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Opinion

Constitutional authoritarianism

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The elder Ferdinand Marcos, brilliant lawyer that he was, projected himself as a law-abiding person.

Even when he began his dictatorship, he packaged it as constitutional authoritarianism, with all the evils of Philippine society vanishing in his Bagong Lipunan (ring a bell?) or New Society led by a “benevolent dictator.” 

In the early days of martial law, even the conservative Catholic bishops seemed glad to see micro minis, peek-a-boo hot pants and long hair disappear from the streets, rock ’n’ roll off the air and porn or bomba movies off the cinemas.

When Marcos called a snap presidential election on Feb. 7, 1986, the Batasang Pambansa led by Nicanor Yñiguez ignored the opposition’s accusations of poll cheating and adopted Resolution No. 38 on Feb. 15, officially proclaiming “FM” as the duly elected president, with Arturo Tolentino as his vice president.

Even when Uncle Sam, shaken by people power in February 1986, decided to end its waltz with the dictator and told FM to “cut and cut cleanly,” Apo Ferdie wanted to project a legitimate, constitutional claim to power. He was sworn in as president at noon of Feb. 25 at Malacañang by then chief justice Ramon Aquino.

 FM was surely aware that simultaneously at Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan, Corazon Aquino was also sworn in as president by then Supreme Court justice Claudio Teehankee.

 I covered the oath-taking at Malacañang, where FM and Imeldific were teary-eyed throughout the ceremonies. Despite the presence of Marcos loyalists cheering outside, the atmosphere was of a seat of power under siege. Several Cabinet members were visibly distraught; I spotted agriculture minister Salvador “Sonny” Escudero III (father of Chiz) crying. Bongbong Marcos was in military uniform, looking glum as he joined his parents and sisters Imee and Irene at the Palace balcony to wave to their loyalists.

Hours later, they would be flown by US forces to exile in Hawaii, with Imeldific reportedly singing “New York, New York” en route to their first stop, Guam.

BBM has admitted that it was a painful time for his family. He later said he entered politics for his family’s “survival” and to preserve his father’s legacy.

And what a spectacular comeback it has been for the Marcoses, although some quarters – non-administration, but not part of the EDSA-linked traditional opposition – now describe it as victory by unauthorized IP (internet protocol) address 192.168.0.2.

Non-partisan cyber experts must work together to decisively address this IP issue before it becomes the norm and destroys free elections in our weak republic. This is a cause that even the Dutertes will not take up despite their war with the Marcos-Romualdez clan, because it also questions the legitimacy of the victory of Vice President Sara Duterte.

*      *      *

Whether or not the claim of victory by IP has basis, it’s interesting that Maria Imelda Josefa Remedios Romualdez Marcos, better known as Senator Imee, has warned that the ongoing people’s initiative or PI to amend the Constitution imperils the Marcoses’ chance at redemption.

She did not name her cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, but said she would oppose whoever is behind the PI signature drive for Charter change.

Resource persons she invited to the Senate hearings on PI, in Manila and Davao, have directly linked Romualdez to the initiative. After repeatedly denying any hand in the campaign, Romualdez said he acted as PI “facilitator” and provided advice to Noel Oñate, lead convenor of the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action. This was after the PIRMA head admitted to Senator Imee at the hearing that he had met with Romualdez last year at the Speaker’s townhouse to discuss PI.

“This is no mere family squabble. We’re talking about the republic and the Constitution, and the heart and soul of democracy here in our country,” the senator told ANC last week.

While seeing the irony of defending the 1987 Constitution that was crafted with special focus on preventing a return of authoritarian rule, Senator Imee noted: “We are the most fortunate family on Earth. We really fought hard for this second chance 36 years since we were exiled. Perhaps this is the last chance for my family to redeem itself. Family ties no longer have anything to do with this.” 

BBM himself has been busy reviving and burnishing his father’s programs and buzzwords – Kadiwa, Masagana 99, Maharlika, Bagong Pilipinas (no hunger, no crab mentality, no mudslinging!) – in an attempt to wash away the taint of state abuses and kleptocracy long associated with the Marcos name.

He was blessed with a good point of comparison, having succeeded uncouth, misogynist, China-loving Rodrigo Duterte, Pharmally protector and unapologetic fentanyl user, who racked up over 6,000 officially acknowledged killings during his six years in power. Compared with Dirty Rody, BBM, who talked, acted and dressed like a president, was a godsend. His camp asked: why visit the iniquities of the parents on the son?

 But now a shadow is falling over the full rehabilitation of the Marcos name. Senator Imee is not exaggerating: it is threatening their family’s redemption.

*      *      * 

The signature sheet for PI proposes only one Charter amendment: Section 1 of Article XVII will be reworded thus: “Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members, VOTING JOINTLY, AT THE CALL OF THE SENATE PRESIDENT OR THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.”

With over 300 House members and just 24 senators, joint voting emasculates the Senate and renders the chamber irrelevant. Why, there are more party-list congressmen than senators.

If passed with the help of state ayuda and overwhelmingly ratified through secret IP, the amendment gives the Speaker full power to do whatever he wishes with the Constitution, including shifting to a parliamentary system where (as the Duterte camp suspects) Romualdez hopes to sit as prime minister.

As of the weekend, the Marites grapevine rippled with stories that BBM was starting to see his favorite cousin as a political liability. After all, the Senate may be the much smaller chamber, but it counts among its members several of the country’s major political and financial players, with their own significant constituencies. BBM’s loss of the Dutertes’ support may also be irreversible; we have seen how unforgiving and vindictive Rodrigo Duterte can be.

Instead of seeing Charter change as a path to continuity – meaning perpetuation of the clan in power – Senator Imee apparently thinks the very idea may bring back the worst memories of the first Marcos regime. Already it is reviving fears of constitutional authoritarianism 2.0.

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