The failed exorcism of the Marcos legacy
CANBERRA—The flight from Malacañang of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family in February 1986 marked the overthrow of his regime and the restoration of democracy in the Philippines. Almost three decades after the 1986 People Power Revolution, the legacy of the 14-year dictatorship is proving to be one of the most durable myths of regime change in the postwar republic.
The return of the Marcos heirs and their rehabilitation following three years of exile in Hawaii and elsewhere have triggered the controversy over whether they have been sufficiently held accountable for the abuses under the dictatorship. The Marcos heirs have exacerbated the controversy with the launch of the provocative candidacy of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for the vice presidency last October, almost 30 years after the dictatorship was toppled. The senator said he was making the bid because he wanted to continue the “legacy of service” of his father.
Bongbong Marcos not only refused to apologize for the abuses of power of the dictatorship, but he also offended the countless victims of these abuses and hit a raw nerve among the public by calling on the Aquino administration to put the past behind it and “move on.” He likewise castigated the Marcos regime’s abuse victims for their “Never Again” battle cry, claiming that Filipinos were no longer concerned about human rights. Marcos apologists echoed his theme that “Never Again” is a sterile slogan that stands in the way of moving forward.
The senator stopped short of calling for a reexamination of the dictatorship’s legacy and for Filipinos to forget its excesses. He must be aware that after all these decades, many Filipinos still find it difficult to forget and accept the excesses of his father’s one-man rule. It is equally hard for the people to accept the Marcoses’ claim that their reentry into politics has vindicated them and legitimized their attempts to be restored to power and to strut on the center stage of politics to lead the country once again.
The Marcoses’ restoration attempts flies in the face of the dictum of philosopher George Santayana that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship marked the start of the exorcism of its abominable legacy—a process that has gained momentum in public debate as the Philippines approaches the May 2016 elections—a most important search for a new generation of leadership that is not modelled on the “values” fostered by Marcos dictatorship.
It is important to remember the Marcos regime in terms of these issues—the scale of its corruption, the pillage of the nation’s economic resources, and the toll its atrocities and rights abuses inflicted on human lives. Never again should this happen as the people resist corruption and search for approaches to accelerate inclusive economic growth that reduces poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor.
The Philippines is struggling to exorcise the toxic elements of the Marcos legacy. It is not lusting for a Marcos restoration to lead Filipinos on the way out of the economic devastation left by the dictatorial regime’s policies and programs. Put bluntly, the intervention of the Marcoses in Philippine politics is the least wanted initiative for the country’s economic recovery from their depredations.
The Marcos legacy is coming under rigorous review following the attempts of the dictator’s heirs to regain power, as highlighted by Bongbong Marcos’ candidacy for vice president. On the abuse of human rights under the Marcos dictatorship, the scholar and historian Alfred McCoy recorded 3,257 extrajudicial killings and 2,520 “salvaged” victims. In September 1992, the US District Court in Honolulu found Ferdinand Marcos guilty of systematic torture and held his estate liable for damages to 9,441 victims, later awarding nearly $2 billion in damages—the biggest personal injury verdict then in legal history.
Regarding plundered wealth, the 2004 Global Transparency Report listed Marcos second (behind Suharto of Indonesia) in its list of the most corrupt leaders. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, often cited as the model authoritarian ruler that Marcos could have emulated, distanced himself from the dictator thus: “Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics.”
The Supreme Court has estimated the total legal income of the Marcoses, earned from 1965 to 1986, at over $304,000. The Presidential Commission on Good Government tasked to recover the fruits of the Marcos plunder pegged what had been looted from the country at $10 billion, less than half of which has been recovered.
Might kleptocracy help explain the inequitable wealth distribution that concerns Bongbong Marcos? That is the issue raised by the findings of this inquiry.
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