MANILA – Should Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. bear the sins of his dictator father and namesake? The younger Marcos was 15 years old when his father imposed military rule throughout the country. He was 29 when EDSA People Power ousted them from power.
“I don’t think that the sins of the father should automatically pass on to the son, except that there is no acknowledgment of the truth, of history, much less remorse. Acknowledgment nga wala, remorse pa, not of the part he played because he was very young then, but the part played by his father, his family, his family’s friends, those we called cronies,” said Lidy Nacpil, widow of assassinated student leader Leandro Alejandro.
Not acknowledging is “very dangerous,” Nacpil said at a forum commemorating the 41st year of the declaration of Martial Law, held at the University of the Philippines’ College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.
Robert Verzola, who survived torture after his arrest as a member of the underground movement fighting against the Marcos dictatorship, agreed with Nacpil. “I would go even beyond that. It would be difficult for the son to denounce the father even if he’s bad. I would even grant him that as a son, he would keep quiet about the sins of his father,” said Verzola, one of the first graduates of the Philippine Science High School in 1969. “Pero yung ninakaw ng pamilya (But the money the family stole), I draw the line there. The money must be returned to the people. The money that makes them such a powerful family today is stolen money. That is the point where I draw the line.”
(According to a Transparency International report in 2004, Ferdinand Marcos is second only to Indonesia’s Mohammed Suharto in the list of the most corrupt leaders in the final quarter of the 20th century. In his 20 years in power, Marcos is said to have stolen as much as $10 billion from the Philippine treasury.)
What if he runs for president in 2016?
A political analyst said that the senator’s chances of becoming the second Marcos president of the republic are good. The potential votes he supposedly can realistically court: as many as 5 million votes from Iglesia ni Cristo, 4.5 million from the Solid North, and 1.5 million from Marcos loyalists, all for starters. The rest of the 15 million needed to elect a president, the senator will presumably have to work on from Visayas and Mindanao.
However, Verzola added: “I don’t see it in him (to become president). On the personal level, he does not seem to have the charisma nor the ruthlessness of the father.”
Lawyer Raffy Aquino, who was a student activist from the late 70s to 80s, said that while he doesn’t see a deliberate attempt from the Marcos family to revise history to put them in a more favorable light, Filipinos should remember that Bongbong’s being in Senate – “a training ground for presidents” – means he is within striking distance of the presidency.
Nacpil believes there is in fact a “deliberate, consistent” use of relics from the Marcos era to romanticize the father’s rule. She says there is a “subliminal” use of the colors (red, blue, and yellow) of the older Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) party in the younger Marcos’ social media assets and the use of the word “oligarchy” in the senator’s pronouncements.
“There’s consistency in his attack against corruption and the oligarchy or the wealthy elite. Remember that [the late] Marcos justified his takeover of businesses during his dictatorship as a fight against the oligarchies, like the Lopezes. I see a repeat [of the messages] here,” Nacpil said.
While she could not imagine Filipinos making a “similar mistake” of installing another Marcos as president, Nacpil conceded that the Marcoses will always win in their bailiwicks because they have always “taken care of Ilocos.”
“I can’t believe that (he will be the second Marcos to become president). It’s more possible he became senator because they have a lot of money, but heaven forbid that he will win as president,” Nacpil said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Most troubling for those who find the notion of another Marcos president repugnant, more than half of all Filipinos are younger than 25 years old, and that means more than half did not live through the dark years of Martial Law imposed 41 years ago. They did not experience the fight and victory in EDSA 27 years ago, Nacpil noted.
Aquino agreed. “Kalaban natin ang limot, ang paglipas ng panahon (The enemy is forgetting, the passage of time,)” he said. Whatever space in memory is left for the younger Marcos is used to attempt to reinvent and market himself as a possible head of the republic, he said.
“There’s a lot that we need to do to remind people about that part of our history,” said Nacpil, lauding the UP CSSP and its Department of History for organizing events and programs to teach the younger generations about Marcos and Martial Law.
The challenge is to make history more accessible and interesting, she said.
More than that, Bernadette Abrera, head of the UP history department, said memory must be institutionalized – in the academe and in law, for instance.
An important work in history is to not forget nameless people and groups of people who have insufficient ability to express their experience and who continue to be oppressed, Abrera said.
She cited the case of coconut farmers, from whom billions of pesos worth of coconut levy were taken.
“The oppression continues for them – not only in the executive branch, but also in the judiciary, which said there is no definition of ill-gotten wealth, not from the Marcos crony [Eduardo] Danding [Cojuangco],” Abrera said. “Buhay ang martial law sa kanila (To them, martial law is alive.)”
Abrera dared the students who attended the forum to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of history. “History is alive in our hands,” she said.
Nacpil stressed that “history is very important not only because we pay our respect to our past, but also because we learn on our own to apply our lessons to the future. We learn for our future.”
On shaping the course of history, Verzola said Filipinos should ask themselves about the kind of leader they want.
“I’d rather that we think about what we want in our leader. Meron ba? Sino ba? (Is there one? Who are they?) Who are the leaders we want? First-liners, second-liners, third-liners, where are they? How can we help them become players in the political arena?”
“I think that’s the better question to mull,” he said.