50 years after

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The imposition of martial law was actually announced 50 years ago today, Sept. 23, although Proclamation 1081 was dated Sept. 21, reportedly for numerology purposes. It was said that Ferdinand Marcos the elder believed the number seven brought him luck, and 21 is divisible by seven.

We haven’t heard of Ferdinand Junior believing in any lucky number. He doesn’t need to; he and his family are clearly favored by the stars.

As those who refuse to forget commemorated the 50th year since Proclamation 1081 was signed, Marcos Jr. was representing the country at the United Nations General Assembly and ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Bongbong Marcos even echoed his campaign theme of unity, in his pitches for concerted global action on food security, climate change, economic recovery and other issues.

The sight of a Philippine president in the United States and addressing the UN, to boot (never mind the half-empty hall), was a dramatic and refreshing change from the previous six years of giving Uncle Sam the cold shoulder, and a declared pivot to Uncle Xi that failed to gain traction among Filipinos.

Over in Manila on Sept. 21, martial law architect Juan Ponce Enrile was defending his handiwork and proposing to make it simpler to impose military rule, namely by reverting to the wording of the Constitution of his childhood during the Commonwealth period.

Martial law human rights victims asked: didn’t the courts allow Enrile to post bail for the normally non-bailable offense of plunder on humanitarian grounds, on account of his age and supposed frail health? Seeing how hale and hearty the chief presidential legal counsel is, shouldn’t his bail be canceled?

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Apart from JPE, another defender of martial law and Marcos Senior, unsurprisingly, was the Super Ate ng Pangulo. From pitching the creation of a “team of rivals,” the new administration’s SAP undermined the unity spiel with her pet project, the movie “Maid in Malacañang” (sequel coming soon), and her jab at the over 22 million who didn’t vote for her kid brother to leave the country if they were dismayed with his victory.

On Sept. 21, she said that BBM’s majority mandate was the clearest sign that martial law “does not matter” to Filipinos.

That’s a valid statement. The only question is whether Filipinos don’t care because they have no idea about what happened, or despite knowing.

Ironically, the fact that it’s Ferdinand Marcos Jr. steering the country at this time has made the commemoration of the half-century anniversary of martial law more intense.

And it will be the same as long as he’s in power. BBM will be constantly watched for any indication that he is, after all, the son of Ferdinand and Imelda.

A week before the anniversary of Proclamation 1081, BBM told his preferred interviewer, his niece-in-law, that his father declared martial law not to hold on to power, but to confront serious security threats posed to the nation by communist and separatist insurgents.

There might have been a genuine security threat in September 1972. But what sort of threat was posed by the elder Marcos’ political enemies and critical journalists, who were arbitrarily rounded up in the days after Proclamation 1081 was signed, and then detained without formal charges for months and even years? Why were media organizations shut down and even rock ’n’ roll, long hair for men and mini skirts for women banned?

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As the elder Marcos effectively lifted term limits on the presidency, his so-called constitutional authoritarianism engendered gross abuses of state power. The years under martial law showed how power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The 1986 people power revolt ended the dictatorship. High expectations generated by the peaceful revolt, however, have been dashed over the past 36 years. The new SAP is correct: the results of this year’s elections constituted dramatic evidence of this disenchantment.

Today Ferdinand Marcos is buried in the heroes’ cemetery, his eldest daughter is a senator, and his only son and namesake is President. The other half of the so-called conjugal dictatorship, former first lady Imelda, is unlikely to ever go to jail for the seven counts of graft for which she has been convicted and is out on bail. On the second full day of her son’s presidency, Imeldific was back celebrating her birthday at Malacañang.

Perhaps the results of the May elections imparted indelible lessons to many of the 22 million who didn’t pick the winning team. A number of them are moving to ensure that poll victory will not erase what happened during the first Marcos regime.

BBM himself has often said he is not aiming for historical revisionism. To his credit, he has not scrapped the holidays dedicated to the commemoration of the 1986 revolt and the assassination of his father’s political rival Benigno Aquino Jr.

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Today, some isues are worth remembering. These are facts, not chismis: as of end-2020, the Philippine government had recovered P174.2 billion in ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Marcoses and their cronies. The amount includes the original $356 million in Swiss banks that Switzerland turned over to the Philippines in 1999 (grown to $570 million with interest at the time of the turnover).

The Swiss at the time touted it as proof that their country would not be a haven for dirty money. Then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hailed it as “a milestone in the people’s decades-long pursuit of justice.”

The Presidential Commission on Good Government, which sycophants in Congress are proposing to abolish, is running after another P125.9 billion in illegal wealth, including real estate properties, private companies, aircraft and priceless art by the Masters. Of P171 billion remitted by the PCGG so far to the National Treasury, P10 billion has been allotted as restitution for over 11,000 people verified by the courts as human rights victims during martial law.

As head of government, BBM enjoys full diplomatic immunity in the United States, and he has not been apprehended for a $353-million contempt judgment issued by a US court in connection with a human rights class action suit.

BBM has ably represented the country before the UN and other public events in the US.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reportedly wants to be judged not by his forebears but by his own actions. Doing well as president will be the ultimate vindication of his family.

Remembering the abuses of the past will ensure that they will not be repeated. This helps provide a compass for good governance.


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