Update on Martial Law

Posted by MQdejesus | Posted in Melinda Quintos de Jesus | Posted on 21-09-2015

MARTIAL LAW is now history. Why then an update, a term journalists usually use for reports that keep up with the latest developments in current events. Perhaps even history calls for assessment and reassessment, as American historian, Glenn May, describes in his book “A Past Updated”. Unfortunately, while we have yet to write the history of Martial Law, we already need an update, a quick revise in the public mind about the meaning of those years.

Historian Alfred McCoy wrote in a paper for a conference held in Sydney, Australia in 1986: “It is difficult to underestimate the harm done to all aspects of Philippine life during Marcos’ twenty years in power.”

Twenty-nine years later, Marcos’ son, Ferdinand Jr. or Bongbong, is a senator; Imelda is a congresswoman; and daughter, Imee, holds forth as governor of Ilocos Norte. Bongbong Marcos does more than underestimate the harm done to Philippine society during the Marcos years. He has dismissed the call from some quarters for an apology for the sins of his father. “For what should we be sorry?” he asked perplexed in a TV interview with Karen Davila, going on about how many kilometers of roads his father built and how life was so much better then.

There are enough Filipinos of an age who were turned off by the glib claim about his father’s achievements. But sadly, his words strike a responsive chord among many, some of them young, who, suffering the present travails of traffic, the devastating impact of climactic disasters and the poor quality of life in this country, involuntarily yearn for this past that they did not know or have simply forgotten. There are also people prone to see the past in more positive terms, thinking of the relative order of public life then as a Marcos achievement. After all, this was a dictatorship backed to the hilt by the military. So a Marcos loyalist, like Gualberto B. Lumauig and others like him, have begun to burnish Bongbong’s credentials as a presidential candidate for 2016.(Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 31)

Updating history is hard work. It is not the primary job of journalists. In fact, many working in the news media would let pas such spurious claims coming from a member of the Marcos family. Many working in the media know no better, or as journalists, mistakenly think that objectivity prevents them from showing up a lie being told to their faces during interviews nor provide corrective context in an written report.

I am told that history textbooks still teach that Proclamation 1081 made it possible for Marcos to create a New Society or Bagong Lipunan for Filipinos.

Marcos took over complete control of all government with a decree that was written before but post-dated September 21, 1972. On September 23, when government shut down the media, Marcos announced the declaration through a live broadcast on government radio and television. The decree took effect immediately throughout the country. A crony press would be allowed to operate but worked under strict guidelines. A new charter replaced the 1935 Constitution, creating a parliamentary system with Marcos holding the two positions of president as head of state and prime minister as head of government. His coalition party the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan sescured control over the unicameral legislature. The judiciary succumbed to the pressure of legitimizing his actions. He made sure to lay the ground for un-rivalled rule.

Martial Law was lifted on January 17, 1981. It may have had something to do with the scheduled papal visit in a few months. But this was on paper only. The military and police continued to hold sway with the power to detain suspects without court-issued warrants of arrest.

Some genuinely believed that authoritarianism would enforce the discipline necessary for people to work together for their own good and that the surrender of their rights and freedoms would yield them some greater good. Marcos showed the kind of intellectual and political capacity that made people think it could work; as in other countries, leaders like authoritarian leaders like Lee Kwan Yew and Mahathir were making possible the modernization of Singapore and Malaysia, respectively.

But all too soon, Marcos whose rhetoric projected some grand vision for the future showed himself as no more than a petty politician, relying on propaganda and patronage, holding power solely for the benefit of his family and favoured friends. Technocrats would leave government for positions in international agencies. Soon the Marcoses cocooned themselves in an exclusive zone of security.

Shared memories and recollections may not suffice to satisfy those who desire the greater proof of Marcos’ betrayal of his so-called covenant with the people. In the ensuing confusion of democratic restoration, Filipinos failed to establish a Truth Commission about the regime as a way of establishing a historical truth. There has been no definitive history of this period. Conference reports have had limited distribution. A project to collect first hand experiences of victims and human rights champions was short-lived for lack of funds.

After toppling the dictatorship, we were happy enough to put on display Imelda’s collection of shoes, cite the foreign debt Marcos’excesses left us to pay. We could not estimate the extent of the plunder, but attempted to recover some of the hidden wealth.

On this 43rd anniversary of the declaration of Marcos’ Martial Law, McCoy’s paper provides a quick tool with which to recover perspective. His paper which assessed the progress and prospects of Corazon Aquino’s government, then only a few months in power, began with a “damage survey of the Marcos years” — for only then, he said, can anyone appreciate “the enormity of its task.”

McCoy wrote: “Marcos and his cronies did more than simply steal several tens of billions of dollars. Behind a facade of impressive development schemes framed by unwitting foreign and domestic economists, the nation was systematically plundered. Capital was diverted from worthwhile projects to kickbacks, showcase projects or private concerns. Nominally viable and desirable schemes were thus burdened with a crushing debt that made their collapse inevitable.”

“Instead of using foreign and domestic resources to address the economy’s long-term structural problems, Marcos’ family and cronies exploited their limitless power to strip rivals of assets, expatriate capital and concoct new schemes to illegally privatize public assets.”

An academic, McCoy noted the difficulty of establishing “precise indicators for the damage done to the integrity of national institutions.” But he specifically pointed to the near collapse of the public education system, the country’s mainstay for over half a century. He pointed to the rise of illiteracy to the highest point since the 1920s. “Denied critical resources for fifteen years, (it) had ceased to operate in a meaningful way for the majority.”

McCoy personally worked on the documentation of the decline of the country’s forest cover. Forested areas declined from 13 milllion hectares in 1965 when Marcos was elected president to two million hectares in 1986.

The Communist insurgency had already taken root and controlled areas in the provinces. The Jabidah Massacre which killed scores of Moro army recruits led Nur Misuari, a professor in the University of the Philippines, to lead his people in armed rebellion for the liberation of the Bangsamoro. Few Filipinos see the irony in Bongbong’s political decision to hold back the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

There is a generational obligation to establish irrefutable basis for rejecting the idea that Marcos was a great leader and that he made such good things to happen in the 14 years that he enjoyed total control.

We need to counter the lies not so much to create villains to blame, but rather to learn how easily power can corrupt, how those seeking leadership can be the ones who lead us to perdition. The political culture embeds human frailties into a social system. Once in power, it is a rare politician who can choose the national good over personal gain. Voters should think about this in making their choice in 2016.

At the very least, DEPED, in the remaining year of PNoy’s administration, should undertake the legacy project of revising the propaganda text written in the books and taught by schoolteachers up to the present.

Updating history is a critical part of education. Without it, perhaps,we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.