Marcos family

[ANALYSIS] The Marcoses never left

John Molo

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[ANALYSIS] The Marcoses never left
2022 seems like an existential election, but it’s just a prelude. If we once again fail to fix the systems left intact post-1986 and simply repeat the cycle, we will lose the war.

There’s a lot of soul-searching on how a Marcos could be close to regaining the presidency. Is it due to what Lee Kuan Yew described as our “soft, forgiving culture”? Perhaps. Still, these traits are found in other populations. While there’s a rise in populism, resurgent ex-dictators or their kin is still uncommon.

So what allowed the Marcoses to return here? Maybe it’s the way we ask the question. That is, we look at it as if this is a comeback. But really, the Marcoses “aren’t back.” Because they never left. 

The 1986 People Power Revolution ended the Marcos dictatorship and birthed a new Constitution. President Cory Aquino, not a politician, did her best to re-introduce people to concepts like human rights and political freedoms. It was a delicate transition. 

It took 35 years to realize that exorcising a tyrant and enacting a new Constitution weren’t enough. Marcos and his enablers evaded accountability despite judgments against them. We also failed to address two key systems that empowered Marcos: the business oligarchy and political dynasties.

Their post-EDSA resilience stems from another systemic problem that is truly “Marcosian” in origin – a weakened legal system. We exiled a dictator, but did his “legacy” really leave? 

The common man has an unerring grasp of this. In his eyes, the return of democracy didn’t end massive economic inequality. Cronies were replaced by the oligarchs of old or new ones. The economy grew, but the poor remained stuck while the middle-class rarely benefitted from the growth they produced. And as decades passed, economic policy still fell within the influence of a powerful few. Consider: when COVID-19 hit, government rushed to support banks on the prodding that, “to help MSMEs, we need to help the banks FIRST.” But as US President Joe Biden said last May: “Here’s the deal: trickle-down economics has never worked.” True enough within months, small businesses collapsed and thousands lost jobs. Now, desperate entrepreneurs are told, “wala nang pera.” 

Control of dynasties

Re-working our economy away from capture fails because the main mechanism to do it is also in a state of capture: political dynasties. Dynasties provided the warm bodies that lent a veneer of popular support whenever the dictator needed it. In exchange, entire regions were turned into personal fiefs. Though the 1987 Constitution bans “political dynasties,” it left it to the legislature to define what the term means. Unsurprisingly, Congress never did. A dynasty monopolizes power, business oligarchies corner profit. And neither is interested in changing a set-up that favors them so well. 

The third factor is something FLAG chairperson and Dean Chel Diokno has described in lectures as Marcos’ “under-reported legacy.” In a 2020 forum, he recalled how Marcos gutted judicial independence via LOI No. 11 and the 1973 Constitution. He could remove judges “at any time, for any cause or even without any reason. And he did.” This compromised the justice system. As Dean Diokno observed, “The legal profession changed, it became a very corrupt profession. And that’s what I think the young people don’t realize…They left a lot of institutional problems, that affect us until today, especially our justice system.” This fueled disenchantment. We see it in the rise of “Tulfo style justice” and the lack of public outrage over the killing of lawyers and judges.  

These systemic problems have allowed a new President to once again close ABS-CBN, repeat the massacre of thousands, and weaken the rule of law. So long as they remain, we are bound to simply repeat these cycles of “good president-bad president” in a manner no different from iterations of the so-called matrix

Forgiving approach

The German penal code prohibits Holocaust denial and disseminating Nazi ideology. In 1986, we took a more “forgiving” approach. The problem was Marcos didn’t ravage this country alone. He had an infrastructure of bureaucrats and supporters. Martial Law had created a culture. Without safeguards similar to the Germans, local revisionists acted with impunity – some even sanitized schoolbooks. Others bided their time. They climbed the ladder. And then through the three systems allowed the Marcoses win after another win. 

Through the years, these went into the Marcoses’ new arsenal. When the public saw the oligopoly intact, it gave rise to the “wala namang nagbago” narrative. When entire clans continued to dominate politics, it fueled the cynicism of “weather-weather lang.” And when the legal system failed to imprison the Marcoses, it gave a veneer of truth to their claim that “wala kaming kasalanan.”

Marcosian disinformation succeeds because it manipulates slivers of truth and taps into society’s undercurrent of rage. As Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa warns, in social media nothing spreads faster than “lies laced with hate.” 

Blame the elite

The “masa” often gets blamed. However, the key decisions that enabled the Marcos resurgence weren’t made by it. It also wasn’t the middle class. The power to address the three systems largely fell on the political, economic, and intellectual elite, not on those struggling to survive.

Disinformation is powerful, but it still needs fuel. It found plenty in the collective disaffection produced by years of what Biden refers to as “ordinary people getting fleeced.”     

It is vital that we not only win 2022 but, to also commit to re-work our society, our economy, and our legal system. Getting back to “normal” cannot mean putting things back exactly how they were. There’s been too much death and suffering for that.

There’s the hopeful observation that “it feels like 1986 all over again.” Still, millions of Filipinos are waiting to be convinced why this time, things will really be different. With the way this pandemic exacerbated inequality, a simple offer to a return to pre-pandemic times isn’t enough.  

2022 seems like an existential election, but it’s just a prelude. If we once again fail to fix the systems left intact post-1986 and simply repeat the cycle, we will lose the war.

Tolerating the excesses of late-stage capitalism and political dynasties is unsustainable in an era where disinformation reigns. Just like in 1986, Dutertismo won’t die even if its leaders lose next year.

We are wary of Bongbong today, yet he pales in comparison to the other heirs of the Marcos legacy. They are educated, hard-working, and incredibly tech-savvy. The wheel must be broken. Because they are coming. –

John Molo is a commercial law litigator who enjoys reading and learning about the Constitution and its intersection with politics. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP Law-BGC, where he also chairs the Political Law Cluster of the Faculty. He is a past chairman of the IBP Law Journal. He led the team that sued the Aquino administration and invalidated the PDAF.

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