First of all, let us examine what the word “dictator” really means. In ancient Rome, a “dictator” is a magistrate with supreme authority, elected or appointed in times of emergency to deal with grave problems or threats of national proportion. Looking at different standard dictionaries, we could sum up the following definitions: “A stern ruler with absolute power and authority;” “one who is decisive in his command, whose pronouncements are meant to be taken as the final word;” “a leader who imposed his thoughts, wills and visions upon his subordinates;” “an assertive, strong-willed and unyielding leader;” “one who impose his orders with authority;” “one whose commandments must be followed to the letter;” “one who will defend his cause to the utmost limits available;” and the most basic is “one who ‘dictates’.” It came from the Latin root word dictatus, which simply means “to speak (aloud).”
|Lesson of History|
The word isn’t bad at all. In fact, during ancient times, being branded a “dictator” is an honor bestowed to the greatest of men. If you look at world history, all the great leaders of the world at one time or another were called a “dictator.” From Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, to Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro. Even Abraham Lincoln was called “dictator” by his political opponents.
History also proved that great deeds were accomplished through authoritarian leadership. The Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, triumphs in war, independence of many nations, etc.
So, you see, the word isn’t bad at all! I would rather have a dictator as a leader that a yellow-bellied sycophant.
Taking the above premise, let us start looking back in time and reminisce the legacy left behind by President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (1917-1989).
|Ferdinand Marcos and his family after winning the 1965 election.|
“History will judge my father (Ferdinand E. Marcos) properly.” – Senator Bongbong Marcos, in an interview by Kara David in the TV program Powerhouse.
|President Marcos and his son Bongbong, 1960s.|
|Marcos with Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, when they were still the best of friends.|
to right: Senators Lorenzo Tañada, Estanislao Fernandez, Lorenzo Sumulong, Raul
and Ferdinand Marcos, in the middle of discussing means to impeach then President Diosdado Macapagal (May 12, 1964)
MARCOS, THE REVOLUTIONARY
Emancipation Decree” |
written in President Marcos’ own handwriting
(September 26, 1972).
Can Marcos be considered a revolutionary? Before many eyebrows start flying, let’s profile the man through his writings and principles. In his book The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines (1979), he wrote: “The Democratic Revolution is a rededication to the historical aspirations of the Filipino people, but it makes demands not only on the political authority itself but on the very foundation of that authority: the people,” and “The fundamental reason for building a new society involves the outstanding fact of our age: the rebellion of the poor. This is a rebellion over which the might of government can have no avail, for the poor are, in many ways, the people for which government exist.” It gets more intense in the succeeding book, An Ideology for Filipinos (1980): “What this (democratic) revolution requires is a political leadership that finds reason to institute radical reforms and, more important, has the courage to act on behalf of the people, and thus against the (oppressing) oligarchy, including its power brokers in the ranks of the intellectual elite.” He summed it up with his rallying cry: “Of what good is democracy if it is not for the poor?!”
Among the poorest poor and the most exploited in the Philippines are the peasant farmers. Land reform was the priority program of the Marcos presidency. But the fact is that before Martial Law was declared, the Philippine Congress was occupied mostly by landlords, oligarchs owning huge landed estates, and feudal vassals, and any and all attempts to pursue a genuine land reform program will not even reach first reading. Marcos had enough of this: “Our people have known enough of exploitation. It is time that our people shared equitably in the fruits of their labor and their land.”
On September 26, 1972, just five days after declaring Martial Law, Marcos decreed the entire country a land-reform area. A month later, he enacted the “Tenant Emancipation Decree.” It was put on paper with his own handwriting: “Decreeing the emancipation of tenant farmers from the bondage of the soil, transferring to them the ownership of the land they till, and providing the instruments and mechanism thereafter....” Marcos wrote it with his own hand because he felt it was both the pioneering and milestone program of his “New Society,” and to show his sincerity. For he knew then: “If land reform fails, then the entire program of the New Society fail.”
behind the “New Society” salutes|
(Independence Day, June 12, 1973).
INDEPENDENT FOREIGN POLICY
President Rodrigo Duterte is being recently lambasted by rightist and oligarchic elements for having an independent foreign policy. That is, a foreign policy not solely, mendicantly, dependent on the U.S. He is, however, not the first president to do so. In 1975, then First Lady Imelda Marcos went to Cuba. She learned from Fidel Castro (1926-2016) that “after 30 years, any lease agreement between sovereign nations concerning land occupancy becomes permanent, and may only be abrogated by mutual consent.” This was based on Cuba’s experience regarding the Guantanamo Naval Base. That is how the base inside Cuba became US property. Since sovereignty was absolute within the premises of the said base, and the lease agreement cannot be unilaterally terminated. Upon knowing this, she immediately told President Marcos knowing fully its parallel consequence on Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base.
The US military bases in the Philippines were established through the Parity Agreement in 1947, which also started the so-called “mendicant foreign policy.” Interesting to note that it was President Manuel Roxas (1892-1948) who initiated this policy. Claro M. Recto (1890-1960) and Jose P. Laurel (1891-1959) opposed it. President Roxas even made a public speech of loyalty (according to Recto, more like subserviency or sycophancy), “kissing the American anus,” at the Kelly Theater on April 15, 1948.
