When our democracy was hijacked by Ferdinand Marcos, in 1972, he did it the old-fashioned way: he enlisted the generals, declared Martial law, and installed himself dictator. Now, 50 years later, if things go right for Ferdinand Jr. – and wrong for us – he might just achieve just about the same thing without being so imperious and extreme as his father.
Precisely because of our dreadful experience under his father’s 14-year dictatorship, stricter legislative and judicial checks on future attempts at imposing martial law were written into a new constitution. But subsequent developments have helped likeminded successors bypass these checks. They in fact didn’t need to impose martial law in order to reap its effects; in some cases we the people even helped. One particularly egregious case benefited President Gloria Arroyo.
Stepping up from vice president to succeed Joseph Estrada in midterm, Arroyo went on to serve her own elective six-year presidential term. She did it by rigging her election. She was caught on tape in a conspiratorial phone conversation with an election commissioner; in fact, by apologizing, she effectively confessed. Still we let her off, preferring Arroyo the cheat to Fernando Poe Jr., her movie-actor rival. Apparently we expected to be excused for our moral lapse by our experience with Estrada.
A former actor himself, Estrada had been impeached and ousted through street protests before the Senate, as the impeachment court, could rule. He was convicted by the regular graft court, of plunder, all the same, but Arroyo pardoned him. Thus the curse of history was activated.
Charged with plunder herself after her term, Arroyo spent the next six years in detention while on trial. A friendlier President in Rodrigo Duterte set her free, along with senators allied with her, a son of Estrada’s among them. Not long afterwards, a Supreme Court she had managed to pack in her unusually long reign acquitted her.
It wouldn’t have made any difference if our elections already had been computerized when Arroyo cheated – the computerization came six years later, in 2010. She was simply determined to cheat and we were predisposed to look the other way. But if computerization makes it easier not only to count but also to cheat, it remains an exploitable system, especially in the manner prescribed by law.
That’s why knowledgeable civic vigilantes like Gus Lagman and Rene Azurin continue to fight for an arrangement providing for a manual vote count at the precincts, where the process is open to the public and can be observed closely, as each vote is read out from the ballot and posted on the board; it is against that count that computerized tallies on the next levels are to be validated.
That Congress rejected the idea, as plainly sensible as it is, and chose to leave to a machine’s preprogrammed wisdom to determine the integrity and legitimacy of the vote, tended to betray suspicious inclinations. (The case is made in Hacking Our Democracy: The Conspiracy to Electronically Control Philippine Elections, by Rene B. Azurin, BusinessWorld Publishing Corporation, 2013.)
Sure enough Ferdinand Jr.’s claim to victory is clouded by such suspicions, although I wonder whether he had not cheated enough to need yet a counting machine’s help to be elected. Cheating is, after all, a Marcos way of life.
Ferdinand Sr.’s own life had been a lie from his young manhood – he was a murderous avenger and a fake war hero. As President and dictator, he continued, more systematically now, to fool us; he built a falsehood factory that employed some of the best writers and allied operators money could buy. His son is no evil genius like him, only clueless, but he’s had powerful modern-day help in the internet.
Arriving here in 1994, the Internet opened to anyone over the years all sorts of platforms for propagating falsehoods. With assistance from the most expensive experts and an army of trolls – after all, the family ran away with an estimated $10 billion in loot – Ferdinand Jr. has made it to president (presumptive so far, to be more factual about it), from provincial governor (1998-2007), congressional representative (2007-2010), and senator (2010-2016). The journalist Sheila Coronel has an excellent perspective piece in The New Yorker on his election. In it she quotes a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Jonathan Corpus Ong, who has studied disinformation networks in the Philippines:
“For too long, progressives have taken for granted that facts in themselves are sufficient. In the case of the Philippines, the liberal weapons of historical accuracy and fact-checking are simply no match for Marcos’ creative folklore, turbocharged by social media fan culture and relatable influencers.”
Thus the circle closes from Marcos to Marcos.
With Arroyo and Duterte as his co-conspirators and Duterte’s own daughter Sara as his Vice President, Ferdinand Jr. may not be as much in control as he would have wished. But things won’t likely be different for us, essentially, from how they were under his father. Duterte, his predecessor and a self-professed disciple of his father’s, has established the conditions only too familiar to him — the cronyism and corruption, the militarization, the repression, the mockery of the rule of law, and the impunity with which all that is carried out. – Rappler.com