Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (Senate of the Philippines)
Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (Senate of the Philippines)

In a performance that would have done his father proud, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. managed to apologize and not apologize at the same time during a television interview last week (August 26).

Marcos Jr. was asked if he was going to apologize for martial law — that period in Philippine recent history, the length of which is still in dispute to this day. (Martial law officially ended in 1981, but in testimony to his own cunning, Ferdinand Marcos retained his authoritarian powers until he was overthrown in 1986.)

His reply as freely translated from Filipino: “We (the Marcoses) have consistently said that if during the time of my father, some were hurt, were not helped, or were victimized in some way, we are sorry that happened. Nobody wanted that to happen. These are instances when people fell through the cracks.”

However, continued Marcos Jr., “Will I say sorry for the thousands and thousands of kilometers [of roads] that were built? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that made us self-sufficient in rice? Will I say sorry for the power generation? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia? What am I to say sorry about?”

The first statement—the “apology” — assumes that martial law was all about helping people, whereas it wasn’t. It also makes it appear that whatever abuses occurred were not intended: the men and women who were “victimized” simply “fell through the cracks.”

Martial law was nothing of the kind. Helping others was never in its agenda. Its intention was to keep Marcos and his cronies and military thugs in power and to halt the vast movement for change and the democratization of political power that was sweeping the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

To achieve those ends, the regime used the most brutal means, among them the abduction, murder, enforced disappearance and indeterminate detention of some of the best and brightest sons and daughters of the Filipino people.

A hundred thousand men and women were arrested and detained for daring to imagine an alternative State and society, with over 10,000 being tortured, disappeared and murdered. They did not “fall through the cracks;” they were pushed into them so the Marcos military machine could crush them.

The seccond statement — the non-apology — assumes that not only were there “thousands and thousands of kilometers of roads built” during the martial law period; it also makes it appear that to build them a dictatorship was necessary. Marcos Sr. was in fact already building those roads during his first term as President — when he did not need extraordinary powers to do so.

Marcos Jr.’s claim about self-sufficiency in rice is similar folklore: there was a perennial rice crisis during much of his father’s brutal reign, with people having to line up for the cereal for hours, and mixing rice with corn. As for power generation, it was true that alternative means of generating power were being explored during the last years of Marcos’ rule, but these attempts never made much of a difference in assuring reliable power sources beyond the 1980s.

“The highest literacy rate in Asia” was not Marcos’ doing either: the Philippines has had that distinction since the end of the Second World War. The literacy rate actually plummeted during the Marcos autocracy, when fear made learning and teaching dangerous undertakings, recovering only by the 1990s when the regime had been overthrown.

What is ironic about the latter claim is that the Marcos dictatorship was specially focused on attacking and eliminating the literate — students, professors and teachers, creative writers, journalists, church people, anti-regime businessmen, the political opposition, worker and peasant leaders — to assure its continuing in power.

Marcos Jr.’s non-apology glosses over — in fact completely denies — these realities during his father’s regime, but he wants Filipinos to vote for him in 2016 either for President or Vice President. He claims that he has the support of the young to justify his running, and quotes a common mis-appreciation and mis-understanding of what the darkest period in recent Philippine history was like.

It is true that one often hears the claim that things were better during the martial law period. Many young people, said Marcos, say that “It was better during Marcos’ time, life was more comfortable. It was better during Marcos’ time; the government helped us. We hope that comes back.”

It’s not only out of school youth who say this. Some college students have also been known to claim that the Ferdinand Marcos regime did the country a lot of good, in the process displaying their and their so-called professors’ and parents’ appalling ignorance of the period. The same ignorance has been evident even among older Filipinos, judging from their issuances in the old media and even in the new. In such social media sites as Facebook and Twitter, the same moral agnosticism and intellectual vacuity approach epidemic proportions every September, when the declaration of martial law in 1972 becomes the subject of posts by, among other groups and individuals, former political prisoners.

What those who yearn for the return of their imagined period of bliss do not realize is that the present that they denigrate is in many ways the consequence of the authoritarian past. The martial law period not only savaged the Bill of Rights, the economy, and those institutions of liberal democracy such as the free press and representative democracy that, though flawed and limited, nevertheless allowed some measure of dissent and free expression. It also established a pattern of unparalleled corruption, abuse and repression from which the country still has to recover.

It is the latter that has been the most dangerous legacy of the regime for which Marcos Jr. is refusing to apologize. When he declared martial law, Ferdinand Marcos let loose all the dark forces resident in the unswept corners of a corrupt society, releasing from the restraints of civilization the most murderous and most brutal elements of the police and military upon a defenseless people. True, these brutes also had to deal with the armed resistance to the Marcos klepto-bureaucratic reign of assassins and thieves. But cowards all, they were for the most part focused on and most expert at the torture and murder of those armed only with the courage of their convictions.

Marcos Jr. cannot and should not be allowed to simply brush all these aside as mere allegations, and by seeking shelter in his confidence in the positive judgment of history. If indeed history is any guide, no one in his right mind should even be thinking of putting another Marcos in Malacañang — or even another Marcos within a heartbeat of the Presidency.

By demonstrating a total absence of feeling for the dead, the injured, the tortured, the families separated, and the disappeared, and refusing to acknowledge regime responsibility for them, Marcos Jr. has once again established that he is, indeed, his father’s son.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from the Philippine Senate website.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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