Ferdinand E. Marcos: An Appreciation
By Gregorio C. Brillantes
Don’t lose heart, folks—as The Man said, this nation can be great again!
August 29, 1970—CERTAIN Liberals and Nacionalistas with presidential ambitions, and scores of other Filipinos, including many who once idolized him, will likely dispute it; but in our time, in our country, Ferdinand E. Marcos remains destiny’s favorite son.
The trials he has had to endure, the fearsome obstacles he has encountered and overcome—tests of manhood which would have reduced lesser mortals to quivering blobs of jelly—have only added, it would seem, to the zest with which he has pursued, as the song puts it, his glorious quest. Charged with murder in his law student days, he defended himself with such flourish and skill as to win acquittal from the High Tribunal and went on from there to pass the bar exams with highest honors—a twin feat probably without parallel anywhere in the world. (It has been the sad fate of other men as great and as brilliant to meet an early end, behind bars, on the gallows or before a firing squad, their full potential unrealized, the noble promise of their lives unfulfilled, mankind thus rendered so much the poorer.) From his daredevil exploits in the last war, he merged with a chestful of Fil-American medals, the most decorated soldier of his country. The pride of his generation, he has since continued to win, with undiminished energy, the honors and prizes that the nation sees fit to offer only to the brave and the true, not the least of these rewards being the love of a fabulous lady. As everyone knows only too well, he became the first president of the Republic to be reelected, an awesome triumph which, true to form, he achieved with an unprecedented majority of two million votes over his LP rival, who, by the way, still thinks he wuz robbed.
That was but less than a year ago. Forward with Marcos and Lopez—the unbeatable Performance Team! Remember the tumult and the shouting, the sense of a vast master plan carried out without a hitch, of irresistible destiny fulfilling itself? Remember J.V. Cruz on TV working suavely for his ambassadorship, explaining what “extrapolation” was all about, and Serging Osmeña hoarse and tired in defeat, and then the morning after, the outcries about goons and massive fraud and vote-buying all the rest of that exciting week? Barely 10 months have passed—yet it seems like ages ago. Was it only last November that the Second Mandate dawned upon an expectant land? So much has happened since then that it feels as though not months but years separate us now from President Marcos’s day of victory. Propelled as it were by a combustible concentration of changes and events, the nation has moved forward, as President Marcos himself loved to predict, although he could not have guessed the precise direction—and such has been the distance we as a people have covered that Eelction Day 1969 seems much more remote in time than it really is.
The President, of course, is not one to stand still or lag behind while history is in the making; and since the auspicious first month of Marcos II marked by unusually festive fireworks in the vicinity of Malacañang, he has been striding with the usual confidence and vigor toward more achievements, more honors and distinctions. The gods who watch over the Filipino race must have reserved their fondest benediction for the likes of him, for it seems there is nothing that he wills or does, nothing that he encourages or allows to happen which does not exalt him, does not distinguish him from the common run of men. His is a light that was never meant to be hidden under a bushel of mediocrity; his life indeed is the stuff of legend, and he can no more evade fame and distinction than he can renounce his sworn duty to his people, which is to serve them and make the country, if not “great again,” at least not hostile to the idea of greatness. (He did say, after all: “This nation can”—not shall—“be great again.”)
Thus to the scroll citing President Marcos’s many achievements has been added some more honors earned in the six or seven months following the riotous celebrations of January. He has, for instance, in less than a year of the Second Mandate, merited the distinction of having the deepest and widest credibility gap ever to yawn at the feet of a Philippine president. (“If Marcos were to run today, Racuyal would beat him!” swears our barber from Pampanga.) Amazingly, for all the disgust and skepticism he has spawned, he has at the same time aroused the increasingly passionate attention of the populace, including even those citizens who normally pay no heed to politicians. (“What is Marcos up to? What will he do next?” wonder radicals and moderates, natives and aliens, labor and management , laymen and clergy.) Above all, his is the distinction of being held solely accountable, by more and more of the people, for the multitude of troubles that have of late descended upon the country.
Never before in our history have so many blamed so much on one man.
But so-called public opinion, the same history would testify, has not always been as enlightened as it should be; it has committed many gross and costly errors, and the living proofs of these blunders may be found today delivering privileged speeches in Congress. The voice of the people, in this country anyway, is seldom, alas, the voice of God; in the instances it has reflected divine wisdom, goons in the hire of the devil have been quick to silence it at the polls. Popular tastes and convictions are more often than not suspect, especially in so confused and clamorous an activity as politics, Philippine style. Public sentiment is rarely infallible, and as it applies now to the much-maligned President, it is wide off the mark, quite petty, misinformed, ungrateful, unjust, disproportionate, lacking in perspective. The accusation, spoken harshly where detractors of the President gather in rebellious force, as in Plaza Miranda or along Mendiola—the charge that he is a fascist, a fake patriot, a power-crazed, money-obsessed operator with the mentality of a small-town politico, is surely anything but a sane and reasonable conclusion. It is the emotional judgment of a people who believe, mistakenly, that they have been robbed of their faith and hopes in a man of destiny.