After the abolition of the 1935 Constitution, and the ratification of the 1973 constitution, subsequent amendments and provisions thereafter was made and the military bases became renegotiable every five years. This made it possible for the Philippine Senate under Jovito Salonga (1920-2016) to vote for the removal of the bases in 1991. President Cory Aquino (1933-2009) was for the status quo; she doesn’t want her benefactor to leave. In reality, it is Marcos that we should thank, for the removal of the US military bases. Senator Salonga, for his part, paid a dear price for disobeying President Aquino. He was voted out as Senate President and his financial backer in the business community withdrew their support for his presidential bid.
Aside from this, current brood of students of activism should also know that it was during the Martial Law era that Claro M. Recto’s dream of cutting the chain of “mendicant foreign policy” became a reality. On April 1972, President Marcos initiated the establishment of diplomatic relations with socialist countries of Asia and Europe, which led to progressive trade relations and cultural exchange programs. This in turn marked the end of the Philippines’ period of mendicant policy in foreign affairs and the beginning of a new era of self-reliance. Recalling history, Marcos went to China in June 1975, where Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976) shook his hand and told him “You must lead the Third World.” The following year, he visited Moscow and established diplomatic ties with Russia.
|President Marcos and Premier Chou Enlai signed the communiqué opening diplomatic ties with China|
We owe it all to Recto’s dream and Marcos’ act of defiance against the US. Perhaps, the foremost reason, more than the allege charges of abuses he committed, why he was stabbed in the back by “Uncle Sam” and ousted from office.
leaflet was circulated by rightist groups in an attempt to destroy the Marcos
So what if the Marcoses befriend the Communists? That’s what Independent Foreign Policy is!
“A leader without vision and direction is like a cabbage without leaves..... But I see in you a visionary, a man with purpose..... Go, you must lead the Third World!” – Chairman Mao Zedong’s statement to President Marcos upon meeting with him in his state visit in China (1975).
handshake from Mao Zedong greets President Marcos in China, June 1975,
where the Chairman told him: “You must lead the Third World!”
Marcos writes his autograph
Muhammad Ali’s coat |
during the champ’s courtesy call at Malacañang (June 30, 1976).
Ali’s wife Veronica looks on beaming at the back.
DISSECTING THE ARGUMENTS
In looking back at the legacy of President Ferdinand E. Marcos, let us sieve through the debates between the anti-Marcos and the Loyalists. Let us dissect the arguments to three main premises: The state of the Philippine economy during Marcos’ time, and the presuppositions “Is Marcos a thief?” and “Is Marcos a human rights abuser?”
Anti-Marcos proponents would argue that the Philippines was the “sick man of Asia” during the Martial Law era. Looking back at history and World Bank records, however, says otherwise. The “sick man of Asia” connotation perhaps better pertained to the Philippines that Marcos inherited from President Diosdado Macapagal (1910-1997). Based on World Bank data, the Philippines’ Annual Gross Domestic Product grew from 5.27 billion dollars in 1964 to 37.14 billion dollars in 1982, and Philippine GDP per capita more than quadrupled from 175.9 dollars in 1964 to 741.8 dollars in 1982, the second highest in Philippine history. Though it fell to 568.8 dollars in 1985. This despite many compounding factors, including extremely high global interest rates, severe global economic recession, and significant increase in global oil price, which affected all indebted countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Philippines was not exempted. All in all notwithstanding the 1984-1985 recession, GDP per capita grew at an annual rate of 5.8 percent. Indeed, according to the U.S. based Heritage Foundation, the Philippines enjoyed its best economic development between 1972 and 1979. The economy grew despite two severe global oil crises in 1973 and 1979. World Bank data also show that Philippine Agriculture, crops (rice, corn, coconut, sugar), livestock and poultry, and fisheries grew at an average rate of 6.8, 3.1 and 4.5 percent, respectively from 1970 to 1980. During the Marcos’ Green Revolution, the annual rice production in the Philippines increased from 3.68 to 7.72 million tons in two decades and made the Philippines a rice exporter for the first time in the 20th century. Mathematics doesn’t lie. No other president before or after Marcos was able to achieve this.
The anti-Marcos accused the former president of stealing tens of billions of dollar from the government coffers during his rule. The Loyalists would say that nothing is conclusively proven up to now regarding that matter. The reality of which no factual or physical evidence has been presented in any court except for intangible allegations. In fact, most of the cases filed against the Marcoses both here and abroad were already dismissed. Marcos himself was quoted as saying: “I have committed many sins in my life. But stealing money from the government, from the people, is not one of them.” How do we go about checking this?
