Time for pro-democracy forces’ agenda

Philip M. Lustre Jr.

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Time for pro-democracy forces’ agenda
A democratic agenda has to be put in place to prevent the return of authoritarianism. This agenda will define the moves to enable the pro-democracy forces to defeat authoritarianism.

Our restored democracy is under threat. What has been nurtured over the last 30 years faces imminent destruction and demolition by conspiring political forces with authoritarian tendencies.

The threat comes from the political alliance supporting the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. It is also in a tactical alliance with certain political families and groups pushing an agenda to reinstitute an authoritarian regime in the country.

These political forces plan to thwart or dismantle the current democratic system by initiating a series of political moves leading to the presidency of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr on or before June 30, 2022, or the end of Duterte’s 6-year term of office.

They are maneuvering for a recount of the votes in the vice presidential race, cheat to obtain Bongbong’s electoral victory, kick out Vice President Leni Robredo from office, and declare and install Bongbong as winner and vice president. As planned, Bongbong takes over as Duterte leaves office because of ill health or incapacity to govern. 

Hence, the son of the dictator is set to initiate an authoritarian agenda to get back to power, perpetuate the Marcos authoritarian regime earlier toppled by the people in the 1986 People Power Revolution, and plunge the country into another era of political darkness.

This initiative has to be stopped. A democratic agenda has to be put in place to prevent the return of authoritarianism. This agenda will define the moves to enable the pro-democracy forces to defeat authoritarianism.

Conflicting themes

Two conflicting themes have characterized the nation’s postwar experience: democracy and authoritarianism. It appears simplistic, but this dichotomy of political themes has been evident for nearly 5 decades. 

On the one end, pro-democracy forces want the democratic institutions and structures to remain strong and vibrant and the democratic processes to continue and flourish. Moreover, they believe in a pluralistic society, where various belief systems, world views, and advocacy are given ample space for peaceful coexistence and growth.

The pro-democracy forces are represented by disparate forces composed of the middle elements that supported two people power revolutions (EDSA 1 and EDSA 2), political parties and organizations advocating democratic ideals like the rule of law, and institutions like the Majority Church, or the Roman Catholic Church, and the Minority Church, or various Christian and non-Christian denominations, their clergy, and various Church-based organizations. 

Although they are collectively called the “Yellow Forces” since they helped to catapult the Aquino mother and son (Corazon and Benigno III) into the presidency, the democratic forces extend to political groups that have been mainly on the fringes, which include certain legal Left organizations and other advocacy groups. Hence, it is inaccurate to call the democratic forces the “Yellow,” although the yellow forces constitute a big part of these pro-democracy forces.

On the other end, political forces with authoritarian tendencies live in the past, as indicated by their persistence to revise history, treat the two people power uprisings (EDSA 1 and EDSA 2) as historical flukes or non-events, and reimpose the failed authoritarian system, believing it is the better way to run the country. 

Off-the-cuff presidential remarks that seemingly showed a tilt toward the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, declaration of martial law, or establishment of a revolutionary statement seem to fan widespread anxiety and fear on a return of authoritarianism.

Historical antecedents

The country’s postwar liberal democratic system was put in place in 1946, but Ferdinand Marcos, elected popularly in 1965 and reelected in 1969, touched the nerve of history by declaring Martial Law on September 21, 1972, plunging the country into an unprecedented political experiment in what he termed as “constitutional authoritarianism” or dictatorship.

Marcos was to step down by the end of his second term on December 30, 1973 since the 1935 Constitution provided that a president could have only two successive 4-year terms of office. But he wanted to prolong his stay in power by hook or by crook, or largely the latter.

Since wife Imelda, or any of his men like Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, had no chance against the constellation of Liberal Party stars like Senators Gerardo Roxas, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, and Jovito Salonga, in the 1973 presidential elections, Marcos took advantage of a loophole in the 1935 Constitution to extend his tenure.

