Manila Standard - The son

News & Interviews
11 January 2021

By Lito Banayo | Manila Standard

"The farce that is a democracy in form yet still dynastic and feudal in essence, characterizes the politics of this benighted land."

It has been 35 years since Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, president of the Philippines since December 30, 1965, was ousted from Malacanang, shanghaied to Hawaii via US military aircraft.

He was in power for 20 years and a half, almost 14 of which were under authoritarian rule made possible by a coup against the 1935 Constitution and “legitimated” by his personally-branded 1972 Constitution.

A mutiny among the ranks of the military initiated four days of what has since been celebrated as “people power” where Marcos was ousted through a bloodless revolution. That template in toppling authoritarian governments has been replicated thereafter in other countries such as in then Czechoslovakia, in what was dubbed as the “Velvet Revolution” at the end of 1989. The country has since freely divided itself into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Marcos was replaced by the widow of his main political opponent, Benigno Aquino Jr., popularly called “Ninoy,” who would most likely have been the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party if martial law had not hijacked the regularly scheduled presidential election in 1973. The 1935 Constitution provided for a two-term limit of four years each, similar to the American system.

Marcos was freely elected as a Nacionalista in 1965, defeating the incumbent, Diosdado Macapagal of the Liberal Party, and then re-elected for his second and final term in 1969, defeating the Liberals’ Sergio Osmeña Jr. of Cebu.

But from September 23, 1972 onwards, he and his military stalwarts imposed martial law, closed Congress, and later, after a new constitution that gave him unlimited powers and a rubber-stamp legislature, ruled the country in what his followers hoped to be “forever and ever,” and name his successor as well.

But a section of the same military, backed up by “people power” ended all that on February 25, 1986, presaging the imprimatur of a new Constitution that restored democratic space and a system of checks and balances.

Many label the 1987 Constitution, fashioned by 49 appointees of Pres. Corazon Aquino, as the “Cory Constitution,” in much the same way that the 1972 Constitution which legitimated authoritarian rule was referred to as the “Marcos Constitution.”

Thirty-five years, or a generation and a half, is a long time within which to compare the benefits of authoritarianism under Ferdinand Marcos to the formal democracy initiated by Cory Aquino.

It is also quite a long time within which the country and its growing population have been hamstrung politically by a continuing narrative of Marcos versus Aquino.

Aquino was succeeded by Marcos’ cousin, Fidel V. Ramos, who along with then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, led the mutiny that in four days wrote finis to the rule of their own leader and patron while hundreds of thousands massed in Epifanio de los Santos Avenue between Camps Aguinaldo and Crame. This led to the mutiny being called the Edsa Revolution. Ramos was succeeded by the hugely popular Joseph Estrada, who thrived as mayor of San Juan in the national capital region while supporting Marcos.

A farcical second “people power” called Edsa Dos, where his military and defense secretary turned against Estrada, installed Vice-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in power, with the “nihil obstat” of the Supreme Court. She ruled for 9 and a half years, finishing a controversially won second term.

The widow who succeeded Marcos died less than a year before the presidential election of 2010, and after a period of national mourning that almost rivaled the outpouring of emotions when her husband was murdered in the tarmac of the international airport, the politics of grief brought the Aquino son, a rather lackluster performer as senator of the Republic, to power.

Six years thereafter, Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III, nicknamed “PNoy” failed to get his anointed, Mar Roxas, the third-generation heir of the first president of the Third Republic, elected in the elections of 2016. Instead, a mayor from the deep South, Rodrigo Roa Duterte succeeded Aquino.

Duterte’s father, Vicente, was once governor of the huge undivided Davao province, and was appointed to the Marcos cabinet. His mother, upon the other hand, Soledad Roa, was a public school teacher who led Davao’s version of people power after the murder of Ninoy Aquino. Rodrigo, called Digong or Rody, was elected as mayor of the largest city in the country term after term, as he brought peace and order and economic progress to a formerly troubled land. Now he is president of the Republic, the first from Mindanao.

And the son of Ferdinand Marcos, once governor of Ilocos Norte and once senator of the Republic under the Cory Constitution, almost became his elected vice-president, had not another widow of P-Noy’s secretary of local government, Maria Leonor Robredo, stopped his resurrection to executive power.

Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. contests Robredo’s close victory, and the case pends before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, a.k.a. the Supreme Court.

For the last four and a half years of the presidency of the man who preferred him to the Robredo widow, FM Jr., popularly called Bongbong, has held no public office, as he pursues his case before the bench and the bar of public opinion. And though that case has moved little before the bench, he and the Marcos loyalists have been using the bar of public opinion to press his case, and keeping alive the Marcos political brand.

Within that time frame, the Marcos brand, once almost universally discredited, has gained increasing public acceptance in a nation where forgiveness is easy, and forgetting is quick.

Meanwhile, in an amazing span of ten years since the hysterical outpouring of grief created the second Aquino presidency, that political brand has quickly dissipated in the public’s favor, the remnants labelled as “dilawan” by the au courant Duterte diehards. The 2019 mid-term elections was an almost complete rout.

Now, as another election draws near, Bongbong the son is looked upon as a potential presidential candidate. As his protest before the high tribunal is in limbo, his supporters will likely egg him to run come October of 2021, to “avenge” what they claim was his being “robbed” of his vice-presidency. And as things stand, he could face his opponent, the widow Robredo, in the same contest.

But other players are now into the presidential game, and with little activity other than pressing an election protest, the “son” is hobbled by an out of sight, out of mind situation amongst a public who easily forget.

Maybe it is time to put an end to the continuing political narrative of Marcos versus Aquino. Both have their share of loyalists and detractors, with the former having a more loyal core in the North. But will this be enough to make the “son” succeed as leader, in much the same way that deaths have succeeded in installing another “son” to power ten years ago?

Meanwhile, the farce that is a democracy in form yet still dynastic and feudal in essence, characterizes the politics of this benighted land.