Edsa I, Bongbong and Elections 2016

The fundamental issues for the May 9 elections are getting sidetracked, and emphasis is being given to the surveys. Who are winning according to the polls are made more important concerns than what the candidates substantively stand for and what they can and will do.

A potential Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. vice presidency vis-à-vis the significance of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution should not be simply glossed over with “Forget the past and move on.” That singular moment of glory that made us proud Filipinos before the whole world will be rendered a historical fluke if on June 30 the dictator’s son and namesake takes his oath as VP.

The Marcos regime saw the military taking an active role in governance at the expense of civilian predominance. Key military players who broke away from Marcos in 1986 have been power players in the last 30 years. One likely message of a Bongbong win is this: that the military, together with the Marcos legacy, must continue to play a controlling function in order to solve problems like corruption, illegal drugs, peace and order, insurgency, and weak national defense.

With a Bongbong win, the human rights violations, the plunder, the economic mismanagement and crony capitalism, the scourge of poverty, and the institutional and bureaucratic breakdown will be consigned to the dustbin of history. A Bongbong win will be a vindication of the Marcos dynasty and a rejection of Edsa I. The recovery of the Marcos wealth from plunder is hardly finished. Restitution for victims of human rights violations under martial law remains undone. Bongbong will be a heartbeat away from the presidency if he wins. The Kilusang Bagong Lipunan slogan for the February 1986 presidential snap election, “Marcos pa rin,” can well be the rallying point now.

Yet there is a sad perspective as to why Bongbong can become vice president. Poverty remains prevalent and income inequality has worsened in the last 30 years. So much wealth has been built but more than 12 million Filipinos live in dire poverty. The promise of freedom never got to be translated to economic and political benefits for the greater masses of the people.

Where did the system go wrong? In the failure of the post-Marcos leaders to pursue the vision of a just and humane society as enshrined in the Preamble of the 1987 Constitution. These leaders made politics the most lucrative business, the military pursued efforts to grab power, and the democratic institutions broke down under the weight of systemic and widespread corruption.

The Bongbong run for vice president can be a brilliant gambit or a big blunder depending on his winning or losing. If he had run for president, that would have put to the fore a Marcos-versus-Edsa I confrontation. That would have been a go-for-broke scenario. His run for the vice presidency is a subtle entry that will buy time to minimize even more the significance of Edsa I. His win can be a strong launching pad for a 2022 run.

Alliances and opposing forces are consolidating at this time. The oligarchs that found themselves out of power during martial law must be doing all they can to make Bongbong lose. At the other side are the loyalists and newfound allies, possibly represented by the second generation. Political dynasties with national presence, whether active or at the sidelines, can be prime movers in the coming electoral exercise.

The meaning of Edsa I is dimming. It seems irrelevant to the campaigns of Chiz Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, whose late fathers had strong ties with Marcos, and of Gringo Honasan and Sonny Trillanes who are, after all, putschists and thus do not know what a nonviolent revolution is. Only Leni Robredo, who is perceived not to be corrupt, can be Edsa I’s primary defender against the Marcos juggernaut.

It is very sad that the plight of the people is what it is today after 30 years of Edsa I. But it cannot diminish the reality that the right to vote was regained during that milestone. Edsa I is a symbol of a people’s struggle for freedom as a fundamental character of human and societal dignity. Freedom denied is a violation of a basic human right. Bongbong is, in a way, a symbol, too. He represents the unfinished business of undoing all the wrong that his father did by declaring martial law and establishing a dictatorship. It is understandable that he is denying the rights violations. But those are historical facts. The Holocaust is a historical fact and attempts to deny that it happened are in themselves a compounding wrong. Such is the case in denying that the Marcos dictatorship did not do what it did.

It is irrelevant whether Bongbong may be able to do some good for the country as vice president. The pressing need is to heal the nation of the wounds that the dictatorship caused.

And there are big wounds that the administrations after 1986 have caused, too. They have betrayed the spirit of Edsa I. The economic and political gains have been dragged down by the continuing control of the elite, supported and aggravated by the antipoor acts of institutions. The candidates for president on May 9 do not offer much hope that the promise of Edsa I can finally be fulfilled. They can be deemed representing the failures of governance after Edsa I that have sustained corruption, incompetence, opportunism, human rights violations. It is terribly frustrating.

Edsa I is not merely a four-day historic milestone. It is an aspiration for a free, progressive and prosperous Philippines. But its spirit seems asleep.

Danilo S. Venida (danilosvenida@gmail.com) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.