Early this month, I asked my fourth year students to create artistic posters of post-war/contemporary Filipinos who they consider as their heroes. This is part of our observance of National History Month last August. Initially, I am pleased with their outputs because most of it are well made and depicts popular personalities today like CNN Hero Efren Penaflorida, former DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino. Some even fielded lesser known names in the field of social change like Gawad Kalinga’s Tony Meloto, child wonder Kesz Valdez, RockEd founder Gang Badoy, and even rapper Francis Magalona.
However, I was struck speechless by what one student chose as his hero: former President and Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
This incident is but a mere testament to the gravity of unawareness prevailing in today’s generation regarding the horrors of Martial Law and the abuses of the Marcoses and their cronies. In social media, you can observe how appalling this gravity is; it has washed clean the consciousness of every post-People Power Revolution generation beginning from those born in the 80s up to the millenials.
I am a 90s kid, but growing up watching news on TV and reading tons of newspapers and history books has made me fully aware of transgressions committed by the Marcos regime. But for people unlike me, I have a chilling fear that my generation (and generations to come) might not know what these transgressions are and that they might even revive the personality cult of this evil strongman. What could be influencing them even as we celebrated People Power annually for the past 27 years through street demonstrations and countless TV specials and granite memorials?
I’d like to believe there is an ongoing pro-Marcos lobby going on since 2010. While it cannot be directly tied with evidence, it is worth noticing that pro-Marcos videos, blog posts, and other social media have surged dramatically in the run up to the 2010 Presidential Elections where the strongman’s son and heir-apparent Bongbong Marcos first ran as senator and won. Of course, it is common knowledge where Bongbong is setting his sights on after securing his Senate seat.
Facebook and Youtube are all afire with conversations about FM being “the best president of the Philippines”, “that FM and Ninoy weren’t enemies but best friends”, and that “Cory Aquino handed Ninoy divorce papers” prior to his assassination. Marcos loyalists dominate and control the discussion in these sites using various statements to laud Marcos’ achievements and dismiss credible primary sources about his corruption and human rights record as mere manipulation by the media.
Let’s explore some of their arguments and counter them with common sense and (of course) with primary historical sources:
1. “Marcos is the best president! He built a lot of infrastructure projects that still exist today such as the San Juanico Bridge, the Patapat Viaduct, and the Candaba Viaduct. During his term, the PNR (Philippine National Railways) extends up to Bicol and Pangasinan!"
Three of Manila’s bridges—the Quezon, Jones, and MacArthur Bridges—were all built during President Manuel L. Quezon’s term. Also, the Manila City Hall, the PhilPost Building, and the National Museum, which were built during Quezon’s term and destroyed or damaged in World War II, were rebuilt during the time of President Manuel Roxas. It was also during Roxas’ term that the Manila International Airport (NAIA Terminal 1 today) was built from its original location in Nielsen Field (now Ayala Avenue, Makati). The Manila Railway Company (now the PNR), whose railway lines were also damaged during the war began its rehabilitation during the Roxas’ term and continued in succeeding administrations.
It is also worth noting that most of FM’s infrastructure projects were funded by loans from foreign creditors such as the IMF and the World Bank. Hence, Philippine foreign debt surged from $360 million in 1962 to $28.3 billion in 1986. Morever, Marcos and his allies are known to overprice these infrastructure projects in order to siphon kickbacks amounting to billions of dollars for their own personal whims.
It stumps me how the loyalists could laud Marcos’ infrastructure projects when other presidents before and after him have also fielded great engineering feats. All these infrastructure projects still exist and are being used; yet, very few have lauded the Presidents who envisioned them. So why single out FM as if he is the progenitor of all infrastructure projects in the Philippines?
2. “The Philippines’ had the best performing economy during Marcos’ time. The prices of commodities were cheaper compared today and the peso-dollar exchange was at a dollar per peso!”
Most people associated with this comment were born between 1940 and 1960. Give them a light tap in the shoulder and remind them that prices today are indeed higher today compared to the 70s because of changing inflation rates. Remind them too that back in their days, their grandparents used to say too that commodities were cheaper during the Commonwealth period.
As for the economy being the best during Marcos’ term, no statistical record can substantiate this. Numbers don’t lie and even the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has released records of the peso-dollar exchange being at P3.50 to a dollar in 1966 after Marcos came to power. When he left in 1986, it was at P20.53 to a dollar!
