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Not a hero, wherever buried

I am not here to talk about the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos. As of Nov. 9, the full text of the Supreme Court decision is yet to become available, and I will not comment on a ponencia that I have yet to read in full. Rather, this piece is about whether Marcos is a hero for me, which, I believe, is the more important question. After all, a person is remembered not for where he or she is laid in death, but for whatever legacy he or she has left in life.

I share the same home province with Marcos. I have relatives and friends who have great reverence for him. This is the norm in the North. But while I respect my fellow Ilocanos’ views, I prefer to disagree with them.

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Maybe Marcos was really a brave soldier, even though The Washington Post and The New York Times published compelling articles (in 1983 and 1986, respectively) questioning the validity of his medals. If he really was a war veteran, then he could have immediately died a venerable man. But this did not happen. Instead, he lived long enough to become a president whose memory, for me, is not worthy of perpetuation, at least “for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.”

I don’t think this generation or the next should emulate a president who let thousands of people suffer, just because, as my friends would say, “he did what he thought was right.” Martial law may have been constitutional, but neither the 1935 Constitution nor Proclamation 1081 gave the armed forces the authority to torture prisoners. Even Article IV, Section 20 of the 1973 Constitution, pertaining to any person under investigation for the commission of an offense, provides: “No force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiates the free will shall be used against him.”

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Marcos had the duty to protect the rights of Filipinos—including those suspected to have committed crimes—under the very constitution that he himself proposed, if not imposed. Still, he let his own soldiers commit unjust acts to an appalling degree. Is this not a show of gross neglect, if not absolute callousness? Yes, he should not get all the blame. But as the commander in chief, neither does he deserve remission. For in trying to quell anarchy, he ironically condoned lawlessness among the military ranks.

I also don’t think people should feel inspired by a president who used the government for rampant corruption. Courts in Singapore, Switzerland and the United States have forfeited Marcos assets in favor of the Philippines for being ill-gotten. In 2003, our own Supreme Court upheld such forfeiture by its Swiss counterpart, saying that Marcos and his wife had dollar deposits in Swiss accounts that were “way, way beyond their aggregate legitimate income … during their incumbency as government officials.” In addition, the Presidential Commission on Good Government has recovered P170.4 billion worth of illicit assets from Marcos’ family and his cronies.

If these facts fail to persuade my friends, I wonder why some of them were quick to believe that former president Benigno Aquino III was corrupt, even though he has yet to be prosecuted. (By the way, I don’t venerate the Aquinos, either.) They still insist that Marcos was never convicted of any crime. True, but do we really need a person to go to jail first before we can doubt his integrity? Surely, many of my friends would say no. I have seen them prejudging Leni Robredo for allegedly rigging the vice presidential election, even though no criminal charge has ever been filed against her.

Yes, there is a long list of infrastructure projects that were completed during Marcos’ regime. Nevertheless, a president’s legacy comes not merely from the number of buildings he or she built, but, more important, from the extent to which he or she developed the economy for the benefit of the people’s lives. The Social Weather Stations, however, reported that poverty incidence spiked as high as 74 percent in July 1985—a rate never surpassed during the administrations of Marcos’ successors. The National Statistics Office also found that unemployment rose from 9.5 percent in 1982 to 10.5 percent in 1983, and escalated to 12.5 percent in 1985.

If life was better during martial law than it is at present, why was it that from 1972 to 1985, the economy (in GDP terms) advanced by an average of only 3.4 percent annually, while the income of each citizen (or GDP per capita) only increased 0.6 percent per year? Compare this to the period from 2002 to 2015, in which GDP grew by 5.3 percent and GDP per capita rose by 3.5 percent. Thus, that Marcos did a great job on the economy is a claim that, even if true for Ilocanos whom the Marcoses pampered, proves to be a myth for the nation.

I don’t claim to know so much about the past, or about Marcos. Neither do I deny that he was an excellent lawyer, an exceptional public speaker, and a good husband and father to his family. Hence, I refuse to call him a monster. I have only learned a few things, but enough for me to say that such a president—no matter how brave he was during the war, no matter how many roads and bridges he built, and certainly wherever he will be interred—deserves no high respect if in the end he deprived his fellowmen of their wealth and rights. Hence, I also refuse to call him a hero.

Lord Zedrique T. Macatiag, 21, is a sophomore at the University of the Philippines College of Law. He was born and raised in Banna, Ilocos Norte.

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