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May 2013 is a mid-term election. The classic chronicle of a mid-term, and particularly interesting as it reported trends that have become par for the course in modern campaigns, is Nick Joaquin’s Ayos na ang Buto-Buto, November, 1963:
This year’s campaign will go down in slang annals for broaching a new way to say curtains. The hot phrase wildfired through Manila during the last month of the campaign, is now to be heard wherever folk talk. Has the eighth passenger climbed into the A.C. jeepney? Ayos na ang butó-butó. Has the bingo emcee picked up that elusive number? Ayos na ang butó-butó. Has your girl finally agreed to a movie date? Ayos na ang butó-butó.
The literal meaning of it is: The voting’s over. The blossoming meanings are: It’s made, sewed up, completed, settled, on the way, in the bag, amen, fin, the end. The rites of politics required every candidate and his henchmen to claim cocksurely that, as far as they were concerned, the fight was over, the voting was over, long before the people stormed the polls. Now, as the two parties wrangle over who really won or lost, the people hurl back at them their own cry of pre-poll confidence. So what’s the use of post-poll wrangling? Ayos na ang butó-butó!
The birth of that byword was a major event of the campaign, which ended with a bang-bang-bang. The first bang was the War over the Mestizo. The second bang was the Apocalypse according to St. Robot. The third bang was the pair of avance mitings on Plaza Miranda. It wasn’t a dull campaign, and don’t let anybody tell you different. Funny things happened to the politicos on their way to public office.
Four elements of the present day are there: the slang of the day; questions of ethnicity, class, and race; controversies about surveys; the ole-fashioned speeches, stumping and rallies.
But other features of campaigns past are long gone: while party-switching is still there, the era of the party convention as a process that mattered, is history, consider this relict of things past in It’s Up to You Now! from 1953:
The Filipino people know that the presidential nomination was not handed to Magsaysay on a silver platter. He had to go to the provinces, campaign among the NP delegates. For one who had just joined the party, it was not an easy task to enlist the support of the men and women who were to pick the Opposition standard-bearer at the coming national convention. Magsaysay’s task became harder because he was to face a man who had done much for the party—Camilo Osias.
There was talk that Laurel, Recto and Rodriguez would double-cross Magsaysay at the convention; that certain arrangements would be made in order to create a deadlock between Osias and Magsaysay; and that once this deadlock existed, Laurel would then be railroaded by the conventionists, thereby making him the party candidate for president.
Magsaysay would then be drafted for the Senate under the NP banner. Thus, the Opposition senatorial slate would be stronger with Monching heading the list. Left no other choice, the best Cabinet member Quirino ever had would accept the senatorial nomination, whether he liked it or not.
The prophets of gloom were all wrong. Laurel, Recto, Rodriguez and Tañada had no such plans; they were motivated by good faith and the best of intentions when they invited Magsaysay to join them in a crusade for a clean and honest government under a new regime—an NP regime.
That era –when parties actually mattered, because leaders had to cultivate loyal party followers– preserved in time, so to speak, as seen in other articles, from the height of one-party rule in United behind Quezon, July 15, 1939 to Why Garcia won, November 23, 1957; but as parties withered, new-style politics would take its place. See Nick Joaquin’s In this corner: Lacson, May 11, 1957, for a profile of the new-type of leader; and in The Winners ’61, Nick Joaquin quoted Macapagal describing how a campaign begins a long time before the official campaign period starts:
President Garcia, it is said, had originally regarded the large popular vote for Macapagal as a directive from the people to make Macapagal serve in the government: there were hints from Malacañang that the vice-president would be appointed secretary of foreign affairs. But after a consultation with his council of leaders, Mr. Garcia decided not to give Macapagal a job.
“From that moment,” says Macapagal, “I decided to build up and strengthen the Liberal Party, to begin campaigning for the presidency, and to beat Garcia in 1961.”
He started campaigning during his very first year as veep, circled the country three times during his term: “It took me a year the first time, two years the second time, a year the third time.”
At first President Garcia allowed him to use a navy cutter, the Ifugao. Macapagal started with the most inaccessible areas: Palawan, the isles of the Badjaos, the Turtle Islands. He had, while still in the foreign affairs department, negotiated the return of the Turtle Islands to the Philippines, had raised the Philippine flag there. On his second trip, he covered the isolated areas on the Pacific coast. When he submitted his schedule for his third trip, which was to have included Batanes, President Garcia smelled what the vice-president was up to and forbade his further use of the Ifugao. Undaunted, Macapagal used inter-island steamers.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “On the steamers I met more people.” He ate with the third-class passengers, surprised them by cleaning up his plate, though the food was staler than most people could stomach.
In his wanderings, Macapagal reached places where the last government official people remembered having seen was Governor-General Leonard Wood. “I think,” says Macapagal, “that Wood was the one government official who tried to reach every place in the country.”
Macapagal was not always the politician in his four-year odyssey: he has an eye for the odd and the beautiful. In a coastal town in Samar he saw a man who was said to be 150 years old: “He was like a mummy, he looked dead already, but he could still talk.” Macapagal becomes lyrical when describing the brooks in Camiguin: “They are the most beautiful brooks I ever saw—water flowing over white stones. If I were an artist I would paint those brooks.”
At the same time that he was trying to reach every place in the country, he was building up his party. He saw the need for uniting the opposition but saw no hope for union as long as the Progressives clung to two ideas of theirs: first, that the Liberal Party was rotten to the core and could never return to power and, second, that they, the Progressives, could win by themselves. When negotiations for union in 1959 lagged, Macapagal abruptly ended them: “I saw it was useless to negotiate until I had proved to the Progressives that we could win in an election and that they couldn’t.” The Progressives tried to reopen the negotiations but Macapagal firmly repulsed them: “I just told them that we had already lost a month of the campaign. After all, I felt that union in 1959 was not important. What was important was union in 1961—and I could get that only by proving myself right in 1959.”
And there is the story of how every election brings with it an innovation, a raising of the ante. There’s the rise of the celebrity candidate, exemplified by matinee idol Rogelio de la Rosa. Nick Joaquin’s classic The “Untimely Withdrawal” of Roger de la Rosa from November, 1961 shows the first steps of a phenomenon that has become part of the political landscape today:
The Yabut broadcast started a run on the bank. From noon of November 3, the bakya-and-salakot crowd began storming Roger’s house, wanting to know if his slogan—“We Shall Return To Malacañang With Roger De La Rosa As President”—had indeed shrunk to a starker notice: “No Returns, No Refunds.”
His henchmen say they were afraid there would be trouble that night, so ugly was the temper of the idol’s fans. The early-evening crowd, mostly from the suburbs, eventually dispersed; but by two o-clock in the morning another crowd, from more distant hinterlands, had formed in front of the senator’s gate and was demanding to be let in. These indignant visitors were admitted and staged what practically amounted to a sit-down strike in the large nipa house on the senator’s lawn.
“Let us not move from here,” said they, “until he himself comes and tells us what he really intends to do.”
Noon came, and they were still there, squatting inside the nipa house and along the driveway, but their leader had still not appeared to them.
Only a few of them were allowed inside the senator’s residence, and there they found not Roger but his brother Jaime, who, when asked about Roger, replied with a scathing attack on the administration.
One thing must be said for Roger: he really drew the peasant crowd, for the faces one saw on his lawn that morning had the look of the Philippine earth: burned black by the sun and gnarled by misery. The men were in cheap polo shirts, the women in shapeless camisolas. It was obvious they had dressed in a hurry. One heard that this one had come all the way from Quezon, that one all the way from Cagayan; a man said he had flown in from Mindanao. All had a common complaint: why did they have to learn about this from Yabut? Why hadn’t Roger taken them into his confidence? They all claimed to be volunteer workers who had used their own money to spread Roger’s cause. If Roger backed out, they would lose face. How could they return to their barrios if they had lost face?
They all clung to the hope that all this was but more “black propaganda.” Their boy had not withdrawn; or if he was thinking of doing so, they would persuade him to continue the fight: let him but appear before them.
A cry rose up:
“Matalong lumalaban, huwag matalong umuurong (To go down fighting, not to go down retreating)!”
Had he lost heart because he had run out of funds? There was still some money they could scrape up among themselves; one man said he had already contributed P3,000 and was willing to contribute more; after all, there were only ten days left of the campaign. It didn’t matter if Roger was a sure loser.
“Let the votes we cast for him,” cried a bespectacled woman from Binangonan, “be a clear picture for 1965!”
The cheers that greeted this seemed to indicate that the Roger extravaganza would, by insistent public request, be extended for another ten days. Poor deluded rustics who did not know that the decision had already been made! They could cheer and argue and weep all they wanted; they were standing outside a closed door. Their fate was being settled, without their knowledge, in other rooms of other houses behind other doors, while they offered their very blood to the cause.
But as the day climbed toward noon and no Roger showed up, hope became feebler, the mutterings became darker. Inside the nipa house and all over the driveway, angry knots of disciples debated what to do.
Some said they would still vote for Roger, even if he had withdrawn, even if their votes should be “nulo.” Others cried that Roger could commit himself but not them to another candidate. The angriest spoke bitterly about the quality of Pampango blood and swore that they would, in protest, go over to the Garcia camp. A few still wistfully hoped that Roger would come and tell them that the show would go on.
By five that afternoon, the hope was dead. Roger had appeared on TV, with Macapagal; the withdrawal had been announced, the change of stand had been made.
That night, Roger’s house stood dark and silent. Gone were the noisy folk who had filled the lawn all day. The angry ones made good their threat and went over to the Garcia camp that very night. The undecided ones crept back to their barrios, wondering how to save face. The trip back must have been agonizing: whichever way they looked they saw that handsome face smiling from posters, from billboards, from streamers hung across roads, promising Malacañang to all these pathetic folk who had hitched their carretelas to a star.
