The good news is that, as the peasant groups enthused last week, this was the “strongest statement” yet made by the courts against Danding Cojuangco. This was the Supreme Court ruling with finality that Cojuangco’s shares in the United Coconut Planters Bank in fact belonged to the coconut farmers.
“The ruling did not only strengthen the small coconut farmers’ legitimate claim over the 72.2 percent shares in UCPB but reaffirmed the historical truth that (Cojuangco) plundered the coco levy funds,” said Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
The victory though was a much qualified one. As a former UCPB director pointed out, the value of the bank’s shares that the Supreme Court awarded to the coconut farmers was a mere “pittance” compared to the 20-percent sequestered shares of San Miguel that the same Court awarded to Cojuangco last year. What the right hand withholdeth, the left hand giveth—except that the left hand giveth more.
Just as well, before the peasant groups bring out the champagne, or the lambanog, made from coconut instead of sasa of course, they might do well to remember that the Supreme Court has a weird definition of “finality.” It’s a finality that is never final. As the flight attendants know only too well: After the Court ruled with finality to award the Flight Attendants’ and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines (Fasap) back its members benefits, it reopened the case once more, leaving Fasap’s more senior members in a lurch. The same thing could happen to the coconut farmers.
The bad news is everything else.
At the very least, the case is a reminder of how Ferdinand Marcos, his family and his cronies got away with murder. Literally so in Marcos’ case, but not much better for being metaphorically so in his cronies’ case. Those cronies included Cojuangco, Juan Ponce Enrile and, as several blogs have pointed out, Fidel Ramos as well. He was very much a pillar of martial law, however he threw in his lot with the Reformed the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) at the last minute, being head of the dreaded Philippine Constabulary for much of that time.
Unlike Argentina and South Africa, after martial law we never had a Truth Commission, the one thing that would have allowed us to move on. Again, as Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, head of the South African Truth Commission, said, before forgiveness, there is the admission; before reconciliation, there is restitution. Neither the Marcoses nor their cronies admitted their sins, neither the Marcoses nor their cronies made restitution. What they did was merely to part with part of their ill-gotten wealth, or stolen fortune, or loot. That is not restitution, that is absolution. That is not pain, that is gain.
The result of this was to guarantee that crime does pay, and pay big. It’s not merely that the fortunes allowed to remain in the hands of the cronies—the succeeding governments were content to strike deals with them rather than jail them and confiscate their properties—represent wealth taken away from the people. Though that is a monumental iniquity in itself: Can you imagine, the food, medicine, classrooms all that loot can buy? Can you imagine the extent to which poverty can be pushed back by seizing it?
But even more than that, it’s that we continue to pay for that pillage in debt payments. It’s not just that Marcos and his cronies raped us a long time ago, it’s that they rape us again and again to this day. Our debt payments are currently three times more than our budget for education—which represents as well a warped sense of priorities on government’s part, though that is another story. Most of that debt was incurred by Marcos and his cronies. Most of that debt went to Marcos and his cronies.
I don’t know why fighting corruption should be limited only to the present. I don’t know why fighting corruption shouldn’t extend to the past, particularly where that past waylays the present and darkens the future. It’s never too late to set up a Truth Commission. It’s never too late to proclaim the truth.
That’s so particularly since we did not just allow Marcos and his cronies to go unpunished, we rewarded them. We did not just fail to prosecute them, we rehabilitated them. We did not just fail to jail them, we allowed them to rule us all over again, or to threaten to.
Enrile felt so entitled to become president, or however he saw himself fit to be after Edsa, he mounted one coup after another to unseat Cory. He ascended to great heights last year with the publication of his version of history, only to fall back to familiar lows again with that same falsification of history. But who knows? Armed with stem cell and the forgetfulness of his compatriots, he might still fulfill his dreams.
Danding Cojuangco nearly became president in 1992. Miriam Santiago of course thought she was the one who was cheated and kept calling herself the real president, but there’s evidence to show Cojuangco bore the brunt of the bawas and Ramos reaped the bounties of the dagdag.
Ramos did become president in 1992. Astonishingly, there were three Marcos people in the first regular election after Edsa: Cojuangco, Ramos and Imelda. Among them, only Imelda did not do well. Of the non-Marcos people, only Miriam did well. Ramon Mitra and Jovito Salonga did not.
And now the Marcoses are mounting a campaign to try to win Malacañang back.
And we are happy to learn that the Supreme Court has ruled that the UCPB shares bought by coco levy funds belong to the coconut farmers? And we are elated to know that the law has decreed that the pillagers should part with an infinitesimal part of their loot? And we are ecstatic to learn that those who made our lives a living hell for 14 years, if not indeed removed a great many of us from this earth, are inconvenienced in this way? That is a pittance.
That is the consuelo de bobo.