The Marcos gold after Duterte

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose - The Philippine Star

In their feverish reach for power, the Marcoses have revived the fantasy that the former dictator had stashed in foreign vaults more than a thousand tons of gold, as Imelda claims, for the good of the Filipino people and humanity. She has stacks of certificates to authenticate the claim. Of course, the Marcoses have money, lots of it, scattered everywhere where illicit wealth is difficult to ferret. Marcos was a brilliant lawyer – he knew well enough how this can be done. He did not die rich – he died very rich. In fact, when he ran for president, he was already extremely wealthy and not because he found Yamashita’s treasure trove. He made money when he was a congressman.

I met President Marcos only once, when as Ramon Magsaysay awardee, we paid him a courtesy call. He knew me as a writer and Ilokano and when we shook hands he said, “Agan-anos ca.” Be patient.

I knew Imelda better. I invited her to open two exhibitions at my Solidaridad Galleries in the 1960s. She was elegantly charming – it was so easy to like her. It would have been easy for me to ingratiate myself with President Marcos, my being Ilokano and all that. But from my student days onwards, I’ve always looked at him with caution. When I enrolled in Santo Tomas in 1946, one of my classmates was Jose Nalundasan – the youngest son of Julio Nalundasan who was killed by Ferdinand Marcos – this after Nalundasan defeated Marcos’s father in the election.

In his trial, Marcos wiggled out of a death sentence. As Pepe Nalundasan told me, he was absolutely sure Marcos did it. In a sense, this distancing from Marcos provided me a large measure of objectivity in appraising him. For a closer look at him, I relied on the information given to me by very close friends, compadres even, who were his Cabinet members or trusted aides. More than any Filipino president within my 96 years, Marcos brought to Malacañang the brightest Filipinos available at the time to support him – perhaps the most brilliant President we also had. What went wrong?

Let’s look back at the 1960s. We were still the most modern and the richest country in Southeast Asia. We voted overwhelmingly for Marcos, and with his beautiful wife, they were ideals personified. Noting our steady growth, our economists said we were on the take-off stage, on the verge of modernization/industrialization. But our deterioration had begun, and when Marcos was elected to a second term, that downward slide gained momentum.

Looking back, one does not need to be a brilliant economist or sociologist to see why this decay happened. First and foremost, the leadership did not have vision. To modernize agriculture as the basis of industrialization, amass capital and change landlords into producers, to harness the educational system to back up economic growth and, on the cultural front, to promote nationalism beyond its superficial manifestations.

Before we knew it, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore surpassed us. It’s not the Confucian ethic that did this, but it sure helped. It was purposeful leadership – credible, selfless, courageous – and the ability to rally the otherwise apathetic and querulous citizenry.

For the Philippines, it was unrestrained greed that did us in.

Marcos and Imelda were profligate. Enamored with their power, they wanted to pass themselves as royalty with all the pomp and the perks that royalty thrived on. And of course, they had multitudes of true believers. Study carefully the Marcos decrees – most of them were self-serving, giving him more power and ensuring him the Malacañang Palace for life.

The Marcoses left behind not just buildings, some of which have permanent value. The Cultural Center for one, and the medical centers, and there are also institutions that need to be renamed, like the Mariano Marcos University in the North. So what if Mariano Marcos was Ferdinand’s father. He did nothing worth commemorating, and as Japanese collaborator, the guerillas executed him.

But some Marcos institutions need to be continued, improved even. Among them is the National Artist Award, and not because I am an awardee, but because our cultural workers must be recognized and amply supported financially, particularly the writers who are the keepers of our national memory.

There is very little that can be called the Marcos Dynasty, but if we, Filipinos, want the Marcoses back, let them come back to mock our people, not so much for our lack of memory but because we are so stupid, and we have never learned from our mistakes. The Marcoses have stayed in Malacañang longer than any president; they have touched many lives, and even some billionaires today owe their fortunes to them.

It does not matter that the Marcoses were responsible for the death of hundreds and much of the poverty of Filipinos today.

There is no parallel between Marcos in his twilight and Duterte in the last lap of his regime. The massive Ninoy Aquino funeral – the likes of which has never been seen in our history – told Marcos that he was done for. That was the time he should have brought back all that gold to save himself. With that, he could have strengthened the justice system first and brought Ninoy’s killers to justice – he knew who they were! He then could have used that gold immediately to relieve poverty. Alas, there was no gold and no ifs in history.

In Duterte’s case, this pandemic was his bad luck, not his making. The crisis was in his response, his incapacity to bring the vaccine fast enough, and his failure to control the corruption in the health services and in the lowest barangay level. No one has been jailed.

Both men are narcissists not so much in their personal manner but also in the way they use power, in their response to criticism and in their claims of value and self-regard. Both have also done some good for this country which, particularly for Duterte, is not yet fully appreciated; much of it is obscured by his obsessive pandering to China and his belittling of the efforts of patriots like Antonio Carpio.

This pandemic has affected Filipinos deeply, perhaps in a manner we ourselves have not fully realized. When a crisis hits us profoundly to our very core, we realize our last resort is government. And in this crisis, we see how ineffective government is, shackled by incompetence and corruption.

Thank God, a new citizen initiative has sprouted, the Community Pantry that gives free food to whoever needs it. It affirms the goodness of our people. Too, there is a new generation  of young, devoted politicians, the likes of which is epitomized by Manila’s Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, Pasig’s Vico Sotto, Davao’s Sara Duterte and young legislators too, like Lucy Gomez. Only time, of course, will tell if they will go the way of all flesh.

Let us pray.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with