By a stroke of a pen, Marcos declared Martial Law, writing finis to the democratic traditions and destroying its democratic structures. He abolished Congress, closed down mass media outfits, arrested and jailed without charges tens of thousands of journalists, activists, labor and peasant leaders, religious workers, and opposition stalwarts, including then senators Jose “Pepe” Diokno and Ninoy Aquino.

Marcos invoked the national security doctrine for martial rule, saying he wanted “to save” the country from what he described the “conspiracy of the oligarchs and the communist rebels. He said the much ballyhooed rebellion, led by the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), its military arm, grew to constitute a major security threat to the country.

Facts: The CPP-NPA, at the time, was a nascent organization that did not have the sufficient number of cadres, warriors, firearms, and other logistics to put the country at the brink of civil war. Its political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF), which sought to unify the middle forces under its leadership, was non-existent. Its preparatory commission was formed in late 1973, or a year after the Martial Law declaration. The 1973 outbreak of the Muslim separatist movement, led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), was another factor for the martial necessity.

To stay in power, Marcos intimidated members of the assembly tasked to draft a new postwar Constitution to replace the colonial 1935 Constitution and manipulated the ratification of the 1973 Constitution to serve as the blueprint of his dictatorial rule.

Marcos justified his dictatorship by claiming it was his intention to create a “New Society” to “liberate” the country from the “oligarchy” and communist rebels. He ruled by decrees, exercising the powers of the executive department and the abolished Congress. He bamboozled the Supreme Court to give the green light for his Martial Law administration.

Promised change

After declaring Martial Law in 1972, Marcos ruled for another 13 years. But the promised changes did not happen. Instead, he did the following:

  • Centralized corruption, where he earned fat under-the-table commissions from big ticket state projects and deposited the illicit proceeds in various foreign banks, mostly in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, a small principality in western Europe, which serves mainly as a tax haven
  • Crony capitalism, where his stable of cronies replaced the pre-Martial Law oligarchs, cornering fat state projects, forming monopolies in the coconut and sugar industries, obtaining special import privileges in select industries in the manufacturing sector, and grabbing monopoly contracts in the services sector, which included the waterfront
  • Unrestrained and wanton human rights violations, where tens of thousands of student activists, religious workers, and other anti-Marcos elements were arrested and imprisoned without charges, released without any explanation, tortured, and summarily executed, and disappeared without any trace.

Although the first 4 or 5 years brought economic growth, Marcos ruled without mandate, triggering widespread criticisms in the domestic front and the international community as well. He was not popularly elected beyond 1973, but held several rigged referenda and elections to reflect ostensibly the people’s approval of his Martial Law regime. 

Although his Martial Law declaration was to last for few months to address the communist insurgency and Muslim secessionist issues, Marcos prolonged his stay in power, making him a dictator with absolute powers.

But absolute power corrupts absolutely. Without the world knowing it, Marcos, Imelda and cronies, which constituted the Martial Law-sponsored new oligarchy, were plundering the country of its wealth, treating the national treasury as if they owned the public funds, stashing the loot elsewhere, and transferring them from one place to another to avoid detection.

It was kleptocracy, or the use of power and state structures to plunder and accumulate wealth to enable them to live like kings and queens for 20 lifetimes. Jovito Salonga, the first Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) chair, estimated their total loot at between $5 billion to $10 billion. After 30 years, the estimate stands. Even the international community accepts the figures to typify the rapacity and greed of the Marcoses and their ilk.

By end-2015, the PCGG was reported to have recovered about P170 billion of ill-gotten wealth from the Marcoses, cronies and friends. As the pending civil cases prosper, the recovered loot could go up to slightly over P200 billion by 2017, the PCGG said. 

Yet, the amount was but a fraction of the loot, as a sizable amount has been successfully stashed by the Marcoses. In fact, a big amount was spent for the unsuccessful 2016 vice presidential bid of the young Marcos. (To be concluded) – Rappler.com

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