The Marcos shadow

Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos kisses the glass case of her late husband, president Ferdinand Marcos, in Batac town north of Manila, July 2, 2014

September 28, 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the death of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. This seems an irrelevant part of the distant past and the Marcos martial rule only a page in our students’ history books. Yet, the issue of that dark period remains very much alive and forms part of current political battles.

Of course, the most visible of the Marcos influence is the return of the Marcos family in the halls of power. Marcos’ namesake himself, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is in the Senate. His wife, Congresswoman Imelda Marcos, is in the lower House while his eldest daughter, Governor Maria Imelda “Imee” Marcos firmly holds the local power in Ilocos Norte.

The Romualdezes in Leyte also came back to power. Martin Romualdez joined Congresswoman Imelda Marcos in Congress while Alfred Romualdez is now the mayor of Tacloban City.

However, the more insidious Marcos influence is in the reshaping of Philippine elite politics. Dictator Marcos, in his time, stripped away the democratic trimmings of what essentially was the oligarchical rule of the previous regimes of the pre-martial law period. Marcos imprisoned his rival families, formed alliances with selected local political lords, formed new lines of power through the military and the barangay system, abolished Congress (resurrected in an emasculated Interim Batasang Pambansa) later, and cowed the Supreme Court into a rubberstamp of his dictates.

He drove the opposition underground, to the mountains, or to exile abroad. Then he started the systematic pillage of entire industries and wealth of the nation, using his cronies as economic generals. At the end, he was able to hide and stash abroad more than half of his estimated US$8.5 billion loot.

Without restraints, he monopolized and bled the tobacco, sugar, and coconut industries in the agriculture sector, the mining and construction industries, and almost the entire service industry.

He also created the necessary myths to hide the looting and maintain political support. The most pervasive of these is the notion that martial rule is for the poor; that it brings economic prosperity both to the nation and the family.

However, this is illusory. What Marcos actually did was to create loyalist pockets, such as in Ilocos Norte and other Northern Luzon provinces, by using part of his loot but, by and large, the poor remained poor. The economy, without strong industries and capital inputs, dive-bombed.

The succeeding post-Marcos governments failed to recover the larger part of the Marcos wealth, failed to get justice for martial law victims, failed to dismantle the rule of the Marcos family and their political and economic cronies, failed to put in place strong democratic institutions, failed to educate succeeding generations on the lessons of the Marcos martial rule, and allowed the Marcos family and their cronies to return to the halls of power.

Marcos rule now threatens to return, ironically, by using the same traditional politics that they dismantled in 1972. A Marcos that did not apologize for damaging the nation and its people, a Marcos that now tries to inveigh against those who fought them and cynically imposing their myths on the new, post-Marcos generations. The Marcos shadow threatens us all.

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