In Winding it up, November 1, 1969, Nick Joaquin reported how the helicopter made its entry into campaigns:
The Helicopter has become today’s campaign symbol, as the jeep was in the ’50s, the railroad before the war. It is an apt symbol. When the man-made cyclonew appears in the air, turning and turning in a narrowing gyre, things fall apart, mere anarchy is loosed, the ceremony of innocence drowns in a tide of dust, and the blinded crowd leaning to the whirlwind gropes in sudden darkness to greet the good who lack conviction or the bad who reek of passionate intensity.
It’s pentecostal scene. First that crowd gathered round an open space, hot and bored from waiting. Then a faint whirr in the sky. Heads lift eyes squint exclamations become a roar, children jump up and down pointing to the tiny gleaming spiral in the air, to the swelling windmill, to the violent cross abruptly, deafeningly, overhead, blotting out the light. And suddenly a mighty wind plunges into earth and explodes into whirled fog, a typhoon of dust. The crowd falls apart, screaming. People stagger, crouch, press hands to eyes; but even those who have run to cower behind wall or tree cannot escape the hot blast of wind or the clattering fallout of soil. All at once the pall of dust lifts, the wind sinks, and people gray with dust from head to foot straighten up and slap at their clothes, looking foolish..
Meanwhile, the arrived candidate, himself immaculate, descends on his ravaged welcomers, is garlanded, poses for pictures with the local satraps, is escorted to the transportation. The crowd surges after him. Sweat has turned the gray of dust they wear into trickles of mud on face and neck.
Left behind on the field is the helicopter, now looking too small and innocent to be capable of the tornado it stirred, that moment of unloosed anarchy, dark and dangerous as a election campaign, disrupting the ground and leaving on the body of the people a film of filth. Centuries of stony sleep now vexed to nightmare every two years.
“The Helicopter,” says President Marcos, “has completely revolutionized campaigning. When I first ran for President I went around the country twice – and each round took me one whole year. In this year’s campaign I will have gone around the country three times in one year and it has been less tiring, less fatiguing, than in 1964-65.”
The article contains as concise a summary of political strategizing –and the grueling requirements of personal stamina and organizational logistics– as has been published anywhere, concerning Philippine elections, courtesy of Nick Joaquin quoting Ferdinand E. Marcos:
“One of the things we discovered in our post-election critique was that we spent too much time in small provinces; we had attempted to follow the example of Macapagal. We spent as much time in a small area like Batanes as in a big area like Pangasinan. This, of course was not correct. Manila has over 600,000 voter and Rizal over a million — but we spent the same amount of time campaigning in Marinduque, a smaller province, as in Rizal. So, we decided that, in l967, we would try out a new schedule, proportioning time to each area according to its size. And not only time but also funding. The funding in l967 had been scattered gunshots — no system to it, none of the delicate accuracy of aim required.”
So, the ’67 polls were used to apply lessons learned from the mistakes of ’65, and also as a trial run for strategies contemplated for ’69.
“There were many things we tested in l967. However, when you are in politics, always, after an election, the question comes up: How could we have improved on this? Or you say: This should not have happened.”
And what happened in ’67 that should not have happened, that certainly must not happen again in ’69?
“Manila. We were pushed into participating in choosing a local candidate. The national leaders must not be pushed into that. There should be a middle body to absorb the shocks. So, we created a mediation committee, an arbitration committee of the junta, which chooses the candidates.
“A second mistake was, again, funding. It was coursed only through a few men, If any of them turns against you, the lower levels are lost, you are lost. So, there had to be a re-routing a re-channeling of funds, materials, campaign instructions. There must be alternatives; in the armed forces you call them lines of communication. In politics there must be an alternate organization to take over in the event of a crisis.”
The President says he doesn’t specifically have the Salas crisis in mind.
“I use the word crisis to mean any unexpected stoppage in communication between those above and those below, since on that continuing communication depends the effectivity of an organization. Stop that and it’s the end of the organization. So, you must have alternate lines of communication.”
It’s to be inferred that the campaign was not delayed in the takeoff stage by the Salas crisis because the “alternatives” realized as necessary in ’67 had already been established — and that these “alternatives” can also prevent “stoppage” in case of, say, a Lopez crisis.
From the trial run of ’67, work moved on to the actual planning of the ’69 campaign, which is marked by an intensive use of the helicopter (to overcome the limitation on the campaign period), the computer (to get the proportions right between effort and geography), the public-opinion survey (to check on mileage) and a controlled budge, meaning limited funds.
“I want that clarified,” says the President, “because ‘unlimited funding’ is one of the fables of political history. People think we have an unlimited amount of money. That is not true. I am trying to limit expenses.”
But so rooted is the belief there’s a fear to buck it; one might be dropped in favor of someone willing to continue the fiction.
“That is why most Presidents, I mean their leaders, want to give the impression of having unlimited resources. They are not to blame at all. But it is apocryphal, legendary, a myth. It is not true that a President has unlimited funds. There is never any limit unless you set a limit. Even President Magsaysay, President Garcia and President Macapagal, they themselves told me, this I got from them, because I wanted to know, and they said that the money is never enough, no matter how much you think you have, there is never enough. Unless you set a budget and stick to it. Because they will assume the sky’s the limit and if you don’t come across you’re dead. Unless you tell them point-blank: the myth is only politics.”
And there’s still the clutter of the tried-and-tested. In Final round, November 1, 1969, Napoleon Rama reported that the battle of the billboards was also a battle of perceptions:
As of last week, the propaganda people of both camps were still setting up posters and billboards along the highways, on the theory perhaps that nowadays people travel more and farther.
One notable new feature of the current campaign is the uneven propaganda battle of billboards, leaflets, pins, buttons and television time. The battle of the billboards is no contest. The Marcos billboards far outnumber the OK signs. In fact, in many provinces, Osmeña billboards are nowhere to be seen.
Osmeña operates on the theory that billboards in the presidential contest serve little purpose. Billboards, he maintains, are necessary for the senatorial candidates because the voters are apt to forget some names in a field of 16. But in the presidential competition, Osmeña continues, no voter need be reminded of the names of the two protagonists.
The Marcos boys have another interpretation: “It’s simply that the OK camp hasn’t got the logistics.” To which taunt the Osmeña persuaders reply “since we haven’t got kickback money, we are using our logistics where they count most.”
All over the land, the landscape is dotted with Marcos or Marcos-Lopez billboards and streamers. The Marcos billboards are multi-colored, larger-than-life affairs, the largest and the most elaborate on the campaign scene, and perhaps the most expensive ever put up by any presidential candidate.
The November polls will put to the test Serging’s theory that billboards are of negligible importance in presidential elections. The outcome should settle a question of great interest to future budget-conscious presidential candidates. Billboards represent one of the biggest items in the candidate’s budgets. Confirmation of Serging’s theory would save future presidential aspirants a tidy sum.
While the propaganda contest is unequal in many other respects, the Osmeña persuaders are not far behind the administration drumbeaters in radio blurbs, jingles and commentaries. Because of limited resources, opposition propagandists take care to feature on radio and TV only effective impact programs or “spots.”
And here, Nap Rama’s article leaves us at the cusp of the world we live in, today, where mass media is king; and how every candidate since then, has had to battle it out not just in terms of content, but presentation:
One good radio program is worth a hundred mediocre ones. The old saturation theory of radio propaganda may well be on its way out.
In the television battle, NP programs outnumber LP presentations 20 to 1. The NPs run several half-hour television political dramas featuring top television and movie stars. But the scripts, more often than not badly written, concentrate on name-calling and vulgar language instead of issues. Even Marcos partisans are critical of these programs.
Teodoro Valencia of the Manila Times, who is certainly not an Osmeña fan, is unhappy about such programs. Last week he wrote: “Radio, television and press propaganda can be overdone. The NP seem to be overdoing the media advertising and propaganda. The ‘overkill’ can work in reverse. As it is, the NP have a 90-10 advantage in media advertising. If the propaganda can be good all the time, well and good. But if the tempo or the quality declines some more, the preponderance of propaganda can boomerang.”
LP strategists meet the TV onslaught with one-minute spots depicting crime and poverty, and, occasionally, television interviews with the LP presidential candidate himself or top LP leaders. Newspaper columnists are agreed that Marcos is not as effective as Osmeña on TV. Here is columnist Apolonio Batalla of the Manila Bulletin on the two presidential candidates as TV performers: “The other evening we watched Senator Osmeña being interviewed on TV in a program sponsored by the UP Institute of Mass Communication. His manner was forthright, his answers were sensible and direct, and his exposition was simple and spontaneous.
“We also watched the President being interviewed in Malacañang. Although he revealed what to us is significant—the Philippine economy has ‘taken off’ (probably in the Rostovian context), he was as usual lisping and groping for words. The delivery of the message was not effective. He would create the impression that he was merely relaying the message and that he did not know much about it. Considering that he could have made capital of the ‘take-off’ study, his delivery was tragic….
“We have sneaking suspicion that the President declined the proposal of some student groups to share the same platform with his rival because he had been told that he would be no match for Osmeña on TV. In that case his advisers observed correctly. On TV, Osmeña would make mincemeat of the President.”
The observation is a bit exaggerated. But the point made has not been lost on the LP bright boys, who have scheduled more TV appearances for Osmeña.
Newspaper columnists and opinion-makers sympathetic to the incumbent President and the First Lady outnumber those inclined to Osmeña, 8 to 2. What is keeping the Cebu senator from being buried is his headline-baiting tactic of making provocative statements during his daily press conferences with newsmen covering his campaign.
“Some people have been complaining that Osmeña gets into the news more often than Marcos does,” said veteran newsman Feliciano Magno, whom the Daily Mirror assigned to cover the Osmeña campaign. “We can’t help it. Osmeña is quicker on the draw and makes superior, more newsworthy statements at press conferences.”
The Defiant Era
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Forty years ago, the First Quarter Storm rocked Manila, which had not seen anarchy on this scale since the Pacific War. A look back at the movement, where it failed and where it succeeded
January 30, 2010-–THE thrilling thing about the year “was that it was a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that were wrong with the world.” “And this gave the world a sense of hope that it has rarely had, a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it.”
