Today is the first of the four days in February that led to the toppling of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. Those Filipinos who have been around long enough to remember note with alarm how uncannily similar some recent government policies and actions are to those during that harsh chapter in the nation’s history.
One of the first steps that Marcos took when he declared martial law was to put restraints on the media — from locking up critics to padlocking newspapers and broadcast stations, to strictly monitoring the content of media outlets that he and his family put up to take over.
On Tuesday, Rappler reporter Pia Ranada was barred from entering Malacañang, her beat.
Previously, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the online news portal, which has often published critical reports on the Duterte administration, with irregularities in its ownership and revoked its certificate of incorporation. The case is still under appeal.
In place of Marcos’ Mass Media Council which sought to control dissent by deciding which media outlets could operate, there is now the Presidential Communications Office, which seeks, among other things, to vet the applications of bloggers.
Then as now, government media are expected to toe the official line and politics of the administration, except that with social media now changing the rules, paid trolls can easily drown out critical voices and give the impression of overwhelming and unquestioning support for government policies and actions.
Marcos quickly abolished Congress soon after declaring martial law and established a parliamentary form of government peopled by members of the behemoth Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, thereby creating a virtual rubber stamp of a legislative body.
Today’s congressional hearings, it has been observed, are often conducted in aid of quashing opposition, aiding reelection, and carrying out the ruling party’s political agenda.
Remember how a then sitting chief justice carried an umbrella for Imelda Marcos, reflecting how the judiciary was rendered toothless and subservient in the Marcos years?
The shocking ruling of the Supreme Court allowing the burial of the dictator’s remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, among other rulings including that approving the yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao, conveys the fragility of judicial independence under this dispensation, and how blurred the lines have become between the three branches of government.
Marcos often thundered against corruption in his speeches while brazenly taking over the businesses of his rivals whom he described as oligarchs.
Meanwhile, his cronies bagged lucrative posts and amassed wealth with controversial projects, among them the now mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
Was that much different, the man in the street might ask, from the important government posts awarded by the administration to those to whom it owes a debt of gratitude, or who have backed its agenda against its considered enemies?
During the martial law era, Marcos had to dodge charges of human rights violations from international bodies for the disappearance, torture, and death of some 3,000 peasants, activists, and other opposition figures.
(But then Vice President George Bush congratulated him for his “adherence to democracy,” confirming the widely held belief that the dictator was a US stooge in these parts.)
Today, the International Criminal Court has started a preliminary examination of the extrajudicial killing of thousands of drug suspects in the government’s bloody war on drugs.
Suffice it to say that the similarities are disturbing.
What was that Yogi Berra is touted to have said? “It’s déjà vu all over again.”