Come September 11, 2017, it will be a holiday in Ilocos Norte Province. This is not new in the sense that Ilocanos have been annually celebrating the birth anniversary of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. This Monday is distinguished because it would be the 100th birth year of Marcos, and no less than a proclamation issued upon authority of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has designated that it be a special non-working day in the province.
There is nothing inherently wrong with marking the birth centennial of a former head of state. But we cannot ignore contexts.
In this case, the contexts are that there is government legislation (RA 10368, as amended by RA 10766) that recognizes that Marcos had done wrong to many people, and to address the injustice there should be compensation and memorialization; 248 cases had been filed against the Marcos family and their cronies; and the 1987 Philippine Constitution, born of anti-dictatorship struggle, does not prohibit the declaration of Martial Law but makes it difficult to do so to prevent a return to authoritarianism and military abuses.
This administration’s actions towards the deposed president cannot but be viewed from these contexts.
President Duterte allowed a hero’s burial for Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on November 18, 2016. In the course of his first year of office he publicly made statements casting aspersions on the reality of human rights violations during the time of the dictatorship, and said that had Marcos not stayed long as dictator “pinaka the best na presidenteng dumaan, Marcos.”
He invoked law, arguing that there is no policy prohibiting the burial, and blamed previous administrations for their non-action. He candidly expressed gratitude to the Marcos family for their support during the elections, publicly naming Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos as donor although her name was not part of the Statement of Contributions and Expenditures submitted by his camp to the COMELEC.
It appears that by declaring Martial Law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus over the entire Mindanao to deal with a crisis that more than three months after it broke out is still mainly confined to Marawi City, President Duterte lifted a classic page from the Marcos playbook.
The President said his approach to Martial Law will be harsh, like that of Marcos. “Harsh” is an apt description for the situation in Marawi, the eastern area of which has been destroyed by sustained airstrikes and heavy artillery. There is no denying the need to relentlessly go after the violent extremist fighters of the Dawla Islamiyya or Maute Group and others similarly inclined. But it needs to be asked whether the present damage to the city, and the future uncertainties for Marawi and its peoples are proportionate to whatever operational advantage the security sector might have gained in operations that have been described as “overkill.”
Many online Mindanaoans, mostly urban-based, attest to gaining a sense of stability and safety under Martial Law Duterte-style. Unfortunately, extraordinary measures have now become the norm for dealing with criminality and disorder; to the point that it seems that “military supremacy” is what it takes to address matters that used to be under the domain of law enforcement. That Proclamation 216 got extended to December 2017 with relatively little challenge from legislators and the judiciary reinforces the notion that it is the new “normal.”
The President recently announced that he had been approached about a settlement with the Marcoses, and the return of part of their “wealth in question.” What used to be referred to as Marcos’s plunder of Philippine coffers got sanitized in the reframing that “their father was protecting the economy.” It also appears that the Marcos family, which has neither acknowledged nor apologized for their wrongdoings, is now in position to dictate the settlement terms.
Over a period of 30 years the past five administrations missed their chances at systematically and effectively dismantling the complex machinery of authoritarianism and impunity in order to prevent the return to power of the Marcoses and the interests they represent.
It took President Duterte only over a year to practically hand to the Marcoses political rehabilitation on a silver platter. He does not have to by the way; there is no law compelling him. Why is he choosing to do so?
What explains President Duterte’s affinity with Marcos? Payback for political patronage? One strongman’s adulation of another’s memory and ways? The conviction that only strongman rule would resolve the problems of the Philippines? Whatever underpins this affinity, letting it continue play out in public can only be fatal.
Fatal because this presidency was supposed to be about addressing historical injustice, the most dramatic manifestations of which were the abuses committed against Filipinos during Marcos’s Martial Law. Fatal because this leadership was supposed to challenge the oligarchy, of which the Marcoses are emblematic.
Fatal because celebrating a deposed dictator focusing only on his being a “World War II veteran, distinguished legislator and former president” actually honors in its silence his excesses and abuses, and their effects.
What we choose to honor we will likely live by. Imagine what the next five years would be like.
Contact Person: Mags Z. Maglana; firstname.lastname@example.org