That was Mark Kurlansky writing in his marvelous book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. From Cuba to China to Czechoslovakia, France, Mexico, Poland and the United States, young people began to rebel against the establishment. Kurlansky believes the postwar generation was prepared to do so, ironically because of the relative security and comfort they enjoyed and their having been born after the privations and traumas of World War II. And so young people in communist countries challenged party dictatorship while their counterparts in the democratic world turned leftward to challenge the bourgeois certainties of their elders, for it was in that year, too, here in the Philippines, that an elite family celebrated a wedding anniversary with heedless ostentation.
Filipinos born after the war, who had no memory of that period or the succeeding era of the Huks, came to share the restlessness and iconoclasm of their counterparts around the world: students demonstrated against the Vietnam War (it was the year of the T?t Offensive), and for social reforms in the Catholic Church and in the schools.
In that year, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. published a commentary in the American publication Foreign Affairs, describing the country as “a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank – a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Aquino was writing in response to the massacre of Lapiang Malaya ralliers on May 21, 1967. Democracy had survived the Huk rebellion; and yet, even the beneficiaries of the relative stability of the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties left an increasingly better-educated and cosmopolitan urban middle class in discontent.
The First Quarter Storm came two years after the rest of the world was convulsed by student rebellions in 1968. By all accounts, 1969 was the year in which protesting in the style of the civil rights movement in the United States – peaceful, nonviolent, reformist – gave way to more militant protests and bluntly revolutionary aspirations among the youth, along with the flag hoisted with the red field up.
Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented full second term as president toward the end of that year. In those days, when presidential terms began on December 30, a newly elected president delivered his annual State of the Nation at the opening of Congress in January. In 1970, that address to Congress was scheduled on a Monday, January 26. A mere four weeks had passed since Marcos’s inaugural as the [Third] Republic’s first reelected president.
Recalling the era for The Philippine Century, an anthology of writings published in the Free Press, veteran journalist Dan Mariano writes: “Outside the Legislative Building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention.” Jose F. Lacaba, in “The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account,” the first of his articles on the First Quarter Storm for this magazine, writes that student leader Edgar Jopson, who was then a moderate, had his group’s microphones kept away from radical student leader Gary Olivar, and the radicals wrangled with the moderates just as Marcos had finished his speech and was stepping out of the Legislative Building.
It was then, Mariano’s account continues, that “a paper mache crocodile (representing government corruption) and a makeshift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew” in the direction of Marcos and his wife, Imelda. “Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped away from the angry mob. Moments later, Manila police armed with truncheons and rattan shields attacked the student demonstrators who fought back with empty soft-drink bottles, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.”
The moderates tried to pacify by means of speeches the radicals, among them the Maoist Kabataang Makabayan. But the radicals, as Lacaba reports, were “spoiling for trouble” with the cops and were “in no mood for dinner-party chatter and elocution contests.”
From the battleground that was the vicinity of the Legislative Building on Burgos Drive, the demonstrations that now launched the First Quarter Storm moved on to the premises of Malacañang, after a relative lull of three days in which student groups still took to the streets to denounce the government. Then came Friday, January 30 – “so far the most violent night in the city’s postwar history,” as Lacaba writes in retrospect about these events.
The radicals were demonstrating again in front of the Legislative Building, as the moderates went to Malacañang for an audience with Marcos that turned into a tense confrontation. By the end of that meeting, the radicals had trooped as well to the Palace. As Lacaba reports in “And the January 30 Insurrection,” “[w]hat specific event precipitated the battle that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacanang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacanang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of ‘Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!’ Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! a rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene, literally to extinguish the political conflagration at the Palace gates, but the hose they aimed at the protesters yielded a “sputtering spurt,” then the comical became tragic as the protesters ran after and roughed up the fleeing firefighters, then rammed the fire truck into Malacañang’s Mendiola gate. The very center of power suddenly became a tear-gassed arena, as the presidential guards at once engaged the protesters who were lobbing Molotov cocktails into the Palace grounds.
Amid the blaze of a parked vehicle that had been set on fire, the presidential guards managed to drive out the mob, and the battle shifted again to downtown Manila where, this time, not just cops, but “constabulary troopers” confronted the protesters, reports Lacaba. There were also looters among this defiant crowd, who exploited the situation, smashing shop windows and spiriting away “jewelry and shoes.” Soon enough, “the soldiers started firing with Thompsons into the ground,” the dreadful staccato intended as warning, and yet some protesters were hit by shrapnel. Lacaba himself became caught up in the frenzy of rushing some of the injured to the nearby hospitals, and it is remarkable, going by his account, that not a few residents in the area helped hide the protesters who, fleeing from their pursuers, had wandered into the maze of Manila’s dark alleys.
By dawn, the revolution of January 30 was quite over, hundreds had been arrested and an eerie, smoke-filled silence was restored in the city. But this was just the beginning of the Storm. Marcos did not immediately issue his infamous dire warnings – his threats to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law. He still maintained that air of equanimity, as opposed to the spitefulness attributed to him since. Nevertheless this period became his transition to authoritarianism. Vice President Fernando Lopez resigned from the Cabinet the next day.
These events were chronicled by the Free Press writers in what has since been widely acclaimed as “literature in a hurry.” Lacaba’s articles for this magazine and Asia-Philippines Leader remain in print in a book titled Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm and Related Events, which harks back to a time when protesting in front of the US Embassy was daringly new and not the ossified ritual that such actions became since; when communism and socialism were daring new thought and not bogged down in debates over whether they’re old cant; when the established social order was besieged and a generation of Filipinos thought it was possible to push it to the wall so that it would either reform or suffer destruction through revolution.
In contrast to Lacaba’s reportage, Kerima Polotan, sympathetic to Marcos where Lacaba was brilliantly antipathetic, recounted the same events but with hardly any sympathy for Marcos’s critics, whether old or young. Instead, she wrote of those in whom the radicalism of the youth inspired not admiration but fear.
“Right or wrong, one had kept one’s children off the streets all their lives, a canon, one had warned them clearly, they were not to break while they lived under one’s roof,” went Polotan’s “The Long Week,” published alongside Lacaba’s accounts of the January 26 and 30 riots in the Free Press of February 7, 1970. “They went to school and then came home. They had duties and chores, and tonight, while the police chased some other mothers’ children down below, one’s own young were at home getting supper for the small ones, washing the dishes, and locking up the kitchen before turning to their books – altogether not a popular kind of activism, not any kind of activism at all, not modern, but one’s personal, though passage, idea of parenthood. Parents surrender quickly these days and pay for their easy abdication with the broken skulls of their sons and the crushed legs of their daughters.”
Lacaba’s book recaptures the ferment, the freshness, of a period of agitation that resulted, alas, in dictatorship and in a generation robbed of their chance to lead. Yesterday’s FQS protesters are today’s middle-aged baby boomers with grown-up children of their own, often ensconced in the establishment, either in business or government. Yet the historical verdict seems clear: Lacaba’s articles have survived, Polotan’s, forgotten; youthful idealism continues to be honored; the New Society generally acknowledged to be a sham.
To read Lacaba’s book is to be able to answer a crucial question about that generation: Have yesterday’s activists-turned-today’s fat cats been able to totally jettison their radical youth, or is there something in them ingrained by that period that bears watching as they now handle the levers of power? I would argue that those FQS veterans now in high places cannot avoid a radically different outlook, with its quiet but perceptible impact on how power is wielded in the present day.
Reading eyewitness accounts of great events also points to the depressing reality that some things never change. The reactionaries remain so; the reformists stuck, too, in a rut of self-doubt; and the radicals in a time warp. And, indirectly, Lacaba’s book raises a question no one has ever been able to answer in a satisfactory manner. Did the agitation of idealistic and romantic youth in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies make dictatorship more appealing? For the shameful fact is that martial law was greeted with relief by a majority of Filipinos, at least from the upper and middle classes, who rejoiced in the curfew, in the cutting of hippie hair, not to mention the padlocking of Congress and suppression of liberties. For, if so, the Filipino may be innately reactionary – with all that such a conclusion shockingly implies.
Recalling that eventful first quarter of 1970, Dan Mariano writes, “Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent a 100 percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2.00 to P4.00, then P8.00. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.”
By April that year, a general strike was held protesting against increases in oil prices and transportation costs. The next year saw the Diliman Commune, the revolt by University of the Philippines students in February. But the sign of those times was not the Diliman Commune itself, which continues to throb gloriously in the memories of FQS veterans, but a parallel effort overlooked because it’s inconvenient. As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.
And it was Ferdinand Marcos, the last product of the American educational system, but a mutant one in that his political maturity took place during the confused, corrupt and corrupting circumstances of the Japanese Occupation, who gambled on form trumping substance. So long as the trappings of legitimacy were maintained, the upper and middle class would embrace his “Revolution from the Center” and tolerate, if not actually accept with enthusiasm, his “New Society.”
The Plaza Miranda bombing took place on August 21, 1971. Two days after, 20 people were arrested as Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Martial law followed a year and a month later, restoring order on the surface but fueling the already underground radical movement that Jopson himself would at last join and sacrifice his life for. Yet, when revolution finally came, it wasn’t what the young radicals dreamed of in 1970. It was an entirely different creature, what came to be known as People Power in 1986, and Velvet Revolutions elsewhere since.
July 11, 2009
A perfect plan
By Manuel L. Quezon III
PERCEPTION, some say, trumps reality in politics. For that reason, when a politician told me a couple of weeks ago, that large billboards had begun to adorn the second district of Pampanga, bearing the photos of former President Diosdado Macapagal, his daughter President Macapagal-Arroyo, and her son, incumbent Rep. Mikey Arroyo, together with the acronym “PM: Pamlyang Maasahan,” I thought to myself it matters less if any such billboard even exists, and more that people say such billboards have been erected.
Onofre Corpuz, in his book “The Roots of the Filipino Nation,” observed that “It is still a truism in modern-day Philippine politics that no President of the Republic gains anything by interfering in contests between provincial political ‘chieftains’. Nothing romantic in that; but then the legacies of great events are often found in the mundane and in the pragmatic considerations of leadership.” But other observers have pointed out that one of the great levers of power for presidents, is the ability to referee local contests; but it is a risky undertaking, only for the most daring chief executives.
