Column: Why Marcos IS the dividing line

Published on December 6, 2016.

In recent weeks, I had a chance to meet with student leaders involved in organizing the mass actions to protest the Marcos burial, and I came away deeply impressed. One group, in particular, stood out for how they embraced the complexity of the issue (it wasn’t simply the Marcoses trying to deceive the Filipino people again, although there was that); they understood that President Duterte was pivotal (none of the other post-Edsa presidents had green-lighted the burial), but intuited that Gloria Arroyo was also possibly another, crucial factor.

They were clear about the help they needed, especially in processing the terabytes of information they were receiving, both online and off. But one of the students shared an organizing principle that helped guide their decision-making process on Nov. 18, the day the Marcos family carried out the burial. “At what scale,” he said they had found themselves asking, “will we make an impact?”

We didn’t ask penetrating questions like these when it was our turn to take to the streets a generation ago; I believe this generation is in very good hands.

The answer to the scale-and-impact question is there for those with eyes to see. The first three major protest actions have grown in size: maybe 6,000 people converged at the People Power Monument on Nov. 18, maybe 20,000 thronged at the Luneta on Nov. 25, possibly 40,000 in total massed at the People Power Monument again on Nov. 30. The answer is for those with ears to hear and hearts to feel as well: The energy levels at these protests were high indeed, animated by the so-called millennial generation’s abhorrence at the deceptiveness, the unbecoming stealthiness, of the burial. To borrow a word which millennials use with great disdain, the Marcoses proved themselves sketchy.
The notion that the “cute” placards and protest signs were self-indulgent exercises misunderstands the space where the students sought to make an impact. On social media, which connects at least 40 percent of the Philippine population, it was precisely these signs that went viral and grew an audience.

But generals are fated to fight the last war, we know, and this heuristic principle applies to activists and protesters, too. We might be tempted to view the protest actions last month from the Edsa II prism, and measure the turnout on Nov. 30 against the first day of the Estrada protests, on Jan. 16, 2001. But it might be more appropriate to see last month’s mass actions as analogous to the street protests in 1984—midway between the Aquino assassination and Edsa I.

One thing is clear. Marcos has, once again, in 2016 as in 1984, become the issue. (Ouster is not even on the horizon.) President Duterte’s campaign against corruption becomes irrelevant when he allows the government to honor the dictator who stole billions of dollars. His mantra about change becomes a mockery when he seeks to rehabilitate the unrepentant.

I have argued in this column that Marcos was, in fact, our worst Filipino leader. In “Marcos was the worst” (2013), I presented the case that Marcos was the most corrupt man in Philippine history. (I also measured his martial law regime according to the main benchmark he himself used, that he was defending the Republic from the communist threat; by that standard, he was, as kids say these days, an epic fail.)

In “Marcos was the worst (2): The SC” (2014), I detailed his systematic subversion of the Supreme Court, which allowed him, a lawyer through and through, to use law as a weapon against critics and dissenters.

In “Marcos was the worst (3),” in 2015, I concluded that perhaps it was most useful to think of the Marcoses as occupiers.  “In 1981 Marcos inaugurated what he grandly called the Fourth Republic. But it is closer to the truth to say that his regime was, in fact, the Fourth Occupation. After the Spanish, the Americans, and the Japanese, Marcos used martial law to colonize the Philippines.”

And in “Marcos was the worst (4),” written a couple of months ago, I argued that Marcos successfully coopted the business community at the start of his regime, allowing him the time and the space to commit atrocities.

Never Again is the dividing line.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in History, Readings in Politics

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