The course, the direction of Ferdinand E. Marcos’s destiny belies the indictment of public opinion, his motives and ideals repudiate it, his actions disprove it. True, his greatness has dimmed somewhat, as if the general dissatisfaction with his regime had formed a smog that the radiance could scarcely penetrate—but the greatness is still there, in the man, for those who seek it, a guiding light for all seasons. Even the elect of God, we are told, don’t arrive at divine knowledge without undergoing what mystics call the dark night of the soul; they must fast and pray for illumination. The perception of certain forms of greatness a notch or two below the Almighty’s likewise calls for some effort, but the strain would be well worth it in terms of inspiration, splendor of vision and peace of soul. It goes without saying that such irreverent cynics as columnists Maximo V. Soliven and Amando Doronila—O ye of little faith!—are denied the spiritual rewards bestowed on the pure and humble of heart, like Teodoro Valencia or Emil Jurado, who are reportedly in constant communion with the power and the glory.
Let us then follow the example of the truly wise and contemplate, without partisan rancor, dispassionately but with all the powers of intellect and will, as Jesuit retreat masters are wont to remind us, the issues that the people’s parliament has raised against President Marcos.
The President and his party, it is charged, spent P168 million in so-called barrio improvement funds and untold millions more in God knows what funds to “buy” his reelection, in the process of which he debauched the currency and brought down upon all our anxious heads a host of evils—ever-soaring prices, shrinking incomes, strikes, mass layoffs, business and industry in a state of suspended animation. Because of the economic dislocation—compound fractures is more like it, according to the President’s more cantankerous critics—there is now an upsurge of graft and corruption, violence and gangsterism as the low- or no-income sectors of the population strive to cope criminally with the rising cost of living.
The President, it is further charged, is a champion of imperialism, feudalism and fascism. He has demonstrated nothing less than canine devotion to the imperialist cause in Asia, as witness the infamous Philcag deal with what Senator Aquino brands the “Americanization” of his regime. He has conspired with the rapacious landlord class to perpetuate feudalism, depriving the land reform program of needed funds, so his accusers say. He is a veritable Hitler who relishes the use of force to smash dissent in the streets and resistance to fascism in Central Luzon, charge student militants. At the same time, he has proved to be the tuta of a tuta with his administration’s brutal deportation of the Yuyitung brothers to Taiwan.
The President, insist his persecutors, supports political warlordism—just think, they tell us, what a strong and moral president would have done after somebody’s goons burned and shot up that barrio in Bantay! He has not acted to stop rampant deforestation, his critics claim, and at the rate our forests are being destroyed—three hectares a minute—this nation before long will be a desert, a wasteland! And how many of the promises he made way back in 1965 has he fulfilled? (“Bring down high prices. . .Rule of law. . . Economy in the government. . .Nationalistic policy. . .Heroic leadership,” etc.) More savage questions are flung at us: Isn’t he already the richest man in Asia, but still insatiable, wanting more loot, at least half of PLDT, shares in Benguet, a TV station, choice real estate in various parts of the country? When will he renounce his worldly possessions, as he promised, and set up that foundation? Isn’t he just biding his time to impose martial law and install himself as the Great Dictator? Isn’t he plotting to rig the Constitutional Convention so he could run for a third term or become president for life? And so forth, and so on, a litany of outrage and apprehension.
Is President Marcos as detestable as these unkind critics, uncharitable detractors and irresponsible radicals have painted him out to be?
Could a man so favored by destiny and embodying a special greatness be such an abomination to his people?
One recoils from such malevolent thoughts. No! Of course not! Impossible!
It is time we put those wild-eyed and long-haired accusers of the President where they belong—in a padded cell and under sedation—and restored calmness and objectivity to the so-called public opinion of our disjointed times. This must be done in justice to the President, who has suffered enough in his mission to lead his people to peace and prosperity. The President is a man of heroic qualities, as we have seen; but he remains a man, vulnerable to the ailments that flesh is heir to. We gather from Luis Beltran of the Evening News that the President suffers on occasion from a curious disease which “makes tears fall from his eyes, renders him deaf and makes his throat hurt.” We could help ease the President’s aches and pains, help lighten his grievous burdens by reassuring him of our loyalty and our faith.
Assuming, for the moment, that the malicious charges leveled against the President are true, men of good will and unflinching faith in the Marcos destiny—and this unfortunate country is not bereft of them—would still perceive that whatever harm might have been done is far outweighed, rendered insignificant, by the national blessings resulting from these presidential “crimes” rashly condemned by a disenchanted, short-sighted people. It is all a matter of point of view, of angle and depth (or shallowness) of vision: what is so outrageous from a certain vantage point is revealed, from another, as good and desirable in its true nature. Filipinos who now view President Marcos as a sort of calamity—not a few even blamed him for those earthquakes—should change the slant of their perspective, regard the object of their ire from a different plane.