Mrs. Arroyo has never been one to reflect – in public, anyway- on her philosophy of power, if she has one at all. All we have to gage her approach to the presidency -and power in general- is how she’s actually wielded that power. Her approach has been described as “transactional leadership,” and as far as that goes she isn’t particularly different from her predecessors in leaving local politics alone so long as local leaders toe the party line, which is to support her presidency. Inducements to toe the party line are offered in cash and kind, and again, this is not remarkable departure from past administrations, except, perhaps, in her attention to detail, which admirers and detractors alike concede can be breathtaking.
What is different, though again, not unprecedented, in that it harks back to the national divisions over the question of the continuation in power of President Marcos in 1972 and 1986, is how national politics and politicians have been pitted against local politics and politicians on the question of the survival of the present dispensation.
The President made good use of the argument that the rise and fall of administrations shouldn’t be decided by rallies in Manila, which is a flawed argument. In the first place, national capitals are a microcosm of the nation; and second of all, it usually only in the more liberal atmosphere of a national capital that the public can more often than not, fully express itself in opposition to the powers that be (try holding a rally under the noses of a provincial warlord!). Flawed as it was, the argument was a powerful one, and played up the President’s strength – she knew how to take care of the provincial leaders.
The limits of that strength, however, were demonstrated in 2007 when Lakas-CMD and Kampi proceeded to compete with each other, locally, which limited their opportunity to compete, as a ruling coalition, against the President’s critics, particularly in the national arena. In which case, while Lakas and Kampi both edged out opposition rivals locally, they were left where they’d been prior to 2007: controlling local governments, the House, and the Presidency, but bogged down in the Senate and lacking a firm hold on the Supreme Court.
The 2010 elections could, conceivably, end the battle of attrition in which all sides have been bogged down since 2005. In the first place, the Supreme Court will be dominated by appointees of Mrs. Arroyo. In the second place, with the President’s term about to end, the ruling coalition could, conceivably, recapture the Senate, while maintaining its dominance in local politics and the House. It would be, in 2010, where it’d hoped to be, in 2007. Except for one thing: the President, precisely, would be out of office, and she, for one, besides being at the mercy of a potentially vindictive successor, by being out of the presidency, might provoke the typical realignment of forces that accompanies the election of a new president, regardless of where the former ruling coalition actually stands.
But if the ruling coalition were to go into 2010 with a plan that would maintain the cozy local and House arrangements in place since 2001; if that was fortified by recapturing the Senate; and with an obliging Supreme Court in place – and finally, with former President Arroyo still in a position of power, say, as Speaker Arroyo in the 15th Congress, the possibilities would be delightful, indeed, for everybody concerned – in the current ruling coalition, at least.
The President could, of course, run for the Senate, but it might galvanize her opponents and besides, deprive the coalition of a senatorial slot with which to repay past favors to supporters; on the other hand, a congressional race would be much more manageable. It would also solve a pesky problem, in local Pampanga politics.
In 2007, “Among Ed” Panlilio was elected Governor of Pampanga because the Lapids and the Pinedas fought each other, and the President couldn’t – or wouldn’t- broker unity among her local allies. In 2010, there’s the possibility that the President’s son, Rep. Mikey Arroyo, might be persuaded to run for governor of Pampanga, allowing the Lapids and Pinedas to coalesce and reclaim political control of the governorship. This would also enable the President to run for the position currently held by her son.
Governor Panlilio, so far, has played, perfectly, into the hands of those who want him out of office so business can go back, to shall we say, “normal.” When Randy David announced he might contest the congressional seat if the President runs for it, Panlilio then made noises about some sort of “search committee” to find a suitable candidate – and then suggested if one can’t be found, he’d consider running for congressman. The inevitable result of this sort of talk would be to alienate a reform constituency already galvanized by the idea of a David vs. Arroyo showdown.
Besides which, if Panlilio – who was already previously flirting with the idea of running for senator or even president- decides to run for congressman, he has no potential successor for governor, and so control of the capitol would return, almost certainly, to either the Lapids or Pinedas or both, under Mikey Arroyo. And Panlilio could still face a debacle at the polls, going head-to-head against Mrs. Arroyo.
But then again – if Panlilio seeks a new mandate as governor, and David runs for congressman, challenging the President, could she possibly lose?
Patricio N. Abinales
A sympathetic media has kept the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on high profile such that foreign and domestic observers have cited them as evidence of a political system in perennial crisis mode and permanent instability. Intermittent ambushes by NPA and the occasional attacks by MILF commanders on AFP outposts are magnified, morphing into “major military offensives” that purportedly expose the fragility of government authority in the countryside.
Yet if one momentarily steps out of the din of the rhetoric and the reportage and looks at both insurgencies more objectively, one actually will also notice a number of under-reported incongruities. In the CPP’s case, reportage on the surge in ambushes fail to note that most of these are happening in the northeastern portion of Mindanao and only sporadically in other parts of the archipelago. Why this asymmetry exists is something that media seems uninterested to pursue. More importantly, media outlets appear not to spot the one clear anomaly that confronts the CPP today: its difficulty in complementing its “advances” in rural warfare with similar breakthroughs in the urban mass politics. While its parliamentary front Bayan Muna, has been instrumental in keeping the CPP at the center of bourgeois politics, and despite consistent print and media coverage of miniscule student protests led by other front organizations like Anakbayan, the truth is that the CPP is still years, perhaps even decades, of reaching the high numbers it had in the late years of the Marcos dictatorship.
No urban protest has shut down thoroughfares the same way as the waves of welgang bayan the CPP launched in the 1980s. No schools have been forced to suspend classes due to massive boycotts, nor factories locked-down because of widespread workers’ strikes. And when urban poor communities resist “urban renewal,” they do so because their immediate lives are at stake; there is hardly anything political in their battles against the police. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) now relies mainly on its “spokesman” delivering bad speeches in Congress; there is none anymore of those huge “poor people’s marches” that marked the heyday of the now dismissed Jaime Tadeo. The “loudest” of the CPP legal organizations, (in part because it is media savvy), is a fisherman’s group whose membership size is quite dubious (note, for example, that Pamalakaya has never had any national congress).
The question that journalists consistently failed to ask is why this unevenness in the CPP revival? Part of the problem has to do with the 1992 split when its Great Leader and eternal chairman Jose Ma. Sison presided over the destruction of the Party’s more dynamic and innovative regional organization, and the expulsion of over half of its central committee members. This singular Stalinist act deprived the revolution of the very cadres that presided over its growth; cadres known for their refusal to be straight-jacketed by Sison’s dogmatic devotion to Maoism, and who then devised creative strategies to turn the CPP into a national military and political movement. After their expulsion – and in the case of Filemon Lagman (Manila-Rizal), Arturo Tabara (Western Visayas) and Rollie Kintanar (NPA chief of staff and Mindanao), their Mafia-style execution – the Party has been having a hard time developing cadres of the same caliber as these “renegades.” The sickly Ka Roger pales in comparison to Kintanar, BAYAN’s Renato Reyes is a poor copycat of the late Lean Alejandro, and the best united front work Teodoro Casiño and Satur Ocampo have been doing of late is making backroom deals with landlords in Congress. Finally, of all the NPA guerrilla zones that remain active, it is only those in Mindanao that have shown the way. The irony here is that these were the same NPA units that Kintanar and the late Benjamin De Vera created and protected from the bloody internal executions of the 1980s.
These internal weaknesses are being aggravated by a shift in the state’s counter-insurgency warfare. While its senior leadership still refers to its strategy as a “war over hearts and minds,” the military – if we are to believe the claims of the pro-CPP human rights group Karapatan – has adopted a mini-version of the successful Phoenix program that nearly destroyed the entire Vietcong infrastructure in South Vietnam. The selective killing of activists and cadres suspected of playing important roles in the revival of the legal organizations in the towns and cities have maimed the urban mass movements that are supposed to function first as diversions to ease military pressures on the guerrilla zones, and later to back up the NPA as it shifts to a more aggressive conventional war against the Philippine state. But with their organizers dead and those who were supposed to succeed made to think twice before assuming senior positions that could be their death warrants, the Party is more and more forced to rely on its military power to maintain its image as the single biggest threat to the government. Hence the increase in the number of ambushes, which now includes the deployment of improvised explosive devices (IED’s) akin to those used in Iraq by Al Qaeda. This, unfortunately, is not what “people’s war” is all about, but the CPP has really very little choice.
The other insurgency has taken a lot of headline space these days after the MILF and the government have come to terms over the issue of what exactly comprised the Moro people’s ancestral domain. The agreement came just at the right time for both protagonists. For Gloria Arroyo it was a chance to show Congress and the 13 percent who might watch her SONA that something is being done about the Mindanao war, and for the MILF, the agreement has further entrenched its position as the real spokesman (yes, the fundamentalist MILF is an all-male club) of the Moro people.
It is the criticism of weapons that has so far kept the MILF at the center of Mindanao’s political landscape (its senior adviser, the politico Michael Mastura once boasted at a donor’s conference that funders should listen to “us” because “we have the guns!”). A second look at this vaunted capability however raises certain question. Like the NPA, the MILF occasionally probes the AFP’s armor, the latest attacks a month or so before the above agreement (the MILF bosses claim these were tantrums by commanders who were supposedly frustrated at the slow pace of the negotiations).. But unlike the NPA, the MILF’s combat zones are extremely constricted — its forces rarely venture outside areas where the communities are under its control. Roughly, we are talking here of Maguindanao province, parts of Lanao del Sur (the southeastern portions), North Cotabato (towns bordering Lanao del Sur), Sulu and Basilan, and a little patch in South Cotabato. Not much of an area if placed in the larger island frame of Mindanao.
