The sins of Rodrigo and Ferdinand…

I rarely blog on politics.

This, is that rare occasion.

This is a personal opinion from my pulpit. After all, it is a fact that I had lived my life with both Ferdinand and Rodrigo as presidents of the Republic of the Philippines.

FERDINAND

Ferdinand Marcos was a brilliant man. Greed was the reason for his downfall.

Martial Law was declared in order to perpetuate him in power. He used the opposition and the rebels as an easy excuse to declare Martial Law. In the beginning, it may have served the purpose of quelling the ‘threat’ of the Communist Party of the Philippines. But the one-man rule lasted for fourteen years. Martial Law gave birth to shifting power from the people to the military. While Ferdinand was elected president in 1965 and presided over an economy that grew during the beginning of his term, his 20-year rule would end in the loss of livelihood, extreme poverty, and a crushing debt crisis. Even when the family was exiled to Hawaii, the loot they carried from the Philippines and documented upon entry in the US was enough to feed a whole country. Considering how much a president’s monthly salary was in those days, even staying on as president of the country for his lifetime would not have amounted to being able to buy a building in New York (which would eventually be bought by Donald Trump) or wifey Imelda owning jewels or going on shopping sprees just for the heck of it.

The Marcos years were turbulent ones. When you had become his (or his wife’s) enemy, you’d be tagged as an enemy of the state. And people were afraid. No one dared to say anything about Ferdinand or Imelda.

The bailiwick of the Marcos is the north of the Philippines. They call it the Solid North. The only compass in that area (and the story of Rodrigo later on), would point the reader to why parents in politics prepare their children for that same role. The dynasties created do not provide a change of the guards to keep the businesses growing. The conflicts of interest propagate a deep cultural behavior among clans and small kingdoms created by local government units that collide, connive and collude with one another.

While Ferdinand Marcos may have had stellar moments at the beginning of his political career, avarice became too enticing to resist. If there is a story that is unforgettable in the eyes of the Filipino people, it was the story of Martial Law. I recall my father reminding me that we should not even mention the names of Ferdinand or Imelda during any outdoor conversation because the ‘walls have ears’ and that the Philippine Constabulary had people that were listening in on everyone’s conversation. That was the kind of fear that was instilled among those who grew up in the generation of Ferdinand.

The EDSA revolution created a sense of ‘woke’ among the Filipino people. With unrest even in the military ranks, it became inevitable that the chapter on Marcos’ reign was coming to a close anytime soon.

The People Power Revolution in 1986 paved the way for a new successor, through a non-violent revolution, to succeed the ailing dictator. The family of Ferdinand fled the country, and true to their nature, with loot in tow as they left.

A new dawn came for the Filipino people.

ALL BEGINNINGS ARE HARD

With a new slate, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, needed to put order back from chaos. She became the 11th president of the Republic of the Philippines.

A constitutional convention replaced an abolished government. It was during her term that the 1987 constitution was written.

A country in deep debt and political crisis had to rise from the rubbles. After two decades of political machinations and corruption, it would take the country the same amount of time to resurrect from the ashes. In the meantime, the political parties left by Ferdinand remained intact. The lords did not die. With the wealth amassed by the political allies of Marcos during his presidency, the political families went underground and used that wealth to regroup, establish business enterprises and resurrect in or as another political party.

They say that there is no accountability in politics. When the term of offices of politicians come to an end, one is punished while another one forgiven. That amnesic disease would be played over and over the next three decades after Cory became president.

The Marcoses would be allowed to return to the country in 1991 by Cory herself, to face charges of tax fraud and corruption. After all, the crimes committed could not be prosecuted in a different country, even from Big Brother Uncle Sam.