Then will they understand what they in anger or prejudice or despair have failed to comprehend: that the President, even in committing what appear to be crimes against the people, or refusing to act for their benefit, has had only the people’s welfare at heart. He knows that without the people, he would not be where he is today: at the seat of supreme power, his heart’s desire, his destiny. It is simply inconceivable that a man of such charisma, sensitivity and intelligence should willfully deliver them to disaster; their doom would be his own as well, for is he not one with them? Did he not fight and bleed for them in the crucible that was Bataan? And despite the expense and the hazards, didn’t he become congressman, senator and finally president the better to serve them?
No Filipino loves his country more than President Marcos—a truth that will reveal itself after the prescribed shift in viewpoint.
Consider anew the spending orgy during the last elections—was it not actually a laudable attempt to redistribute wealth and bridge the gap between the rich and the poor? As Senator Lagumbay, statesman and artist and one of the more perceptive of our solons, said recently concerning budgetary deficits caused by wanton election spending: “The father of children who are sick will not hesitate to go into debt to give them the medicines they need.” The fiscal and economic consequences of the President’s compassion for the electorate are not without their positive aspects—for has the price spiral not encouraged the people to give up vain material things and prodded them to practice austerity which, everyone will agree, is good for the soul and cuts down on cholesterol? “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume…” As for the President’s alleged servility to imperialist America—is it not merely expressive of Filipino gratitude for American tutelage in the arts of democracy? And is not the “Americanization” of his administration the next best thing to the statehood that many Filipinos still dream of? And regarding the Yuyitung case, for which certain benighted sectors of the press would consign the President to the innermost circle of hell, didn’t the magnificent show of collaboration between Taipei and Malacañang further strengthen the ties that bind two “Free World” nations committed to the defense of freedom and democracy?
The President has a soft spot in his heart for the students, especially the nationalistic activists, and he has taken pains to provide them with issues to rouse them up and keep them from physical, mental and ideological stagnation. Suppose the President never bothered to give them cause for pickets and demonstrations—they would all be smoking pot and watching smut movies instead, languid preoccupations that would not predispose them to any politicalization. The rise of youth radicalism, which promises to restructure and revitalize our ailing society, the nation owes to President Marcos.
With regard to the Bantay case, the simple-minded had expected the President to do something dramatic, like helicoptering down on the burned barrio of Ora and poking among the ruins; but he wisely chose to maintain a statesmanlike distance from the protagonists, lest his presence be misconstrued as lending aid and comfort to one party or the other. It is true that he was photographed in a conspiratorial huddle with his Ilocano friend, Congressman Floring Crisologo, but that was nothing but a pose arranged by a weekly magazine for a promotional gimmick. If he has shown little enthusiasm for land reform, as he has been repeatedly charged, that could be due to his determination to spare long-suffering farm tenants the troublesome capitalistic burdens of ownership. As for the Philippines turning into a desert because of his alleged reluctance to stop illegal logging, has it not occurred to his simple-minded critics that rock and sand exports may yet resolve our balance of payments difficulties, and that as the Sahara of Asia, we shall probably strike oil and banish poverty for good from our underdeveloped shores?
True, he said he would renounce his worldly possessions and establish a foundation, but he didn’t say when; great men have their own timetables, and will not be rushed by vile insinuations. Possibly the President has decided to postpone his philanthropic endeavors to a future term in office, a prospect that alarms his detractors, who have been issuing dire warnings that he will pack the Constitutional Convention with his men. But why should anyone be alarmed by his desire to be president longer than eight years or perhaps for life? Isn’t it all of a pattern, the extension of the glorious quest, the irresistible command of that destiny which has brought us so many blessings?
If he wants to go on serving his people for as long as he can climb the grand stairway in Malacang unassisted, the least a grateful nation can do is let him. Ten or twenty years more of nation-building may sap his strength and make climbing that starway an ordeal, but neither age nor infirmity should deter him from his noble mission; Salazar of Portugal, one recalls, presided admirably over the affairs of his country from a wheelchair, if not a sickbed, for the better part of his reign.
“Politics galvanizes into action all the beautiful hopes that a man can nurture in his heart for his country and for his nation. Politics is my life,” Hartzell Spence quotes Ferdinand E. Marcos in his biography of the President, For Every Tear a Victory, a book we keep on a special shelf of inspirational reading, along with the works of Norman Vincent Peale and S. J. Perelman (not a Jesuit).
No President has done more for his people. Never have a people owed so much to their President.
Tadhana, fate, has decreed it: Ferdinand E. Marcos, the sixth president of the Republic, will long be remembered for what he has done, and for what he will yet do.