The specter grows with every affirming poll, yet we remain unprovoked, unmoved. But then, again, it’s very much in our character.
Ferdinand Marcos knew us only too well. His martial law could not have come unexpected. Enunciating the exact dreaded phrase, he himself had announced that he would not hesitate to impose “martial law … if it would redound to the upholding of our democratic institutions.”
Grown smug in our unrestrained exercise of freedom, we were not impressed. Thus, we got our dictator. And now we have got his son counting on the same default in our character that allowed his dictator dad to run roughshod over us for 14 years.
If we think Edsa has done enough for us, we are in for a rude awakening from our generational sleep. That million-strong street vigil, which booted the Marcoses out of power 30 years ago, has proved fluky. After a mere six years of exile, they were back unrepentant, in fact plucky and unpunished, in fact welcomed. Orphaned by Ferdinand but fortified by untold loot and circled by paid or fanatical and considerable following, they have had no problem regrouping and re-entrenching themselves.
In fact Ferdinand Jr. has come to within grasp of picking up where his father left off; he leads the race for vice president, a position that puts its occupant “a mere breath away,” as they say, from supreme executive power, which in his case raises a particularly chilling prospect: The front-runner for president, Rodrigo Duterte, although not a partymate, is a man of decidedly Marcosian bent.
Duterte is running on a one-dimensional platform: He would rid the society of crime in no more than six months—an obvious pyramid scam, if you ask me, but a platform apparently widely resonant even so. Crime is, to him, not merely a symptom of a complex condition, but the disease itself.
But what do you expect? The man is rather slow, by his own admission, thus averse to strenuous mental work; he prefers extralegal, death-squad shortcuts. Marcos was definitely quicker, his shortcuts shorter but subtler.
Anyway, if anyone yet doubts Duterte to be a worthy Marcosian, he vows to pay Marcos the ultimate tribute by burying him a hero. Two of his rivals, Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe, have made the same vow, but neither possesses the consistency of character to be a credible Marcos heir or disciple. As for Mar Roxas, he is simply too decent to even be considered for that league.
If the trend holds, it’s history repeating with a vengeance; it’s not only Duterte we’re getting, but an authentic Marcos, too. But are we really so irremediably doubly doomed?
In fact I somehow find something inspiring about it all, a long shot maybe, but a chance at self-redemption, a chance to come clean of any residual Marcos taint, a sort of second Edsa, where the nation once again rallies around a figure of widowed virtue.
Leni Robredo happens to be the only candidate for vice president uncontaminated by Marcos. Ferdinand Jr. is, of course, the genetic carrier himself, so let’s confine ourselves to the four redeemable ones:
Gregorio Honasan was a dreaded martial-law enforcer. His boss, Juan Ponce Enrile, had been the concocter of the immediate pretext for martial law —he staged his own ambush. In the end, it was also he who, with Honasan, his ever-loyal lieutenant, tried to oust Marcos. Their plot found out prematurely, they needed to be saved—by Edsa. But they turned against Edsa, too, mounting coup after coup against the government of Corazon Aquino. Both Enrile and Honasan have survived nicely in any case, moving on from martial-law enforcers to habitual, if consistently inept, plotters to senators of the republic.
Chiz Escudero is the son of a Marcos cabinet man, an idolater heard to praise Marcos at every chance and seen wearing to his dying day the time-dishonored uniform and colors of the martial-law party KBL—a white waist-shirt with red-white-and-blue insignia on its shoulder-straps.
As the son of a man who owed his martial-law stature to his law partner Enrile, Alan Cayetano couldn’t help being stigmatized himself. In the end, his father had a bitter falling-out with Enrile, a bitterness the son has continued to harbor as may be detected in some of their debates in the senate, where both sit. In the electoral campaign, he has shown the sharpest tongue for Ferdinand Jr. but, with Duterte for his partner, he fails to come across as credible.
Too young to have had anything to do with martial law, Antonio Trillanes should be the least contaminated. But having been associated with Marcos’ chief institutional co-conspirator, he cannot but be tainted somehow. A navy lieutenant, he rose up against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s corrupt presidency and ended up in military detention for seven years and a half. Rewarded by an admiring electorate with a Senate seat, he began serving his senatorial term from prison.
Honasan, Escudero, Cayetano, Trillanes—all face a moral challenge no less grave than that raised at Edsa, a challenge involving a conscience choice between Ferdinand Marcos and Cory Aquino in 1986, and between Ferdinand Jr. and Leni Robredo today.