First, I was in Edsa in 1986. I was an activist, though not that far left of the spectrum. Unlike many who use #neveragain, I actually have a memory of the martial law years; I was a “martial law baby”, or one of those who grew up knowing no other president except Marcos.
Like many of those “babies”, my parents liked Marcos. In the snap elections of 1986, I escorted my mother to the polling booth and forced her to vote against her conscience and write Cory Aquino on her ballot.
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Now that’s out of the way, let me lay a revisionist narrative of Edsa 1986.
Cory came at the right time. By the early 80s, our 14-year foray into dictatorship was a failure. Why it failed here but turned our neighbors into tiger economies is a question that’s been begging for analysis. Marcos was not by any significant measure more kleptocratic than his contemporaries in the region and their own set of cronies. Put simply, everyone was a dictator back then.
Not unexpectedly, Cory, the political virgin, took us back to the only place she knew — back to pre-martial law Philippines. Edsa was not a revolution; it was an “Edsa Restoration.” Those who keep complaining every year about the broken promises of Edsa are betrayed only by their own ignorance. History tells us that revolution is defined not by the overthrow of an old regime but by what follows after. In our case, the attempts at real revolution came from leftists and rightists who tried to obliterate Cory’s presidency and the democratic space she opened up.
Going by the goals she set, that of restoring the old order and taking us back to American-style liberal democracy, the Cory presidency was a huge success. Congress, warts and all, was restored; big business took back from the state and its cronies sectors of the economy once deemed for national interest and security. Fortunately, unlike Marcos, Cory knew when to quit. Towards the end of her term, her blessed ignorance — or lack of experience — had become a disadvantage. The crippling brownouts only ended when Fidel Ramos, uncharismatic but a hard taskmaster, took over.
Save for the Erap presidency, which was abruptly cut short by Edsa Dos, the Edsa Establishment had an uninterrupted 30 years, climaxing with the presidency of Cory’s son, Noynoy. How could a presidency that ended on a high mark slide seamlessly to one that is its polar opposite? Pundits blame trolls, Facebook, or whatever took the form of Cambridge Analytica here. But it would have been too much to expect the Edsa Establishment to go on forever. It was the end of a political cycle. In the US, the cycle usually lasts two or three terms before the presidency swings back from republican to democrat, or vice versa. That is the wisdom of the crowd. Today, the Philippine crowd, an overwhelming number of them, is decidedly on the opposite side of the Edsa Establishment.
It is perhaps fitting that a mayor has been elected president. Who else has a better grasp of the everyday problems of the ordinary Filipino? Some of the possible answers can be seen in the past, but the Edsa Establishment’s tendency to sweep away everything Marcosian is its biggest undoing.
We’re all familiar with this data from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency): P3.5-billion in economic losses daily due to the traffic in Metro Manila. The quick and easy answer to the traffic, water, and garbage problems is a Metro Manila government. Sadly, that harks back to when Imelda Marcos was a Metro Manila governor. Public services in the contiguous greater Manila area fell under one chief executive way before they did in other megacities of the world. In short, we were first.
Now, 11 million residents are at the mercy of 17 city mayors looking after their own fiefdoms and can’t agree on anything, and can hardly get anything done. They can’t agree on when to suspend classes. They don’t understand that students live in one city and go to school in another. Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta have governors. How can something so obvious not find its way into the conversations about the deteriorating quality of life in Metro Manila?
Remember the Kubeta village? It was toilet humor at its most political
Remember the “Kubeta village”? We mocked a housing project in Carmona, Cavite by Human Settlements Minister Imelda Marcos because it made the toilet the foundation of every home. It was toilet humor in its most political. An oppositionist then, Hernando Perez, later a congressman in Batangas, exposed it.
What we fail to appreciate is that proper sanitation has been elusive in this country since the Americans first noticed Filipinos taking a bath twice a day and defecating everywhere in public. Diarrhea killed 10,000 Filipino kids in 2008, according to the World Health Organization. The numbers have been improving, but the DOH still estimates that 26 percent of households do not have access to clean water and sanitation. Why a Kubeta village? Because the planners back then realized that Filipinos put very low priority in having their own toilet. It’s the last thing they’ll spend on.
The Marcos administration was planning for water, energy, and mass transportation. The LRT, built in 1980, was the first rapid transit system in Southeast Asia. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, demonized as a disaster waiting to happen, has two plants in the world of the exact same model still running.
That the projects were tainted by money scandals is a narrative we are all familiar with. Sadly, it’s the only side of the story we know. Martial law and plunder was one side; there was also the “New Society” or “Bagong Lipunan”. Yes, it was propaganda, no different from Philippines 2000 of FVR or “Matatag na Republika” of Gloria Arroyo. But “New Society” was also unprecedented in the scale and depth in which it tried to solve the many problems of Philippine society. Marcos was a dictator; he ruled by decree, but he also founded a “grassroots” government, the Barangay system, which remains very relevant to this day. For many Filipinos, it is the only government that matters.
Another relic of Bagong Lipunan, the nutribun, also comes to mind when we read today about the low ranking of Filipino students in comprehension, and also how 70,000 students in Bicol can’t read. There is a direct relation between the stomach and learning. UNICEF has a first 100 days program that focuses on the nutrition of infants because of its impact on a child’s brain development.
Half of the world’s population today lives in urban areas. By 2050, it will be 68 percent, according to the UN. The mayor’s time has come. The mayor is in a better position to understand the problems we have today. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo was a mayor and governor of Jakarta. UP Prime Minister Boris Johnson was mayor of London. Both upset the political establishments in their country, not unlike our own “mayor”.
If the Duterte administration waxes nostalgic about the Marcos past, it’s because Duterte is not burdened by political baggage. He does not hide his admiration for Marcos, although he owes his political career to the Edsa Establishment. He was appointed prosecutor during Cory’s time. His beloved mother, Nanay Soleng, led the anti-Marcos rallies in Davao City. His father, Vicente, while a member of the Marcos cabinet, was dropped by Marcos when Vicente run for Davao governor. Vicente died shortly after his election loss, possibly a betrayed, broken man. In Earl Pareño’s Duterte biography, “Will to Power”, Rody cried inconsolably at the loss of his father. Yet he doesn’t feel like he blots the memory of his father or mother when he voices some admiration for Marcos.
We would still be debating Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani if that didn’t already happen three years ago. It happened not because the President thought Marcos a hero; he just wanted to bury that issue and move us all on. That’s one less cause of stress for us all. The problem with #neveragain is that it sweeps away the useful bits from the past that could help us today.