Duterte and Marcos
President Rodrigo Duterte greets former Senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr. on the sidelines of his attendance to the Sangyaw Festival of Lights held in Tacloban City, Leyte on June 29, 2018. (Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo)

The Marcoses have been asking for closure on the public debate over their late patriarch’s martial law regime and its impact on Philippine politics, culture and economy — and most of all, on the Filipino people’s lives and fortunes. Many are buying into the idea of relegating that period to just another meaningless episode in history that deserves forgetting either because they can’t remember how things were during that period, or just don’t know enough about it.

Now a senator, Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos has urged those who’re challenging the absurdity that the Marcos kleptocracy was a golden period in recent Philippine history, and what’s more was not a dictatorship, to “move on.” She has even claimed that she and her siblings were not complicit in the many crimes that took place during that dark period (1972-1986) because they were children then.

Like her supposed graduation from Princeton University and the University of the Philippines College of Law, that claim is as bogus.  Both in their teens when their father declared martial law in 1972, Imee and her brother were already adults by the latter part of their father’s dictatorship. She was born in 1955, and was 31 years old in 1986, while her brother Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., who was born in 1957, was 29.  Imee Marcos was in fact old enough to be named by her father chair of the regime’s version of the youth group Kabataang Makabayan, the Kabataang Barangay (KB).  She has even been implicated in the death of a student who, after objecting to her being KB chair, was later found tortured and murdered.

For his part, her brother Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. has refused to acknowledge that the arbitrary detention, the enforced disappearances, the killings, the torture and other human rights violations that characterized their father’s rule were matters of State policy. Instead he claims they were unintended, and in effect only the doing of aberrant members of the military. He has refused to apologize for those abuses on the basis of that argument.

And yet there is no question that the arrest and detention, torture and killing of suspected rebels and “subversives” as well as regime critics were the inevitable consequences of the policy decision to place the country under martial law. Its mastermind imposed it to stay in power beyond 1973 when his second four-year term would have ended, and to enable his military accomplices to arrest anyone without a warrant and detain them without charges for indefinite periods.

One of the characteristics of martial rule was in fact how carefully Marcos Sr. weighed every option, and planned and prepared for every contingency, including the possibility of replicating the “Indonesian model” that massacred over a million members of the communist and nationalist parties of that country in 1965. Two years before he issued Presidential Proclamation 1081, Marcos Sr. was already instructing Philippine embassies in other countries where dictatorships were in place to conduct studies on how they were being implemented and sustained.

He understood only too well how critical military support was, and turned the generals into his Praetorian guard by rewarding them with pelf and power.  Already ideologized by its use by the political elite as an internal pacification force rather than as a defender of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the military under Marcos became a power broker whose support has to this day been crucial to the survival of every Philippine administration.

The Marcos siblings’ sustained campaign to sanitize their father’s vicious regime is all part of the effort not only to rehabilitate themselves in the public eye but also to pave the way for their recapture of national political power, the possibilities for which have never been as pronounced than during the current term of their ally Rodrigo Duterte. 

This is part of the context in which the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), decided, with only two dissenting votes, to continue hearing Marcos Jr.’s protest against Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo instead of dismissing it when the recount of the votes in three provinces added to the latter’s votes.  If it had been otherwise — if the Robredo votes had diminished in the recount — it would have validated Marcos’ claim that he has been “robbed of the Vice Presidency.”

It stands to reason to assume that the recount results invalidate Marcos Jr.’s claim that he was cheated in the 2016 elections. Hence the question why the PET decided as it did. Either the justices wanted to give Marcos every opportunity to make his case so he won’t have any reason to claim that they were partial to Robredo, or —- and this is more likely — they don’t want to displease President Rodrigo Duterte, who has several times expressed his disdain for Robredo and his preference for Marcos as his successor should he resign the presidency.

If the second is indeed the case, it would not only raise serious doubts about the independence of the Supreme Court. Even more significantly would it also mean that the PET decision is supportive of the Marcos family agenda of returning to Malacanang with one of their own as President.     

The delay in the PET decision is saying that a ruling in favor of Marcos Jr. is still possible, in which case once he is declared Vice President, the ailing Mr. Duterte can resign his post. He could do so with the assurance that someone would be in power who’s unlikely to hold him, his family and his regime to account for the crimes and corruption they have been accused of. There are other Duterte allies who’re interested in the presidency, among them Manny Pacquiao, Cynthia Villar and Sara Duterte. But if already Vice President, and with his family’s billions and political assets, Marcos Jr. could prevail over  them all in 2022.

What then should be of concern for the long suffering people of this sad country is what the presidency of another Marcos that can last for at least eight years will be like.

Those eight years include Mr. Duterte’s last two years, plus six more from 2022 to 2028. Once de facto President, and with command over government funds, facilities and personnel, Marcos Jr. can handily win the 2022 elections.

Because it isn’t in his interest to institute the reforms needed to address the roots of conflict, that could could occur in the context of continuing social unrest and armed rebellion. In response Marcos Jr. could replicate his father’s 1972 “solution,” although without necessarily declaring martial law, but by simply implementing it in the form of mass arrests and the curtailment of the Bill of Rights including the right to free expression and press freedom. From there he could, like his father, make himself President for life.

When running for the 2016 elections, Marcos Jr. was in fact talking as if he were campaigning for the country’s highest post. He was also promising to lead a “revolution” — which his father also claimed to be leading on the eve of his declaration of martial law in 1972. 

What’s in store for this country over the next decade or so could be martial law and dictatorship reprised — and by another Marcos. Should his electoral protest be dismissed, those other, equally self-aggrandizing aspirants for the Presidency could still outmaneuver him in 2022. But that’s not exactly something to look forward to either.

Also published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.

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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