[OPINION] Of Marcos, Duterte, and Zeman: Reviving the ghosts of the past
The Philippines on Friday, September 21, marked the 46th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law by former president Ferdinand Marcos which plunged the country into a dark era of dictatorship. Thousands of people came out to rally in Manila and other cities across the archipelago not just to show their indignation for the past wrongs, but also to warn against the danger of history repeating itself since many suspect President Rodrigo Duterte of having the same anti-democratic inclinations manifested once by Mr Marcos.
There was a similar outrage recently here in Prague, when the political business of the day collided with a historical date loaded with symbolism, leaving many with a sour taste in their mouth. On June 2, which officially marks Czech Republic's Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Communism, Czech President Miloš Zeman appointed a government coalition headed by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who broke a long-held political taboo by negotiating support from the Communist Party – in exchange for certain concessions. It's the first time that has happened since the Velvet Revolution toppled the communist regime in Prague in 1989. Many people blasted the timing of the act, some even saw it as an omen. It should be stressed that Czech communists, much like the Marcoses, have shown hardly any repentance for the 40 years of their one-party rule, which was marked by repression and persecution of those who dared to show dissent.
Therefore the slogans like "Never Again" and "Never Forget" displayed or shouted at rallies in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines also have a lot of meaning for Czechs who care to remember what went on before the Velvet Revolution – our own version of EDSA. And much like Filipinos, Czechs also refuse to "move on" until the communists truly show remorse and fully recognize the wrongdoings of the previous regime. As it is, they prefer to whitewash their many misdeeds, claiming people were better off overall (as long as they didn't challenge the order).
Incidentally, one date in particular is considered a turning point in modern history of both Czechs and Filipinos: February 25. There is a marked difference though of where it led our two nations. While the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took power on that day in 1948, sealing borders, turning the country into a satellite of Soviet Union, taking direct orders from Moscow, and denying citizens their civic rights and freedoms for the next 4 decades, Filipinos on that very same date in 1986 experienced the opposite, as their People Power Revolution drove Marcos into exile and brought back democracy after years of dictatorship.
But there has been a pronounced change in perception of the meaning of that date by the highest office in the land since Mr Duterte came to power. He chooses to largely ignore EDSA anniversary rites, sharing the view of the Marcoses (his friends) that there is nothing to celebrate. He also broke a long-held taboo when he gave a go-ahead for the transfer of Ferdinand Marcos' remains from a family tomb in Ilocos to Manila's Heroes' Cemetery in November 2016 – just months after his inauguration – igniting street protests similar to those witnessed on Friday.
Marcos is a highly divisive figure. He remains the only post-war Philippine president elected to the highest office more than once. Yet as the end of his second term loomed, he wasn't ready to step down from power as mandated by the constitution, choosing to declare Martial Law instead and concentrating all power in his hands. That meant not only the end of democracy in the Philippines for years to come, but also imprisonment, torture, and death for tens of thousands. Not to mention the large-scale plunder and unbridled corruption which ran the economy to the ground, transforming the Philippines from the early tiger of Asia to its basket case. None of that, of course, has ever been accepted, much less atoned for by the Marcoses despite those facts being well-documented.
And just as their similar "never-admit-any-guilt" attitude didn't prevent the Czech communists from finally breaking out of the political ghetto where they've been largely consigned after the Velvet Revolution, the Marcoses were rewarded for their strict adherence to the "don't-know-what-you're-talking-about" stance by the coming of Rodrigo Duterte to power. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr may have lost his bid for the vice presidency in the same elections, but he still hasn't given up on the prospect of becoming vice president by unseating the current holder of the office and leader of the opposition Leni Robredo through the recount of ballots at the Supreme Court, which sits as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. That possibility certainly cannot be discounted, if only for the fact that the independence of the judiciary as well as other constitutional guarantees seems to be much less secure since Mr Duterte became President. And it certainly angered and scared many people when the increasingly frail-looking head of state recently verbalized his alleged wish to have somebody like Bongbong Marcos rather than Leni Robredo as his veep, because he could then pass the reins of power on to him.
The Philippine President and his Czech counterpart are not only the same age (give or take 6 months), they also share many traits like the tendency to use vulgarities and make inappropriate jokes. They also share contempt for the press and were repeatedly heard "joking" about "stupid" journalists deserving the bullet or even "extinction." And they both enjoy the company of autocrats like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping despite the widespread unease of the people they are supposed to represent about the activities of Russia and China. One has to take that into account when trying to understand where the booing, which can increasingly be heard in both Manila and Prague, comes from. – Rappler.com
Pavel Vondra is a senior editor of Czech Radio Plus, a national public broadcaster in the Czech Republic. He is based in Prague but feels himself equally at home in Manila and all over the Philippines where he has extensively traveled and takes every opportunity to visit. He wrote the first history of the Philippines to be published in the Czech Republic (2016).
This opinion piece first appeared in its Czech original in the broadcast of Czech Radio Plus on September 21st.