I wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
Last September 21, the nation commemorated the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III once again spoke in memory of his father who died standing up against the dictatorship.
Yet the irony is not lost on many who see BS Aquino’s recent machinations as reminiscent not of his father and anti-dictatorship figure Ninoy Aquino but of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Shattering whatever remaining illusions that BS Aquino is anything like his father, he now pushes for the amendment of the 1987 Constitution to get himself one more term. He thus exposes himself to be just as power-hungry as Marcos.
But even before, the Aquino regime’s predisposition towards concentrating power in its own hands can already be seen in the usurpation of billions of public funds through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
The normalization of DAP-like practices in the 2015 budget is now sought in spite of the Supreme Court’s declaring unconstitutional of DAP or the anomalous diversion of funds intended for various programs and agencies to those favored by the Aquino regime.
In fact, it is precisely the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision against DAP that BS Aquino cites as one of the reasons for pushing for charter change.
Just like Marcos, Aquino fervently wishes to have a compliant judiciary that yields to his every whim. Indeed, he seeks nothing less than to have all branches of government follow his every bidding without any opposition.
No different from the deposed dictator, he styles himself as a messiah who is the only one capable of leading the nation.
If Marcos had his ‘New Society’ that supposedly brought discipline and prosperity for all Filipinos, Aquino now has his very own ‘Straight Path’ against corruption and poverty.
Marcos’ pompous avowals of purifying the country are promptly matched by Aquino’s own self-righteous rhetoric of change and reforms. But of course, these are never directed towards themselves and their allies.
Birds of the same feather, both Marcos and BS Aquino present their perpetuation in power as marks of selflessness.
Like Marcos, Aquino also dresses up the dismal state of the Philippine economy by conjuring the illusion of economic growth.
Marcos silenced the press and used the state-owned media to trumpet his supposed successes. Today, Aquino spends millions for a well-oiled public relations effort to paint a rosy picture of the country under his reign.
But like in the past, the intensifying socio-economic crisis can no longer be disguised through superficial mass media glosses.
First as Tragedy
It is often repeated by Marcos loyalists, in the vain hope that a lie said repeatedly begins take on the aura of truth, that the Martial Law period was a Golden Age in Philippine history: ‘Everyone was disciplined, goods cheap, and life generally easier.’
And yet this illusion of prosperity was true only for Marcos and his cronies who took over the major industries in the country, took big kickbacks from massive infrastructure projects, and pocketed millions of dollars borrowed from foreign banks.
There was only steadily rising prices and unemployment for the rest of the people while in the countryside peasants remained landless suffering from high land rent, low wages in spite of Marcos so-called ‘land reform’ and ‘green revolution.’
Marcos excessive foreign borrowing led the country’s debt to balloon to $26 billion from a mere $2 billion at the start of his term. And up until now, we are still paying for the loans borrowed from the Marcos era.
Behind the Marcos dictatorial regime is the support of the United States which hoped to ensure that its political and economic interests in the Philippines were protected at the point of the gun.
Marcos coddled large US military bases in Subic and Clark, a feat that Aquino now seeks to surpass by promising his US masters the transformation of the entire archipelago as one big base through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
This system of ‘crony capitalism’ was propped up by the consolidation of all government power in the executive and the military, the elimination of all opposition parties, the gagging of the press, and the establishment of a reign of terror.
Under Marcos, the language of freedom and democracy, parliamentary niceties and legalities which cloaked ruling class interests was replaced by the outright depriving of civil liberties and abuse of human rights.
By sending over 70,000 political opponents to prison, torturing over 10,000, and murdering more than 3,000, not to mention the undocumented cases, Marcos stood as one of the biggest tragedies that befell the Filipino people.
Second as Farce
This tragedy continues to unfold under subsequent regimes of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and finally BS Aquino.
The Marcoses themselves are back in power, with the late dictator’s son occupying a seat in Senate and eyeing the presidency in the next elections.
The 1986 EDSA people’s uprising may have toppled the old dictator. But the socio-economic order that only benefits the foreign monopoly capitalists and their local partners of big comprador-landlords remained in place.
Marcos was gone, but the same pre-industrial and agricultural economy that was kept backward so as to remain dependent on foreign capital, loans, and manufactured goods persisted beyond his rule.
On the other hand, the US and other foreign powers continued to be guaranteed by succeeding administrations of a steady source of natural resources to plunder and cheap labor to exploit.
It is thus the semi-colonial and semi-feudal system itself that is the problem and until we change it we will keep on perpetuating many more Marcoses and Aquinos in power.
Much of the same evils under Marcos from poverty, joblessness, hunger, and human rights violations persist today but only under a democratic veneer where we get to choose who oppresses us every 3 years.
With BS Aquino’s term nearing its end, he is now frantically conjuring another farce. Fearing the specter of ending up behind bars on corruption charges like his predecessor Arroyo, he is cooking up the appearance of mass support for an extension of his rule.
The choice of whether a dictatorial regime or a democratic farce is in place has largely depended in the past on which scheme will suffice to prop up the interests of the ruling classes and their foreign masters in a given period.
However, the strength of the people’s struggles for their rights and interests can also be a factor in tipping the scales towards genuine freedom and democracy. We have to take the power back. It’s time to change the system.