The MILF, in short, is fighting a defensive war and its attacks should be properly interpreted as warnings to the AFP to keep its units outside of rebel territory. They were never aimed to expand that space. And if the MILF does decides to “liberate” the rest of Mindanao in the name of the Bangsamoro, there is a 99 percent certainty that it will not even reach even the border of Southern Kudarat or go beyond Tubod, Lanao del Sur; all these despite its supposedly vaunted firepower (which, if one recalls, paled in comparison to the AFP’s when the two confronted each other in 2000).
To military limitations we add political insularity. The MILF has never disavowed that it is claiming Mindanao, Palawan and Sulu mainly for the Bangsa Moro, with the Christian majorities and lumad minorities having only minor, and the case of the lumad, no role at all in its realization. In fact it continues to stoke the resentment and biases of the latter by its military arrogance and dogmatic attachment to the myth of centuries-long of Moro resistance. The MILF has failed to realize that to ensure the success of its separatist goals, it must be able to draw in Christians and lumad into its fold. Unlike the CPP, the MILF feels no need for an NDF, and the reason for this is its belief that all Muslims are behind it.
This is not necessarily true. There is no solid evidence that the entire ummah is backs the MILF’s struggle. In fact frictions within the community are quite obvious. Family or clan loyalty is still far stronger than devotion to the Bangsamoro and prejudices abound between the three principal groups: the Maguindanaos, Maranaos, and Tausogs (again media seems to miss out on the fact that choices for ARMM are also often determined by which group’s turn to govern). Already, the recent hint by Arroyo’s people that elections to the ARMM may be postponed in the light of the ancestral domain agreement has elicited strong reservations from Muslim politicians whose role in the MILF’s Bangsamoro Judicial Entity is actually ill-defined. Are they expected to turn over power to the rebel group? One doubts if they will.
Insurgencies never win if the states they wish to overthrow do not collapse completely as a result of a major conventional war sustained by a steady supply of war material from powerful external sources. This was the case of the successful Asian communist revolutions of the 20th century. With the exception of East Timor, no other separatist movement has managed to break up a Southeast Asian nation-state. In fact, the universal path to success is through compromises with a nation’s government (see, in particular, the case of Burma). There is no such major war in the horizon for the Philippines and the patrons of Moro separatism are tired of wasting resources on a cause that appears to be succeeding better in the negotiating table than in the battlefield.
We will therefore most likely continue to be witness to these lingering-but-failing-to-succeed wars of the flea, their presence becoming more or less a permanent feature of our political narrative.
Free Press cover story
January 13, 2002 issue
Too early the birds of prey
by Manuel L. Quezon III
MAKING an ass of one’s self should be a basic human right, if only politicians could be denied this right because of the problems it causes other politicians and most of all, the public. To put matters in historical perspective, of the past presidents of this country, two were reelected to office (Manuel L. Quezon and Ferdinand E. Marcos), and only two former presidents ran for the position of president after having served as head of state: Emilio Aguinaldo, who went down in grumpy defeat in 1935, and Jose P. Laurel in 1949, though Laurel was the nobler in at least telling his supporters, who were as angry as Aguinaldo’s had been, not to mount a revolution.
Yet in the case of Aguinaldo and Laurel, there were extenuating circumstances in the cases of their candidacies. Aguinaldo was a political enemy of Quezon from 1922 to 1941, and was pushed by his supporters to run as a symbol of the aspirations of the Revolution; Laurel ran as much to vindicate his name as to achieve a mandate, never having been directly elected by the people to a position he served as a well-meaning head of a puppet government -indeed, it is interesting to note that both Aguinaldo, who ran in the first national presidential elections in 1935, and Laurel, who ran in the elections of 1949, were haunted by a desire to achieve what they never had when they were president: a genuine national mandate at the polls.
But one must consider, on the other hand, the cases of the only two presidents reelected: Quezon in 1935 and 1941, and Marcos in 1965 and 1969. Both tarnished their reputations by clinging to power beyond the terms allowed them by the Constitution under which they were elected. To this must be added the inevitability in the minds of many that had Quezon lived, he would have stepped down for a brief 2 years in order to run again in 1946 to be the first president of the independent Republic, and that Ramon Magsaysay would have run —and won— again, after his first term (and there are even those who suspect that Magsaysay, who imitated Quezon in so many ways, would have found a way to stay in office as long as possible as well). But fate decreed Quezon’s death in large part because of the strain of his final battle with Sergio Osmeña to cling to power, and fate had it in the cards that Ramon Magsaysay, like Manuel Roxas, would die before his first term ended, leaving Ferdinand Marcos to make every liberty-loving and democratic Filipinos’ nightmare come true: scrapping the Constitution, ignoring the laws, setting up a dictatorship that only fell when a country regained its dignity and courage and threw the man out of Malacañang.
Now to these negative examples add the examples of past presidents who could have run for office after the Constitutional limitations passed, and yet did not: the list is long. Sergio Osmena; Elpidio Quirino; Carlos P. Garcia; Diosdado Macapagal; Corazon Aquino. Except for Aquino, all the rest suffered defeat in their quest for reelection to a second term, yet had an opportunity (at least in the cases of Osmena, Garcia and Macapagal) to run for president again if they wished. But they never wished to. None of them ever fully retired from politics; they preferred to be consulted as elder statesmen; two of them, Garcia and Macapagal, chose to run for, be elected delegates to, and then presidents of, the 1971-73 Constitutional Convention. But the presidency, having been denied them in the past, was something they never sought again as a political prize.
The fact is that it should be enough for a former president to have had the honor and privilege of serving the country once, or in the old days twice, and end it at that. The exemplar of how a former president should conduct himself after leaving office is of course, Sergio Osmena, who represented many of the political virtues of the country, anyway; to a lesser extent, there are the examples of Aguinaldo and Laurel, the former reconciling himself to playing elder statesman, the latter choosing to serve in the senate as long as he could and even serve other presidents. There are the examples, too, of Garcia and Macapagal: the former went into quiet retirement until the ConCon and then died 24 hours after being sworn in as president of the convention; Macapagal, after a checkered experience with presiding and eventually losing control over the ConCon at least followed Aguinaldo’s path and quietly learned to enjoy the role of elder statesman; poor Elpidio Quirino lived too briefly after leaving office to accomplish much more than begin his memoirs and reach a touching reconciliation with his erstwhile protégé, Magsaysay.
Enter Fidel V. Ramos, former and, to the minds of too many, including quite possibly the mind of Mr. Ramos himself, future President of the Republic of the Philippines. Enter Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, present president and, almost indubitably, candidate for the position in 2004. What of them?
Of Fidel Ramos, one should note immediately what has been whispered about town almost from the moment he left office -the man has never grown accustomed to not wielding the reins of power. He wanted to amend the Constitution to allow himself either two more years in the manner of Quezon, or transform the country to a parliamentary system which was the original Marcos plan to perpetuate himself in power. This grand design failed in the face of the intransigence of Corazon Aquino (former president who seems not to miss being president at all), Cardinal Sin, a multitude of Filipinos, and one Joseph Ejercito Estrada who would be damned if his sure election to the presidency would be postponed even for a minute by a man he loathed.
Result? A lost kibbitzer, which Mr. Ramos is of the first order, as proven by his most unpresidential behavior during Joseph Estrada’s inauguration at Barasoain. The man tried to steal the limelight every moment he could, and then loftily proclaimed that under Estrada, he would be pleased to play the role of Elder Statesman in an official capacity, much to the amusement of everyone who head Ramos say these things. However, neither public derision, or skepticism, or outright hostility has ever deterred Mr. Ramos from doing what he pleases, and it has pleased him to use the time in between his never-ending globetrotting to keep himself in the limelight, including first, playing a lecturing uncle to Estrada, and then supposed pillar of the opposition when Estrada grew impatient with his “advice,” and now, gadfly and thorn in the side of Mrs. Arroyo. Perhaps Mr. Ramos feels that if Cory Aquino can bring down one government after stopping the attempts at charter change of two other presidents dead in their tracks, he has similar powers.
Perhaps. Although if this is the case, then it only proves that the man has an axe to grind against the woman who broke tradition to attend his inauguration (for perfectly legitimate symbolic reasons, the inauguration of Ramos was the first democratic handover of power since 1965) and put country ahead of her having given him her previous blessings in firmly saying “no” to his obvious desire to prolong his stay in office. One is forced to wonder if Fidel Ramos is not only ungrateful when it comes to Cory Aquino, but whether he actively dislikes her now -which would make him a petty, mean, and small-minded man.
Or could it be Fidel Ramos simply is getting old and too dense to realize the reason Cory Aquino can be an influential ex-president and Fidel Ramos may be influential, but not popular, and lacks what he seems to crave: a nation, on bended knee, begging him to return to Malacanang? Were this the case, then at least one can conclude Fidel Ramos is not petty, mean and small-minded but suffering from well-intentioned delusions: of being an irreplaceable man, of believing as gospel truth the insincere flattery of the sycophants that surround any politician, and the quite human refusal to recognize his own mortality and accept being put out to political pasture, since he is by no means, ancient. The reason Cory Aquino has the influence and respect she has, and Ramos does not, is that she is the only president in our history to say one term is enough, I’ve had it, and left Malacanang without looking back and probably murmuring “good riddance” the whole time. In short, she has what Fidel Ramos has never, ever, had in his life or career: moral ascendancy.
Fidel Ramos is too fidgety, too eager the attention-seeker, too enthusiastic the opiner, too happy the meddler, to be respected or have moral ascendancy of any sort. This is not to say he does not have influence, for he does; this is not to say he does not have political supporters, for he does; but it is to say that as far as the public is concerned, Fidel Ramos is history and had better accept the fact that he belongs to the past and not the future. One need only listen to the verbal abuse he was subjected to by the great unwashed at Edsa III to recognize this; and aside from the usual businessmen who value the illusion of Fidel Ramos being “Steady Eddie,” and who crave a man who will be content to go on junkets and turn a blind eye to anything so long as he gets the perks (a bad executive habit he shared with Joseph Estrada except in comparison to Estrada’s being uncouth about corruption, even Ramos’s most vicious detractors give him credit for being suave when it came to the corruption they are convinced he was a party to during his term).
