Marcos family
First inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos held at the Quirino Grandstand, Manila, December 30, 1965. (Malacañang Palace)

The most accessible and most credible source of information for most Filipinos, broadcast media made much of September’s advent this year for the usual — and depressingly trivial — reasons. 

Some broadcasters began playing Christmas carols as early as September 1. So did some of the country’s shopping malls, this month being the first of the four months whose names end in “ber” that in this country mark what is smugly touted as the start of the longest celebration of Christmas on the planet.

Forgotten, if at all even known to some of the younger television and radio broadcasters, were two September events, the remembrance of which has become crucial to the imperative of preventing the return of authoritarian rule in a country that even Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. has described as incapable of changing for the better.

The first date of these events that need remembering is September 11, while the second is the 21st. 

Last Wednesday was the 102nd birth anniversary of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. He was born in 1917 in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte to a political family. He managed to graduate from the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law and to pass the bar examinations with a 92 percent score despite being on trial for the murder of Julio Nalundasan, his father’s political opponent, being found guilty of it, and being sentenced to death. (The Supreme Court reversed that verdict in 1940.) 

After the Second World War, he falsely claimed to be the most decorated fighter against the Japanese. From 1949 onwards he rapidly rose through the post-US occupation legislature, first as a three-term congressman, and later as  senator and Senate President .     

From the latter post, and after switching political parties — he was a member of the Liberal Party, but went over to the Nacionalista Party when he realized that the LP would nominate someone else as its candidate for the Presidency — he went on to be President of the Philippines.

He was first elected in 1965, and to a second four-year term in 1969 in elections that made the term “overkill” current, because he not only spent much more than was usual during the campaign.  He also forged all sorts of alliances with the provincial warlords in control of command votes in several regions, and with their help fielded thousands of goons to intimidate voters.

His second term as President was supposed to end in 1973, but Marcos preempted his leaving that post and made himself President for life by declaring martial law in the same month as his birth date: on September 21, 1972.

That date is either fast fading from the memories of many Filipinos or has become of no moment to some who do remember it. But it is being spun into the fiction that it was a golden moment in history by those who have an interest in revising what really happened. They dismiss accounts on the horrors of the martial law period as grossly exaggerated, and falsely portray that episode as Marcos’ answer to the demand for change in the 1960s. Among others, the intention is so the Marcoses and their clones can once more take up residence in Malacanang through one of their number’s ascent to the presidency via an election or any other means.

Another Marcos in the Presidency isn’t as far-fetched a possibility as the survivors of the Marcos kleptocracy hope. The factors that made the rise of Marcos, Sr. almost inevitable in the post-World War II period are still very much in evidence in this alleged democracy. Among them is the politics of money and intimidation that assures the continuing monopoly over political power of the handful of families, their agents, and their accomplices who have been driving this country to irreversible ruin for decades.

Like the current occupant of Malacanang, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was initially part of a province-based dynasty. His father Mariano was himself a congressman. Elected to represent the same district as his father’s, he became a national figure by assuring himself of continuing media attention, through, among others, his  exaggerated war record, his marriage to the beauty queen Imelda Romualdez, and the unwavering support of the warlords of the Ilocos region. 

Later, as it became clear that as an astute politician skilled in backroom maneuvering and manipulating the corruption-ridden electoral system, he could become President, he pandered to the anti-communist obsession of the United States and assured himself of American support. His anti-communism was also crucial to the Catholic Church’s “critical support” for his bloody regime.

Once President he made sure of the allegiance of the military establishment by appointing retired generals to lucrative posts in the civilian bureaucracy and appeasing their mercenary instincts.  Alarmed over the political ferment of the late 1960s, business and the middle class welcomed martial rule and became the social base of the fascist regime he erected on the ruins of the Republic. Again like Mr. Duterte, he also promised change.  He would “make this nation great again” and claimed that he declared martial law “to save the Republic and reform society.”

But more central to the Marcos story are the methods of ward and feudal politics that he and his cohorts learned during the US colonial period, among whose justifications was the training of the Filipino <em>principalia</em> — the urban and rural gentry — in “self government.” The use of money and intimidation, promising the electorate anything during campaign periods, forging alliances of convenience, and putting self, family and class interests above principle, among others have not only survived as the tried and tested methods of keeping the political dynasties in power. They have also metastasized throughout the political and governance systems as the norm.

It is those methods that allowed the return of the Marcoses to the country and to power, and the same tactics that will assure their, or their cohorts’ and allies’ further rise in the highest circles of government and the damaged and damaging political system.

Remembrance and resistance are the only antidotes to the return of tyranny, whether in the person of a Marcos, an Arroyo or a Duterte. But as has been widely noted, remembrance, much less resistance, are the least of the virtues of your average Filipino, whether rich or poor, or high or low. 

The reasons for it are fairly obvious. Among them are the survivalist instincts of too many Filipinos who value only self and family. But there is as well much of the corporate media’s  focus on simply quoting what the powerful say with neither explanation nor analysis, in  abdication of the journalistic responsibility of enabling the citizenry to make sense of what is happening.

The few exceptions among some practitioners and media organizations are daily proving the rule. Illustrative is the media focus on September as the supposed start of the Christmas season. Together with that accent on trivia is the failure of much of the media to remind their audiences that September is not so much worth remembering because it is the birth month of the first and far from last fascist bred by the political system. It is its being the month when, by declaring martial law, he and his gang of thieves plunged the country into the decades of uncertainty, fear, and misery that still haunt it today. September was rightly on much of the broadcast media’s minds — but for all the wrong reasons.

Also published in BusinessWorld. Photo from Wikimedia Commons/Malacanang Palace

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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