Martial law: unfinished business

/ 10:42 PM April 11, 2016

CAN IT be that the more prepared and reasonable candidates in the national elections are not in the race for No. 1 but in the race for No. 2?

That’s an impression one could get from the first and only vice-presidential debate organized by the Commission on Elections and hosted by CNN Philippines last Sunday-an affair that proved largely free of the name-calling and brawling that characterized the last presidential face-off. For the most part, the six candidates for VP managed to flesh out their respective policy programs and to clearly explain their positions on the burning issues, with the personal attacks kept to a minimum.


There were fireworks, of course, and at best they gave the audience a glimpse of the candidates’ ability to marshal argument and counterargument on their feet without flubbing their message or their composure. The sparks came early on with the heckling that derailed Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s opening statement, which led the debate moderators to ask that the student hecklers be escorted out of the venue. But if Marcos thought he could relax somewhat from thereon, he had another think coming as Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano wasted no time launching an offensive on the legacy of corruption and misrule spawned by his father’s martial law.

Cayetano’s aggressive, almost eager-beaver, but essentially disciplined performance in this debate—he outpaced everyone in chipping away at Marcos without forgetting to reiterate his and his presidential running mate Rodrigo Duterte’s core talking points—appears to be of a piece with his performance during the recent Senate hearing on the Kidapawan violence. This man believes he needs to step up the rhetoric to fire up his standing in the polls, where he continues to trail Marcos, Sen. Francis Escudero and even Rep. Leni Robredo.


Still, however calculated, Cayetano’s act of putting the issue of corruption front and center in the debate was creditable, though perhaps not entirely to his benefit. Asking Marcos pointblank about the billions of

dollars his family is on record to have amassed from two decades of stay in the Palace gave voters the opportunity to witness once again the dictator’s son and namesake deny bare-faced any knowledge of, much less responsibility for, his family’s misdeeds.

“I cannot give what I do not have” was Marcos’ glib reply to the challenge for him to return the money stolen from the people. It elicited boos from the crowd that he appeared to take in stride. But then he has had all these years to practice the art of the nonchalant nonanswer in the face of damning, well-documented charges.

Cayetano ticked off all the major touchstones of the Marcos plunder—the estimated $10 billion hoard of which only some $4 billion had been recovered, Imelda Marcos’ on-record admission that the family owned nearly every industry in the country, the court cases successfully pursued against the Marcos estate, Senator Marcos’ own telling statement of liabilities, assets and net worth, with hundreds of millions of pesos in assets but with no discernible source of income except some years in local government service. But then, neither the debate moderators nor the other candidates pursued the inherent contradiction in Cayetano’s zealous takedown of his opponent by asking the logical question: Shouldn’t he be directing this outrage at his running mate as well?

Duterte is on record as praising the dictator as the greatest president this country has ever had, and as stating that his remains should be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. His factotums have characterized that as more a pragmatic move than anything else—bury the man finally and move on from the lifetime recriminations he has spawned. But the idea is appalling: Why should a so-called hero with a discredited cache of medals, and a president who betrayed his oath of office by seizing power for himself, allowing the torture and murder of over 30,000 Filipinos, and bleeding his country dry, be laid to rest in sacred ground reserved for the most valorous men and women of the republic?

Whatever genuine conviction might be in Cayetano’s tirades against his opponent should be proven by a simple test: Why is he then with a running mate who venerates the Marcos brand?

It’s a contradiction, in fact, that should be posed to Filipino voters of every stripe who complain avidly on social media and everywhere else about the apparent corruption and deterioration of the post-Edsa political landscape. It’s a welcome enough militancy and engagement with reality, one might say, but it is also a problem that they propose to remedy with the equivalent of burning down the house to flush out the rats: putting the unrepentant Marcos son in the No. 2 post, thereby sealing the deal on a revisionist history of martial law, and/or hankering for the iron-fisted rule of a dictator to restore a “golden age” that never existed.


It’s schizophrenia: the Filipino psyche corrupted another way by the scourge of the Marcos years, which make up unfinished business crying to be addressed.

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