By the time they returned, the tumultuous term of Corazon was coming to an end. The popularity of the yellow brigade was at a low ebb. While Cory was cheered at the beginning of her term as an icon for a new democracy in the Philippines, her lackadaisical stance and distrust of people she felt threatened by, pushed her to the brink of several coup attempts that would jar her monumental rise to power. During the term of Aquino, a new TradPo (traditional politician) had risen. However, the class D and E remained at the bottom of the rung. Even at the property of Cory’s family – Hacienda Luisita – the issue of Land Reform Program among the poor remained unaddressed. At the end of her term, her anointed successor, Fidel Valdez Ramos would win by a hairline to Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Over the years, the Marcoses returned to power, slowly but surely. First stop was in their own hometown where people would undoubtedly put them in political positions that would later on catapult their solid return to national posts. This calibrated patience is what politics is all about. They worked at the back end like the late Ferdinand. The Marcoses did not only have that patience, but the financial and political backing to return to power.

The blame goes to the inept judicial system of this country. The very slow roll of justice to Martial Law victims was akin to an ant on an expedition from Batanes to Jolo.

Several presidents and corruption laden governances later, the people slowly forgot the story behind EDSA. The millennials, GenX and GenZ mostly do not recall Marcos’ legacy and the painful beginnings of a new democracy. People Power Day, while a public holiday in the country would lose its meaning and be left as just another day of rest and recreation.

A forgiving, nah, forgetful people is how the Filipinos turned out after ousting Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the 13th president of the Philippines, whose corruption laden plunder triggered his short lived stint as the chief executive of the country. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Vice-President at the time of Estrada would abandon him and succeed him after a second People Power Revolution (albeit, a smaller one) would ‘overthrow’ Estrada. Estrada would be incarcerated because of plunder but would later be pardoned by Arroyo.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became the 14th president of the Republic of the Philippines and the longest serving president in the post Marcos era. Three years of the remaining term of Estrada and winning the next national election would put her into power. A coup attempt before her term ended gave rise to the political careers of the mutineers after the term of Arroyo. An election scandal with leakage of the “Hello Garci” tapes would make Arroyo apologize on national TV for the controversial elections of 2004. But she would not step down.

It was Cory’s demise that won the election for her son NoyNoy or PNoy (Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III) as the 15th president of the country. With an outpouring of support for the late Corazon, NoyNoy would trump all other candidates. And while PNoy had the best and brightest in his cabinet, corruption allegations hounded his term as well. Like his mother, he only trusted a circle of friends. The opposition would be a minority and the upper and lower law making chambers down to the smallest local government unit would throw their political support to his party. The bungling of the Mamasapano massacre was the sterling highlight of his political career. A sad ending to good beginnings.

While PNoy made Arroyo accountable for the mess she left behind, her incarceration was more of a zarzuela. And the next president, like all previous presidents would end up pardoning the sinners.

In all those jump start years of every president, one sore thumb stood out at each closing. The class D and E were the crowd the candidates wooed each and every election year. After they are elected, it was still the class D and E that were forgotten. Accustomed to this fate, the poor knew how a single meal a day felt and that every politician vying for a vote would woo them back every three to six years. Unless they left this country, there was no rise from the slum areas they grew up.

And this is evident in the massive exodus of professional and non-professional Filipinos as Overseas Filipino Workers. The economy of the Philippines is strong because of the remittances of the OFWs. They served as the anchor for the Philippine economy to stay afloat. While some investments came through, it was the oligarchs and those close to the powers that be, that benefitted from the largesse and political channels.

Starting idealistically with the bravado of changing the lives of the poor, all politicians gradually ended their stint doing two things – perpetuating themselves and their families in office and/or earning enough during their government stint for a beneficial retirement.

Frustrated at the system, the 2016 election became the game changer.

The rise of technology and social media platforms would put to test the Philippine National Election.

RODRIGO

The swashbuckling mayor of Davao City became the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines.

There was nothing unusual in the rise of a strongman into power. After all, Filipinos believe that only an iron fist can turn the story of this nation around. They saw that in Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

Duterte or Digong as people would call him is the oldest elected president of the country. Digong is not new to politics after running Davao City for over 22 years having won seven terms. It was the climate of change and discipline in Davao City that became the sterling symbol for the campaign of Duterte. Ironically, it was Corazon Aquino who had placed him in that position after the People Power Revolution.

They say there are no friends in politics.

