The surge of Bongbong Marcos
LAST APRIL 14, some 200 retired generals and colonels gathered in a restaurant in Greenbelt, Makati, for dinner with an honored guest, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the strongman who proclaimed martial law with his officers led by Gen. Romeo Espino and service commanders in September 1972, or 44 years ago. Times have changed, and the Armed Forces marches on. Adaptability is the basic element of its strength.
Only Fortunato Abat, Fidel Ramos, and the shadowy Jose Almonte remain as survivors of the Marcos apparatus. Each passing day brings them closer to Fate. (In 1975 at UP Diliman’s Philippine Center for Advanced Studies, or PCAS, Almonte hailed the strongman as “philosopher-king,” only to be fired as dean by its chair, Adrian Cristobal, for supposedly sowing intrigue. Thenceforth, Cristobal abolished the PCAS. Many years later Almonte claimed in his memoir, “Endless Journey,” to have been a cofounder of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, or RAM, but was rebuffed by Gregorio Honasan, the original coup plotter who conspired against Marcos with overt US support.)
The retired officers present at the dinner were led by Benjamin Defensor of Iloilo, former commanding general of the Air Force and subsequent AFP chief of staff, ambassador on counterterrorism, and Apec chair. The other notables were Roy Cimatu of Ilocos, Alexander Yano of Zamboanga, Victor Ibrado of Negros, Paterno Labiano of Baguio, Jaime delos Santos of NCR, Reynaldo Mapagu of Cagayan, Reynaldo Gopilan of Bulacan, Robert Morales of Agusan, Josue Geverza of Iloilo, and undersecretary Antonio Santos.
The former Army Special Forces chief, Benjamin Samonte of Ilocos, was on hand with two T-shirts marked “2nd Lt Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr, Cl 21-A-1979.” At 21, Bongbong trained as a cadre in the jungle of Tanay bordering the Sierra Madre in Rizal.
As the crème de la crème of the officer corps, the retired officers rose through the ranks by sheer merit and dedication to duty. Harangued to join Edsa I by Ramos and company, they dutifully shifted their allegiance to the political regime established by the people they passionately served.
The camaraderie perturbed a martial memory from their hearts with the “Martial Law Citation Badge” they wore proudly on their uniform as junior officers, over the “February ’86 Revolution Ribbon” awarded by Corazon Aquino when they were senior officers 30 years ago. And what gives?
Utterly lacking a revolutionary program of political and social change, Edsa I deposed Ferdinand Marcos but restored oligarchic rule. The Lopez empire got back ABS-CBN for a song. Vested interests in land and commerce undermined public policy earlier enshrined for the common good. Human rights violations persisted with stronger force amid mass agitation for an equitable distribution of the good life. Unbridled corruption betrayed the spirit of people power with its politics of expedience, popularity and deceit.
Today, a generation of millennials confronts a modern state, with a high level of expectation to be at par with our regional neighbors. Its battlefield transcends land, sea and sky—the “battlespace” consists in winning the people’s allegiance to a government that truly represents them. A feudal society with a democratic veneer, where the elite of 0.5 percent controls the national wealth, is simply untenable. Electoral politics, if it subverts the people’s hope for national salvation, is a farce.
Benigno Aquino III fared no better—an accidental president because Cory died in an election year. Income taxes are patently regressive. Agriculture is half-heartedly encouraged. Public transport and railroads are a mess for daily commuters, labor policies are contractual, crime rates have dramatically risen, induced by poverty and lawlessness, and tanim-bala and laglag-kisame at the airport are a national shame, nourished by incompetence and chicanery.
Vice presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos spoke with the vigor of youth and the maturity of experience. With paced diction and focused mind, he offered 20 years of public service to which none of his rivals can lay claim. The position he seeks is not an entry-level job or a spare tire. Should destiny call, profound qualities of leadership are crucially demanded.
The guests mulled over his legislative record: It was praiseworthy. They recalled a full-page ad in the Inquirer on Sept. 15, 2015, where their Association of Generals and Flag Officers (Agfo) warned the nation that the House of Representatives’ version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law was fraught with constitutional infirmities. The BBL created a substate; the republic was close to dismemberment and would be one of the victims of Mamasapano. It is acceptable only if the political leadership can cross over their line of bayonets.
It took a Bongbong to stop the proposed law from being bulldozed through Congress with a substitute bill: This nation cannot endure as one unless we reconcile the tribes to each other—Christian, non-Christian, Muslim or nonbeliever—and make them live as brothers under one roof. But Agfo’s impertinence exacted a heavy toll: The proposed increase in the retirement benefits of uniformed services was vetoed by P-Noy.
Bongbong concluded with a plea for national unity: The life and vitality of a nation lie not in its boundaries of geography or race, but in the consciousness of its citizens to share a common destiny. It is union that makes organizations effective, so it is union that makes a nation strong.
The evening galvanized a fraternal bond for the mobilization of energies toward a national purpose, inspired by a competent and promising leadership.
Reynaldo V. Silvestre, former chief, Office of Strategic and Special Studies of the Armed Forces, a retired Army colonel, bemedalled officer and multiawarded writer, was teaching political science at UP Manila when called to active duty as first lieutenant in 1975.
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