Return of the Evil Empire in the offing?
On Feb. 26, 1986, Makati Business District office workers marched on Ayala Avenue, with their leaders holding up a large streamer with the words “NEVER AGAIN!” Never again will they let a tyrant rule the land, the marchers vowed.
Today, Ferdinand Marcos’ ghost seems to haunt, not only the Makati Business District, but in fact the entire land. Streamers bearing the name are seen on Ayala Avenue and on many other streets. Sometimes people get a momentary glimpse of the man’s image, a youngish and jolly one. Is the return of the Evil Empire in the offing 30 years after the people vowed “Never again”?
It is not the tyrant on the comeback trail. It is Bongbong, the tyrant’s son, trying to get back into power. No, it is not the very seat of power that he is after, but he is deliberately working toward getting it eventually.
The trek back to Malacañang started just five years after the Edsa People Power Revolution, when Bongbong and his mother returned jubilantly and pompously from exile. Marcos Jr. is following the trail that Marcos Sr. took to get to absolute power.
The father started his political career as the representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte in the House. After three terms, he sought and won a seat in the Senate. At the end of his term as senator, he ran for president.
The son was governor of Ilocos Norte from 1983 to 1986. But that was more of an investiture as his father was then dictator. His political career can be said to have started in 1992, when he ran as representative of the same district of Ilocos Norte that his father represented. At the end of his term, he ran for a seat in the Senate but lost, thanks to a vigorous negative campaign waged nationwide by the former parliamentarians of the streets.
He went back to the old Marcos fiefdom to lick his wounds. His wounds healed, he tried to regain political strength by running for governor of Ilocos Norte in 1998. He won. In the same year Marcos loyalist Joseph “Erap” Estrada was elected president. That marked the return to power of the dictator’s former aides, which in turn marked the Marcoses’ and their cronies’ recovery of their ill-gotten wealth and the dismissal of criminal charges against Marcos men, kin and cronies.
Vestiges of the Marcos apparatus are very much in evidence in Congress. Aside from Bongbong, the Senate counts among its members Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, Franklin Drilon, Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito and Sonny Angara.
Enrile was the architect of martial law, and Honasan was one of its zealous enforcers. Drilon and Angara’s father crafted the contracts that awarded monopolies and captive markets to Marcos cronies Eduardo Cojuangco and Herminio Disini. The Cayetano siblings are children of Renato Cayetano, one of Marcos’ political lieutenants. Estrada and Ejercito are the sons of Marcos acolyte Erap; Escudero is the son of Salvador Escudero, Marcos’ minister of agriculture.
With Imelda Marcos in the House are scions of the political warlords of the martial law era and offspring of Marcos subalterns. The roster in that chamber includes the names Albano, Angara, Bagatsing, Benitez, Cojuangco, Del Rosario, Dimaporo, Duavit, Durano, Dy, Ejercito, Escudero, Estrella, Fariñas, Jalosjos, Gullas, Lobregat, Ortega, Ponce Enrile, Romualdez, Singson, and Zubiri, names all associated with Marcos.
Also in the House are Ronnie Zamora (Marcos’ legal expert) and Gina de Venecia (wife of Jose de Venecia, a Marcos crony). Gina comes from the family that owned Sampaguita Pictures, the Marcos-friendly movie company that produced “Iginuhit ng Tadhana,” Marcos’ biopic.
Many provinces remain under the stranglehold of Marcos vassals: Ilocos Sur, Isabela, La Union, Rizal, Cavite, Marinduque, Lanao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Davao del Norte and Bukidnon. Of course, a Marcos heir always rules the Marcos fiefdom of Ilocos Norte. For now it is eldest child Imee.
Bongbong served as governor of the province until 2007, when he ran again for a seat in the House. At the end of his term, he made his bid for the Senate. With Marcos political allies well-placed in the government and millions of new voters born in the postmartial law era casting votes, he made it in his second attempt to get elected senator.
Marcos Sr. used the Senate presidency as his launching pad for his quest for Malacañang. Marcos Jr. hopes to get to Malacañang via the nearest jump-off point, the vice presidency. The polls show that he has a good chance of reaching that point. If he wins on May 9, then the return of the Evil Empire becomes imminent.
This week we celebrate the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. The focus is on the events that transpired on a stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue during those four days in February 1986. The focus has given the impression to those who were too young to feel the repression of martial law that the struggle against the dictatorship took place on a short strip of highway and in all of four days.
Perhaps the Edsa People Power Commission should correct the annual observance by calling the occasion by another name that will honor all those who valiantly carried on the struggle against one-man rule, that they may inspire generations of Filipinos to come to echo the vow “Never again!”
Oscar P. Lagman Jr. is a member of the cause-oriented group Manindigan! that helped topple the Marcos dictatorship and a convener of the Black and White Movement.