The political position of Duterte would be a populist and nationalist one. His governance began with his war on drugs. And while it is an admirable advocacy, it was hounded with human rights issues and extrajudicial killings. This war would again hurt the class D and E, where majority of ‘small time’ drug users, pushers and abusers were killed on the spot. The real vendors and distributors were protected by those who punish the criminals. Duterte allowed the military and the police force latitude in addressing the drug problem of the country. His embrace for ‘independent foreign policy’ with China and Russia was troubling considering that he had put aside the winning International arbitration case against China on the row of the West Philippines Sea.

But the mortal sin of Duterte would be that of abetting and fueling fake information. His presidency was marred by fake posts on achievements and accountability of various public issues. His personal agenda and vendetta against big corporations and media would be the flip side of his governance. Appointments of the worst and the blatant disrespect for good governance was the icing on the cake. Like the little mayor of a city, he would find a way to favor awarding contracts to his inner circle.

With the rapid advances in technology and social media, Duterte’s minions took advantage of this progress. The rise of fake information in a country where mobile phones and other gadgets far outnumber the population would be the perfect experimental setting to demonstrate the depreciation of a nation through fake news and revisionism.

It is in his term that we credit the rise of the keyboard warriors. In 2016, BBC News had published a story with the title “Trolls and triumph: a digital battle in the Philippines”. Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa of Rappler had investigated the machine built by the Duterte campaign. Former advertising executive Nic Gabunada had used this for Rodrigo’s campaign strategy. Trolls and troll farms became big business as part of a marketing machinery to garner popularity among the gullible.

Troll farms were created using ‘coordinators’.

How do coordinators work? Essentially, each are assigned a particular group, task and messaging. Each group is assigned to a particular region or working group, for example over overseas foreign workers. They each have targets, bespoke messages and other immediate experiences relevant to the crowd. [https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-38173842] is an interesting read as it shows how social media is able to achieve what it has done in three words – Arouse. Organize. Mobilize.

Yet the end does not justify the means.

In this case, Duterte winning the election did not translate to better governance. Rodrigo’s supporters continued to peddle fake news, owned fake accounts, bots and trolls – all meant to justify the weaponization of hatred, lies and deception. After all, trolls have no moral compass. To them, the monetary compensation far outweighed truth, justice and righteousness. The trolling business puts food on their tables and addresses their material needs. At the end of the day, we are back to the same story. The class D and E who are most vulnerable and gullible continue to be used rather than taught to rise from the rubbles of ignorance.

The pandemic was (or should I say is) a blessing in disguise for the president. With his penchant of staying away from almost all direct duties as chief executive of the country (due to ailing health and age), he assembled the IATF or the InterAgency Task Force, that decides and recommends to him what to actually do in managing the pandemic. It was chaotic in the beginning, particularly when the Health Agency was in panic mode. Two years into the pandemic and we are left with an economy in shambles, hardly struggling to survive, and again, the class D and E literally begging for scraps.

WHY DOES MAY 9, 2022 MATTER?

I started off this blog with the president I knew as I grew up. And end it with the current president of the Philippines.

I did not realize that I would write about the rise of the son from the north, and his alliance with the “punisher” from the south. The story I write here is factual. Those who doubt it should research a bit deeper instead of relying on social media or what is shared by your group. Fact checking is a mandatory exercise for our brain.

There is more I can write about, but I leave that to the reader to dissect on their own with whatever they would like to know more about. Revisionism of history must come to an end. Only then can the Filipinos people expect a real change in governance. Dynasties must come to an end. The business of politics should abruptly be halted. If there is one law that needs to be passed, it is one that will end all kingdoms from proliferating and propagating corruption.

There is no political will.

The gap between the different economic classes will grow wider and wider. The poor will remain poor. Gullible. Used. Abused. And those that supported this kind of political quagmire we face today and the future should be held accountable for the continued decline in the power of the people to astutely choose a leader that will lead us to the promised land.

It is sad that those left behind, eventually leave for better opportunities, not because they want to, but are forced to, because of the circumstances leaders create for them.

The politicians? They remain in my beloved country amassing wealth for themselves and their families, perpetuating themselves in office in connivance with those whose families and businesses are in collusion with evil. Those that belong to class D and E will perpetually remain pawns in their greed for power.

How does this story end? We will know on May 9, 2022.

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