To be a president or past president is, of course, not to be divine; which means Fidel Ramos is as likely to fall prey to illusions as much as the next man. He probably thinks the can still do good for the country, that the country needs him, and if the country were only given a chance it would fall to the ground in gratitude and kiss his feet were he to have the chance to be president again. This explains the never-ending and, really, tiring controversy of the day, which is the alleged rift between President Arroyo and former president Ramos over an election two years away. Fidel Ramos already suffers from the perception too widely held that he at one point pulled all the strings in the new Arroyo administration, or tried to, which made him as much the object of the poor’s equally deluded wrath in May 2001, as President Arroyo herself. And as for President Arroyo, she suffers from two insecurities: the fact that she was elevated to the presidency by succession and not election, and under the most confused of circumstances at that; and that she is the first child of a president who seems to have a chance to break the long curse, it seems, that has afflicted the children of past presidents -none of them ever make it to Malacanang although the senate and Vice-Presidency have been proven to not be beyond their reach.
For a politician and a businessman and even a soldier, and even for certain members of our uncivilized civil society, Fidel Ramos has the virtue of exuding an aura of dynamism, of calm, of precise, methodical working habits and discipline. How close perceptions are to the truth only those truly close to him can answer; but the fact is that there are those with influence and money who believe there exists a Steady Eddie and wouldn’t mind Ramos back. For the same politicians and businessmen, the problem with President Arroyo is that even if she is equally hard working, she happens to be frugal, as hot-tempered as Ramos but far from being his peer in hiding the fact, and she is a woman who suffers from the idea she has nothing to lose by actually giving the country as honest an administration as is possible given our society’s limitations. That, and the fact there is that onus on presidential children and that they might get stuck with her for nine uninterrupted years. The ramifications of a fairly clean, competent, and hard-working government are simply too frightening for these people to contemplate.
And thus the need to at least obtain leverage on Mrs. Arroyo by way of using Fidel Ramos as a threat. After all, Mr. Ramos is willing and able to be used as such a tool, indeed he may have thought up the idea of using the bogey of a Ramos for President campaign in 2004 as a potential spoiler to exact concessions from the administration, which has enough of a problem on its hands with fulfilling its promises, neutralizing its enemies, and keeping the country together during tough times.
Fidel Ramos would never win another presidential election even if Mrs. Arroyo dropped dead and a way was found to make monkeys run against Ramos the way Marcos engineered his farcical martial law presidential elections. What can happen is Fidel Ramos could ensure that if he can’t win, neither can Mrs. Arroyo, but it wouldn’t be in the interest of either to give away the election in 2004 to the opposition, which is indeed vicious, ruthless, has many axes to grind, and much dirt to dish out against the two.
Hence the view of this writer than Mr. Ramos is either extremely delusional or out to keep himself in the political loop and be a powerbroker of sorts, if not an actual shadow president (the best of both worlds). The fact that Joe de Venecia, who has the biggest chance of being Prime Minister for life were we to go parliamentary, is as usual going out of his way to get into trouble trying to patch things up between former president Ramos and President Macapagal, is no surprise or mystery. De Venecia is simply too nice, too compleat the politician, to give the opposition ammunition when things could all be quietly smoothed out to his party’s advantage.
The spoiler of course is Mrs. Arroyo’s determination not to be anyone’s patsy; she may have, as all presidents have done, tried to pay her dues in the early part of her administration, but she can clearly see, if she has half a brain (and no one doubts she has not just half but quite a complete one), that she needs a mandate, a real mandate, and that her political destiny must be played out as her father’s was -either to a happier conclusion by way of election in 2004, or defeat, as her father endured in 1965. But she has no other option but to stay the course and fight.
That having been said, this is all, then, a testing of the waters. The West Pointer in Ramos is probing the defenses of the administration, looking for its weaknesses. His archskeptics are under the impression his real aim is to simply be done with a Constitution that he could not amend to satisfy his ambitions, and be called upon to trot out on a white horse and restore the lost era of Philippines 2000. No one with any intellectual honesty can deny that Mr. Ramos’s actions to date, down to calling a radio station to muse on the need to file a test case to figure out if he’s entitled to run legitimately in the next election, only serve to reinforce the worst perceptions that exist of the man. Nor can anyone deny the political and even personal imperatives that would drive Mrs. Arroyo to seek election in 2004 come hell or high water, if only to prove her critics wrong, and be remembered not as a woman who inherited the presidential mantle, but who earned it in her own right.
So Fidel Ramos says he is not running —period, period, period. Though the country is used to his three periods being the ellipse that leads to a pregnant pause that leads others to begin to have paranoid attacks (which Ramos surely enjoys). The President, on the other hand, truthfully says she is too busy worrying about the here and now to fuss over 2004, though even in that she is being disingenuous -but then which president entitled to reelection, with the exception of Cory Aquino- ever was anything but disingenuous about the possibility of their running again? Even Cory Aquino, who was not bound by the term limitations of the Charter approved during her term, kept her options open if only to keep from becoming a lame duck. The only president in our history who ever committed political suicide was Joseph Estrada and neither Ramos nor Arroyo are Estrada. There is no surer way to commit political hara-kiri than to say you have no intention of running for reelection when you can -and be believed.
The whole non-issue then boils down to a rift between the Lakas-NUCD people who grew fat and soft under Ramos, and who aren’t pleased that they are expected to stay relatively lean during the Arroyo New Era Part 2. The whole issue is that having abandoned the Liberals, and never having established a cohesive hard-core party of loyalists of her own, Mrs. Arroyo is not in full control of the party she is putatively the chief of, but which recalls its salad days as having been under Fidel Ramos. Ramos may be circulating offering them a chance of reliving the good old days when boys could be boys, businessmen could do business under a regime that was all light and sound, and not hard work as it is at present.
Pie in the sky, Ramos-style, versus the drudgery of the dirty kitchen, Arroyo-style. Were you a politician you would at least give pause to the thought that life would be tough under another six years of Arroyo, and positively miserable if not dangerous to life and limb under a Ping Lacson regime: so why not, indeed, a return to steady Eddie.
We shall have to see who has the last wink. Or who raises her eyebrow last in satisfaction as her opponent folds.
Note: this essay was commissioned for The Philippine Century: 1900-2000, published by the Philippines Free Press
Memories of a martial law minor
By Charlson Ong
I was twelve when Martial Law was declared. Too young for activism but old enough to have followed Ronnie Nathanieslz’ live updates on demonstrations in Plaza Miranda over radio; to have read Pete Lacaba’s scintillating reportage on the ‘Battle of Mendiola;’ to have been fascinated by my elder brother’s accounts of teach-ins at the Ateneo and the U.P.; to be intrigued by the presence of firearms and Maoist literature at our neighbor’s bodega; and be captivated by Ninoy’s eloquent put downs of Marcos on TV.
If I were older and in college, I too might have been caught up in the romance and rage of the times, gone to the hills when the time came to choose or settled down eventually to a comfortable mid-life with memories of the ‘First Quarter Storm’ and the ‘Diliman Commune.’ As it is I must contend myself with listening to the reminiscences of the ‘veterans’ of those days, feeling oddly that I had missed out on the most exciting period in this country’s post war history by a few years and increasingly convinced that our generation had been denied its place in history, had in fact become the subject of a most comprehensive, if not cynical, social experiment.
Still, I remember Damian Sotto, large and swarthy, cursing to high heavens, spewing venom, fouling up the airwaves with his diatribes against all and sundry. His every other adjective would likely be bleeped off today’s language sensitive primetime TV. We were never clear on his politics or advocacies, it was simply fascinating to listen to an adult using such language on TV that would have earned for us kids a dressing down from parents and teachers.
There was Soc Rodrigo and his Kuro Kuro, sober and thoughtful, his Tagalog sublime. There was Ninoy, clean cut and chubby, showing us scenes from a fast growing Taiwan, saying how this country could similarly take-off once his Liberal Party assumed power. There was Eddie Ilarde on Student Canteen, Orly Mercado on Radyo Patrol, Akong on Kwentong Kutsero. There was my father staying up to the wee hours hoping to catch the x-rated flicks that communists propagandists were supposedly broadcasting clandestinely as part of their destabilization campaign. There was Yvonne centerfolded in Pic magazine, another publication whose early demise we truly mourned. There was the Quintero expose and the Jabbidah Massacre. There was Rossana Ortiz, Jessica, Saging ni Pasing all at the mini-theatre along Recto. There was Bayside, Wells Fargo, the Flame, and other joints along Roxas Blvd. where my elder siblings and uncles went to for booze, roulette and slot machines. Rock was heavy and grass was cheap. It was crass, vulgar, decadent and exciting.
And then it ended. Not at once but sudden enough to catch the best of them off guard. I remember the tension that pervaded our household. The older people cautioned against discussing politics over the phone. School was suspended indefinitely and the streets, empty. Downtown Manila became a ghost town. The world had ended while we slept through the night of Sept. 22-23, 1972.
Red flags and raised fists
By Dan Mariano
Special to the Century Book
DURING the 1950s and early 1960s, nationalism was equated with communism. Filipinos were, in general, perfectly content to be regarded as the Americans’ “little brown brothers.”
Yet, in this sea of colonial mentality emerged islands of nationalism that invoked the unresolved conflict between Philippine Independence and America’s Manifest Destiny at the turn of the century.
These nationalist pockets were initially manned by politicians such as Claro M. Recto, Jose P. Laurel and Lorenzo Tañada, who gave inspiration t o associations like the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN). By the mid-l960s, nationalism began to attract a younger crop of Filipinos.
In l964, a group of university students founded the Kabataang Makabayan. By l968, the KM’s patriotic platform was reinforced by Mao Zedong Thought. Later, that same year, its leading members—who had previously been associated with MAN—and several Huk commanders disenchanted with the old PKP declared the “re–establishment” of the Communist Party of Philippines along Maoist lines on December 26.
On March 29 of the following year, the New People’s Army (NPA) was organized, announcing the CPP’s determination to capture state power through armed struggle.