Moreover, our gross domestic product (the total amount of products and services produced in the country) dropped from 3.4% in 1966 to 1.4% in 1986. We fared poorly compared to our Southeast Asian neighbors who fielded better GDPs such as Thailand (5.3%), Singapore (7.7%), Indonesia (5.7%), and Malaysia (5.1%). Thus, despite “revolutionary” programs such as the “Green Revolution” (which were funded by loans), many Filipinos (especially in the countryside) suffered great poverty because of their inability to adopt and adjust to new farming techniques introduced by the regime which were beneficial only to the landed elite. Between 1972 and 1980, agricultural output went down by 30%, unemployment exploded from 6.8% in 1972 to 27.65% in 1985, thus leading to a 40% hunger and malnutrition rate among the general population in 1978 (when Martial Law was at its peak).
3. “Society was better during Marcos’ time; people are disciplined and were afraid to break the law.”
If this was the case, then the succeeding generations of those who were “disciplined” during Martial Law should be well behaved and even more disciplined by now since their parents (and grandparents) had a much “disciplined” upbringing! But this isn’t the case, since we have more shameless lawbreakers today in every fabric of our society, from the grassroots up to the elite. Why is this so?
Marcos conditioned society to fear laws instead of respecting them. If people followed laws in their own accord, they would be following it even without the fear of death or any other penalty. But during Martial Law, our constitution—the 1973 Constitution—was almost penned by Marcos’ hand because the Interim Batasang Pambansa was but a mere rubber stamp of his punitive policies.
Of course, who would follow a rule that was not agreed upon by everyone? No one. Thus, Marcos had to use fear to enforce his laws, even to the point of committing grave human rights violations. He conditioned society that he was doing all these to correct a “corrupt and undisciplined society”, but all of it is a pretext to what he planned as a silent doing away of all groups and figures who were opposed to his political and economic schemes which served himself, his friends, and his foreign political handlers.
4. “Marcos is not as corrupt as politicians today!”
Actually, he’s just as worse as them. Maybe even worse.
Given that his administrations’ economic “growth” was funded by international loans, he and his cronies had a huge cash cow in their tow. All in all, he accumulated $30 billion from foreign loans, government funds, and private businesses seized during Martial Law. From this amount, $450 million would go to various escrow accounts in Switzerland, lavish real estate properties in the United States (under the name William Saunders, an alias he used in World War II), as well as a collection of shoes and jewelry to please his wife Imelda who was pining over his unfaithfulness by having a sexual affair with actress Dovie Beams. This is aside from the fact that he used bribery and coercion to buy votes and rig the results of the 1969, 1981, and 1986 elections.
It can be said that the crooks and thieves of today’s society like former President Joseph Estrada, former President Gloria Arroyo, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Bongbong Marcos, as well as Janet Lim-Napoles, Gen. Carlos Garcia, Jocjoc Bolante, the Euro-Generals, to name a few, all took a page from Marcos’ book.
So why are many Filipinos still idolizing him now more than ever?
With every fabric of our society soaked in the bathwater of corruption, majority of Filipinos are left with very little choice. We have a president, whose agenda is to fight corruption, but can't fully get his hands on dismantling its gears and cables completely because he is afraid of losing popular support for his polices and his party in 2016. On the other side, we have extremist politicians who want to dismantle the very democratic foundations of this society and replace it with an undemocratic one. We already know what happened to these societies, right?
Hence, out of the need for order, continuity, and survival, some Filipinos would chose to look up to Marcos and his offspring. He was a strongman after all—a strongman who stole, lied, and cheated—but still a strongman compared to weaklings, cheats, and crooks of today. These Filipinos chose to forget their principles and deny the very truth in our history books because the post-EDSA breed of leaders and politicians have left them with very little to look up to.
If only they realize that they shouldn’t be looking up at anyone.
When it comes to our country’s good, we don’t owe anyone a favor, whether it’s Marcos, Estrada, or Aquino. We are a nation who implored the aid of God to set up a government that reflects our ideals and aspirations—ideals that are pure and chaste. But with our little education and feeble minds we were deceived by these people to trust them with our hands, minds, and pockets. Now that we know better, are we still going to trust our country’s good to these kinds of people and their offspring?
We owe it to ourselves to setup a good government and bring about a better nation. Hence, we shouldn’t elect strongmen (or women) to save us from ourselves and each other. We MUST save ourselves by being respectful of the covenants we made with ourselves and others: by respecting our laws against cheating, lying, stepping on each other’s rights (among others) and by upholding our laws that promote peace, community, cooperation, wealth-sharing, and mutual growth.
More than ever, we are the heroes who can save this nation. If only we remember and never forget. TSS
Wintrobe, Ronald. The Political Economy of Dictatorship. Cambridge University Press. pp. 11; 132
Wintrobe, Ronald. The Political Economy of Dictatorship. Cambridge University Press. pp. 11; 132
Photo credits: GMA News Online and Ferdinand Marcos for President 2016 Facebook Page