes were mostly political and victimized the best and brightest, while the anti-illegal drug campaign has killed “only” lowlifes. Even if the latter were true, the argument forgets that human rights are so-called because they’re the prerogatives of all human beings regardless of social and economic standing. And it’s not only supposed lowlifes that have been victimized by the regime’s police. In obedience to the mantra of “all out war,” both the police and the military have also been involved in the killing of individuals active in such community advocacies as land reform and environmental protection.

There’s also the disturbing focus on restoring the death penalty despite the country’s being a signatory to international protocols protecting the fundamental right to life. There is as well the now common regime presumption of guilt rather than innocence, as is evident, for example, in the secretary of justice’s saying that Senator Leila de Lima “will have every opportunity to prove her innocence,” contrary to the Constitutional imperative for the State to prove her guilt.

Not only is everything falling apart at an even faster rate because the President of the Republic speaks and acts as impulsively as the provincial mayor he once was. Obviously it’s also because, directionless, confused and often clueless, the center cannot hold because manned by lawyers who don’t know the law, self-proclaimed “socialists” with fascist inclinations, communication hacks who can’t communicate, and a police and military as contemptuous of human rights as they were during the Marcos terror regime whose overthrow 31 years ago the entire country should have celebrated with protests and demands for the changes every regime since has promised but never delivered.

(The phrases “things fall apart” and “the center cannot hold” are from William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.”)

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.

Leave a Reply