IN 1969, with the relaxation of sexual standards came the proliferation of pornography. Local movie producers made a killing out of films that titillated previously conservative Filipinos with frontal nudity and graphic bed scenes. A mere decade was all it took for the local film industry to take a licentious leap from wholesome, family-oriented movies like “Ibiang, Mahal Kita” to the salacious “Ang Saging ni Pacing,” which left little to the imagination.
Adding to the Mardi Gras-like atmosphere of 1969 were the lavish parties that the elite threw, giving currency to the phrase “ostentatious display of wealth.” The grandest of these was a banquet staged by the Lopezes—kingpins of the sugar bloc and owners of the country’s biggest broadcasting network and electric utility—where champagne flowed, literally, from a fountain.
IF 1969 was Fat Tuesday, 1970 became the nation’s Good Friday when popular passions reached boiling point.
Ferdinand Marcos had just won an unprecedented second term in an election that his political rivals and independent observers alike claimed were the dirtiest in the nation’s political history. Nevertheless, Marcos felt that his reelection vindicated the “record of performance” of his first term, which witnessed an explosion of public works construction that, for the most part, was financed with Japanese war reparations.
Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent 100-percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2:$1 to P4:$1, then P8:$1. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.
When he delivered his State of the Nation Address on the afternoon January 26, 1970 before a joint session of Congress, the popularity that allowed him to win reelection the year before was already badly eroded.
Outside the legislative building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention. As Marcos stepped out of the building and onto the driveway, a papier-mâché crocodile (representing government corruption) and a make shift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew in his direction. Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped off away from the angry mob. Moments later, Manila police armed with truncheons and rattan shields attacked the student demonstrators who fought back with empty soft drink bottle, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.
The first encounter of what would later be called the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970 ran for several hours with either side gaining, losing and retaking ground on. J. Burgos Street in front of what was then the congress building. Another phrase would gain currency that evening: “police brutality.”
Rarely did the protesters number more than 10,000 at any given demonstration, but the impression they left was of a whole generation rising up in rebellion.
THE main focus of 1971 was the election for eight seats in the Senate. The bloody events leading up to the voting would exert a marked influence on the outcome.
Emboldened by the phenomenal growth of the youth movement, UP students occupied the Diliman campus and barricaded its main roads. In this, they won the support of the faculty, non-academic personnel and virtually the entire UP community.
The campus remained under the students’ control for several days until the university radio station began broadcasting a tape recording purportedly of Marcos making love to an American starlet, Dovie Beams. That proved to be the last straw. The President ordered the PC Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) to retake the campus. The first thing the troops did after dispersing the protesters was to smash the transmission equipment of DZUP, which was never heard from again.
On the eve of the by-election, the opposition Liberal Party was holding its final rally at Plaza Miranda when all of a sudden the stage was rocked with an explosion that was soon followed by another. The grenade attack killed about a dozen people and injured scores of others, including LP senatorial candidates Jovito Salonga, Ramon Mitra, Eddie Ilarde and Eva Estrada Kalaw.
The blame quickly fell on Marcos, who merely encouraged the popular suspicion by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus that same evening.
BY 1972, the feeling of dread that Marcos was up to no good had become so palpable that even sections of the press that had once given him favorable coverage began to turn critical and pro-opposition. Thus, when Senator Aquino delivered a privileged speech exposing an alleged plot to justify the declaration of martial law, the media painted the town red with the explosive disclosure.
The plot, codenamed Oplan Sagittarius, contained all the incidents that had already taken place that would lead the public to conclude that the situation was getting out of hand, the communists were running berserk, the political opposition was encouraging civil unrest and, therefore, the government had to step in to regain control.
All that needed to be carried out, according to the plot, was an attempt on the life of a high-ranking official of the Marcos administration.
That scenario unfolded one night in September 1972. The following day, the newspapers ran pictures of a car assigned to Enrile that bore so many bullet holes only a miracle could have made the defense secretary come out of it alive. Years later, after leading a coup against Marcos, Enrile would confess that the ambush had been staged.
Days later, Filipinos woke up to find their radios eerily silent. No newsboy came around to deliver the papers. Later in the afternoon, the television station owned by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto went on the air and asked viewers to stand by for a very important announcement direct from Malacañang.
The talking head that eventually came into view belonged to Francisco Tatad. With all the solemnity that he could muster, the press secretary announced that Marcos had issued Proclamation No. 1081 placing the entire country under martial law.
The nightmare had begun.
Philippines Free Press Person of the Century:
Corazon C. Aquino
By Manuel L. Quezon III
December 30, 1999–YEAR after year, for nearly three generations, the Philippines FREE PRESS has bestowed the distinction of Man or Woman of the Year on the Filipino who has had the most influence on the country for the year in question. Over the past 91 years of its existence, this magazine has seen leaders come and go; it has seen them rise and fall; and it knows, as no other institution can, which leaders have made a positive difference in the destiny of the Philippines and its people. Having covered leaders, having seen them up close -faults, foibles, virtues and all- the FREE PRESS knows that the leaders (and the leadership) that counts is what the American writer Garry Wills defined as “Trinitarian”: not just the push and pull between a leader and his followers, not merely the stories of people who have had great numbers either pushing them forward or being hectored onward by them, but rather the leaders who mobilized “others toward a goal shared by leader and followers.” As Wills points out, “one-legged and two-legged chairs do not, of themselves, stand. A third leg is needed. Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”
Of the leaders entitled to consideration as the Philippines Free Press’s Person of the Century a short list of six comes to mind: Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Ramon Magsaysay, Claro M. Recto, Ninoy Aquino and Corazon Aquino. All of them were leaders, successful in their political careers and admired by their contemporaries; they had followers and they had goals which their followers shared. All of them have been both hailed and lambasted in the pages of this magazine over the years. And yet, time and again throughout its long history, the FREE PRESS has always returned to these leaders as exemplars of positive leadership –in contrast to that other Filipino, Ferdinand E. Marcos, who affected our lives and our history completely negatively: he was, after all, a leader, and had followers; but his goals, many of them achieved only at gunpoint, were rejected by the majority of his people.
Raul Manglapus: Pied Piper of Democracy
By Manuel L. Quezon III
NO one sings “Blue Eagle the King” anymore, and no Atenean belonging to the martial law baby generation knows his music at all; but of the many songs he composed, one lives on: “Mambo Magsaysay,” the anthem of the Age of the Bakya and to this day, the song of those who believe that democracy can work in the Philippines.
Raul Manglapus, the composer of the Magsaysay campaign song, was born in Manila on October 20, 1918. A noted student orator, he became one of the best-known alumni of the Ateneo de Manila. He represented a generation that came of age during the War (Manglapus would suffer imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese because of his guerrilla activities) and which attempted to reinvigorate the politics of their country so as to wrest it from the clutches of the ward heelers.
After the war, Manglapus was a journalist – he was present at the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay- and a professor. Together with Manny Manahan and other Magsaysay die-hards, Manglapus (appointed Assistant Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and then Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1957 by Magsaysay) found himself in the corridors of power – corridors from which it was hoped the tayo-tayo politics of the past had been banished. But the era of good government proved all too fleeting; the death of Magsaysay returned the control of Malacanang to the old hands that had inspired the revulsion that made people like Manglapus enter politics in the first place. He was catapulted to the Senate in 1961 as the symbol of a new generation that hoped to bring back the principles of politics a la Magsaysay. And Manglapus, together with so many others, would find himself dedicating the rest of his life to the return of honest governance to the people.
In 1965 Manglapus thought that he would be the man to do just that, as president. Instead, he helped divide the electorate between himself and Macapagal, handing the presidency to Ferdinand Marcos. He would try to do his part in the Constitutional Convention in 1971, and yet was mercifully spared arrest because he happened to be abroad when martial law was imposed.
He lived far from splendidly in exile, leading the decimated ranks of the politicians who did not succumb to the blandishments of Marcos. When so many of his peers, so many of his countrymen, avidly embraced the dictatorship, he was among the very few who opposed it from the start. And while it is true he did not starve in exile, neither did he live in luxury or dissipation. For speaking out when so many embraced Marcos, he deserves the nation’s thanks. He spent 13 years as a political refugee, lobbying in Washington against the dictatorship.
The return of Freedom brought the return of Manglapus, who, once more, was returned to the senate in 1987, only to resign his position to serve President Aquino. As Aquino’s secretary of foreign affairs he found his own words to be his biggest liability as a public servant; he played an instrumental part in the botched attempt to extend the RP-US Bases agreement which led to the expulsion of those bases.
When his President departed from office, he agreed to serve the next one.
The less said about Manglapus’s service during the Ramos administration, the better. By then, anyway, he was more of a figurehead put out to pasture.
Manglapus was a learned and polished man, one of the last of the romantics when it came to politics. He genuinely believed in reform, and yet found it too distasteful to engage in the sort of ruthless politics that is necessary to achieve the power necessary to initiate genuine reform. And so he found himself politically frustrated at every turn. In retirement, he returned to writing, and to playing music with old friends. He would not be, as he had so earnestly hoped, become the pied piper of democracy. But he tried his damndest to be just that.
What the nation must recall is the young Atenean with the golden tongue and a musical gift, who spoke out for the common tao before Word War II, and who fought the Japanese. He deserves recognition for being part of the Magsaysay revolution and for keeping lonely vigil during the dark days of martial law. Those are achievements enough for any man.
I remember three faces of Manglapus. In exile in Washington, he was a little dark man bundled up in an overcoat, hat and scarf, dignified but it seemed, so very grim: a man carrying the shame of a subjugated nation on his shoulders. As Aquino’s foreign Secretary he was cultivated and urbane, a man of many languages who dreamed of an Internationale of Newly-Restored Democracies. There was an amused twinkle in his one good eye, as if he wanted to say to all those who saw him that he had trodded the path of power once before and was not too impressed with it the second time around.
Then there was Manglapus the elder statesman, beholden to no one, free to speak his own mind, esconced in his position as titular head of the ruling party. This was the Manglapus who, apropos of constituional amendments for President Ramos, pointed out that what Ramos was trying to do had been done before, so what was the big deal? This was the Manglapus of the Malacañang-dispensed sinecure who bothered his long-time admirers to distraction: but perhaps it was because the young firebrand had mellowed with age, and now had the experience and -shall we say wisdom?- to say the truths that his followers still found hard to believe.
Raul Manglapus was a man with a formidable intellect and so many gifts, all of which he unhesitatingly offered to his country. Others have said that he was too far ahead of his time in espousing many of the dreams he cherished; or perhaps it is better to say that he will always be ahead of his time, and that his dreams belong to men who themselves are good, and connot believe that their countrymen cannot be good as well.
The First Gentleman of Cebu
By Manuel L. Quezon III
IN many respects, he was a modern-day Jose Yulo. A gentle, self-effacing and accomplished man, privileged to have served in all three branches of government, and in two of them with distinction. For like Jose Yulo, Marcelo Fernan had the distinction of not only heading a chamber of the legislature, but of becoming the Chief Justice of the land. Yulo became Speaker of the National Assembly after serving in the cabinet, and then became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Mercelo Fernan, after being in the puppet Assembly of the Marcos regime, became Chief Justice and then ended his career as a senator who had become Senate President.
Marcelo Fernan, too, was compared to the man Free Press readers used to call the “Private Citizen No. 1″ during his long retirement from active politics: Sergio Osmeña. Indeed, in his many years as the most prominent politician from Cebu, Marcelo Fernan did all he could do keep the memory of that exemplar of the gentleman-politico alive. Fernan would help establish the Sergio Osmeña memorial lectures. And like Osmeña, Fernan, while being considered an accomplished politician in his own right, was primarily considered by his peers to be something much more special: a kind, considerate gentlemen who was not too obsessed with power and privilege. And while he did not obsessively seek honors, honors sought him out. At the time of his death his walls were covered with plaques and citations and awards, both for his political achievements and for what he did as a private lawyer, educator, and loyal son of the Church.
Born in 1927, he belonged to the generation that found its childhood cut short by the war; he was even detained by the Japanese. Returning to school after peace was restored, he would tell his friends he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Manuel Briones, one time senator, failed candidate for vice-president, and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In one sense the ambition he confessed to his friends would find fruition: he would be all that his uncle was, and more. He became Senate President.
Fernan succesfully took the bar (he graduated from the University of the Philippines and yet bring more honor to his alma mater than that other famous Upean, Ferdinand Marcos),and became a succesful lawyer, making himself an honest and comfortable living. He began to teach; he married; he became a father and life was prosperous.
In 1959, Fernan’s political career began with his succesful candidacy for for membership in the Cebu City Planning Board. In 1962 he would run succesfully for membership in the Cebu Provincial Board. In 1971, he declared his candidacy for the position of delegate to the Constitutional Convention and won.
It was as a member of the ill-fated Con-Con that he would achieve greatness.
When, in 1973, cowed, bribed or deluded delegates meekly voted to approve the Marcos charter, Marcelo Fernan became one of only 16 delegates who did not succumb to the temptation to sell out, in the hope of preferment from the dictator or the pious hope that having voted for the charter, they would be in a position to convert Marcos back to the ways of democracy. Fernan voted “no” to the Charter; so many others voted yes. Years later, when delegates led by Diosdado Macapagal would try to undo what they had gamely acceded to previously by reconvening a rump Convention and declaring the 1973 Constitution null and void, Fernan could repeat what he said of the Marcos charter: “I did not sire it; it’s not even my bastard.” That dubious distinction would haunt the other delegates to their graves. He was not greedy, and so he could not be bribed; he was not that ambitious, and so he did not sell his vote for the chimerical expectation of a seat in the Interim National Assembly. He was not so short-sighted as to think that his countrymen would forget which way he voted when the roll call was called.
The greatness Fernan achieved in the moment he voted against the Marcos Constitution was never sullied by his eventually joining the ranks of the dictator’s party machine. He participated in the elections of 1982 and became a member of the rubber-stamp Batasang Pambansa â‚¬â€œbut as a member of the opposition, becoming minority floor leader. His good friends the Osmenas reduced to political impotence, he alone at time represented the old guard of the anti-Marcos opposition in Cebu. And when the time came for him to do his part to add to the final push that toppled the dictatorship, he did so. It was as a member of that dubious assembly that Fernan participated in the efforts to expose Marcos’s attempts to rig the 1986 snap elections. And unlike so many members of the Batasan, when it was quietly dissolved, Fernan went quietly. He was never one to hold on to a position at the expense of his dignity.
A grateful President Aquino elevated him to the Supreme Court. In three short years he found himself the 19th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. And under his watch the Supreme Court maintained its newly-restored independence. He did not leave elective office in order to become a toady. Indeed, the Fernan Court handed down decisions that irked the Aquino administration; and yet it gained the respect of that administration precisely because of the Fernan Court refusing to succumb to any political pressure, real or imagined. And when, in 1989, Fernan was offered the titular leadership of a Junta to be established by the putschists, Fernan turned them down just as he had turned down an offer by Ferdinand Marcos to put him in the Supreme Court. Fernan would be loyal to his Republic: he did not fight Marcos, he declared on national television, only to be a party to the destruction of consitutional government by the military.
As Chief Justice, Fernan was proud of having established the system of having continuous trials which, if it did not radically improve the quality of justice that was dispensed, at least caused the wheels of justice to grind less slowly.
But in 1991 Fernan relinquished the supreme magistracy of the land in order to porsue an altogether different ambition: to be president, or, if he would not be president, to be vice-president. He would, in the end, become neither. He had agonized too long over the question of resigning from the Supreme Court; he had been too slow to answer the call of ambition. And when he did, he found himself outspent and outfoxed, even when he decided to accept the nomination for the vice-presidency instead. There he found himself pitted against the unbeatable Joseph Estrada. He lost.
Like Sergio Osmena, he accepted the will of the people and returned to the practice of law, focusing on giving legal assistance to those who needed it most: the poor.
1995 and the senatorial election in that year found him given a new breath of political life, this time as a member of the Philippine Senate. He was elected on the Lakas-Laban ticket. It would turn out to be the last position of public trust to be given him by an admiring people. In the Senate, he became Assistant Majority Leader and sponsored his share of legislation. Three years later, on July 27, 1998, he was elected Senate President, succeeding Neptali Gonzalez.
As senator and Senate President, Marcelo Fernan would again achieve greatness, but not because of any particular political act on his part, but because of who he was. While his very elevation to the position of Senate President had less to do with his clout as a senator and more to do with his seniority and lack of ambition making him a soothing paterfamilias for the fractuous Senate- as Senate President he demonstrated what his life was all about: courage, dignity, duty.
Shortly after becoming Senate President, Fernan was diagnosed as having a lesion in the lung; he went to the United States to have it removed. But the cancer was metastizing too fast. This was one battle he could not win; but like other battles he fought, Fernan decided that it was not winning that mattered; it was how one fought. He decided he would stick to his post as long as he was able, and do the job the people had elected him to do. But he would do little to disguise the toll the cancer was taking on his health and appearance.
Always a dapper man, he caused a stir when he acknowledged in public what his nemesis Marcos had so earnestly tried to hide from his people: Marcelo Fernan admitted he was ill and showed the signs of his ailment, although he and his family would remain mum on the subject of what his illness actually was.
But the public knew, and the public sympathized with the sight of a chemotherapy-ravaged Senate President being wheeled to the podium to preside over tedious sessions.
Under his watch, the Senate found its debates reach a low point during the deliberations on the Visiting Forces Agreement; but what would be of consequence was not the actual vote on the VFA, but the quiet courage of the man who almost single-handedly tried to maintain the dignity of the chamber he presided over. Indeed the Senate passed no distinguished legislation while Fernan was Senate President, save for the VFA and one law that will go down in history as significant: the decision, by the Senate, to relinquish its pork barrel, a bold move that the lower house did not approve of.
And then it was time to go. And Marcelo Fernan did go, not stubbornly holding on to the position he had achieved to the bitter end as others might have done and so many expected. His battle with cancer lost, the time had come to make peace with his maker, and this he did. He resigned the Senate presidency, though not his position as senator, and the next thing the public knew, he was gone.
With his passing the country paused to take stock of the career of a man who represented something that will not be seen again: the seasoned politician who never forgot what it meant to be a gentleman. He was good, kind, studious and refined; most of all, he had principles.
He was like Sergio Osmeña, he was like Jose Yulo; and like the peers of those two men, his contemporaries were found by the public to be wanting in the characteristics that evoke the gratitude of a people. Even as Fernan faced death, his fellow senators began the bruising and humiliating battle for the Senate that resulted in a Solomonic solution that made no one happy, and which necessitated the intervention of the President: something against the most cherished traditions of the chamber Fernan once headed. Fernan did not bow to Marcos when in the Con-con, he did not bow to Marcos when he was in the Batasan, he did not bow to Aquino in the Supreme Court and he did not bow to Ramos and Estrada when he was in the Senate. But as he lay dying, it was not to his fellow senators that those fighting over his mantle as Senate chief ran to; it was to the President. And it was the President, as the Free Press suggested, who weighed in and decreed the new leadership in contravention of conventional wisdom: Old Marcos hand Blas Ople got the Senate presidency, while Franklin Drilon, who did so much to foster the impression he was Fernan’s anointed, was told to cool his heels until his time would come. And all the while, as Fernan lay dying, the Senate too was giving up the ghost on whatever pretentions to independence it still had. When Blas Ople and Franklin Drilon took turns orating before Fernan’s bier, paying him the unprecedented honor of holding his necrological service during the session, they were bidding farewell not only to a rare individual, but to one of the most cherished —and most often lost, if not often regained— pretentions of the chamber they belonged to: its independence from the Palace.
How quickly can the meaning of a life be forgotten by those who claim to have admired it.
Marcelo Fernan, near the end of his life, mused to a writer that his final illness had taught him that political power and official positions were as nothing in the larger scheme of things. He saw what too few of his fellow politicians have come to realize; the pity is that with his death there will be no more like him, capable of realizing such humbling truths.