Again let’s do the Math, or the logical estimates, at least. How much money is there really in the Philippine coffers during the Marcos administration? If we include the local and foreign funds, donations and debts, how much money was there available for Marcos? Now, let’s go to government expenditures, how much money do you think his government spent with all the infrastructures built during his time? Five of the eight major dams and 17 hydroelectric and geothermal power plants still fully functional today were constructed during the Marcos era. By 1983, the Philippines became the second largest producer of geothermal power in the world with the commissioning of the Tongonan 1 and Palinpinon 1 plants (It is worth mentioning that because of the focus of the Marcos government on renewable energy sources, the country’s dependency on hydrocarbon fuel was at its lowest from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.). Aside from this, more than 90 percent of the bridges, more than 70 percent of the roads and highways, over 40 percent of the state colleges and universities still existing today throughout the country were built by the Marcos government. Not to mention the Light Railway Transit (LRT) system, sea and air ports, irrigation and flood control projects, water supply and drainage facilities, the Kidney, Heart and Lung Centers, thousands of public markets, hospital and health facilities, arts and cultural buildings, etc. Marcos also spearheaded the development of 11 heavy industrialization projects including steel, petrochemical, cement, pulp and paper mill, and copper smelter.
Historians will one day ask: What would the Philippine Archipelago be without the Pan-Philippine Highway? What would Luzon be without the Candaba Viaduct, the North Luzon Expressway and the South Luzon Expressway? What would Visayas be without the San Juanico Bridge? What would Mindanao be without the Atugan Bridge?
|San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in Southeast Asia when it was built (1973)|
In the latest El Niño occurrence, the entire archipelago suffered from drought and water shortage. The supply of water for irrigation of Bulacan and Rizal were cut-off just to maintain a reduced supply of drinking water for Metro Manila. Imagine if Angat, Ipo and La Mesa dams were not constructed during Marcos time. We would be exporting water from China, perhaps. On the other extreme, imagine if Magat and Pantabangan dams were not constructed. Northeastern and Central Luzon would turn into giant lakes during typhoon season. Imagine if the flood control system of Metro Manila was not rehabilitated during Marcos time. The inundation, destruction and damage after Typhoon Ondoy and the 2010 habagat onslaught would be more than tenfold. By the way, the Marcos government master plan of the flood control system for Metro Manila and surrounding suburbs was scrapped and construction discontinued during President Cory Aquino’s regime, allegedly because “it was a Marcos project.” No alternative plan was ever set in place. The same fate happened with the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which could have prevented the energy crisis of the 1990s and impending energy crisis to come.
The 1986 revolt that ousted Marcos happened at EDSA. But did you know that EDSA, the highway we know today, was paved and concretized by the Marcos government? How much do you think all the aforementioned projects cost? Add the social services, the salaries of government workforce (civilian, police and military), and the miscellaneous expenses of the national government. I wonder, was there anything left to steal? The bigger wonder is the possibility that Marcos didn’t steal a centavo but, on the contrary, forked out billions to finance and complete his administration’s massive infrastructure projects. The biggest wonder is where did he get the money?
Economist-journalist and long-time critic of Marcos, Hilarion “Larry” Henares, once made a ponderful comment about the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses. That even if you summed-up all the money in the Philippine treasury from Aguinaldo to Marcos, there is no such amount. So, again, where did Marcos get the money? Interestingly, even the late former Senator Jovito Salonga, in his many years of endeavoring to solve this mystery, came up blank.
|Marcos’ book The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines (1979)|
Enrique Zobel (1927-2004), founder of Makati Business Club and former chairman and president of Ayala Corporation, may have an answer. In his sworn statement before he died, he estimated Marcos’ wealth to be around 100 billion dollars, and said his riches were not ill-gotten but came from the gold bullions obtained from part of the treasures looted by Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885-1946) during World War II, which is known as Yamashita’s gold or Yamashita’s treasure. Marcelino Tagle, former director of Caritas Manila and 1967 Ten Outstanding Young Man awardee, corroborated Zobel’s statements. In the 2003 book Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold by Sterling Seagrave (1937-2017), this claim is again elaborated. Though the book was full of conspiracy theories, half-truths, speculations and impossibilities, certain intriguing incidents and events were described vividly within its pages. Moreover, a Rizalista, Tatlong Persona chronicle revealed that the source of Marcos’ wealth was from gold hoards taken at several Yamashita treasure sites, at Fort Santiago (Manila), in Norzagaray (Bulacan), in Teresa (Rizal), in Isabela (where the deepest section of the Magat Dam now lies), to name a few. Furthermore, the “Yamashita’s Treasure” was a combination of gold hoards from Asia and that of the Hitler gold hoards taken from Africa and Europe smuggled to Bandung, Indonesia, estimated to be around 1.3 trillion dollars as of the middle of 1980s.” Supposed to be there were nine major “golden buddha” sites and 172 minor sites were the Japanese buried the amassed treasures. Aside from these, “four ships full of gold were sank in Philippine waters after the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Whatever the truth behind the Yamashita’s treasures is another story in itself
By the way, on his book, Neither Trumpets Nor Drums, former Vice-President Salvador Laurel (1928-2004) revealed that in 1989, President Marcos, on his last breath, offered to give 90 percent of his wealth in exchange for allowing him to return to the Philippines and be buried besides her mother when he died. VP Laurel agreed to act as go-between, but Cory Aquino, because of her vindictive character, refused to even talk to her vice-president. Cory denied Laurel just 3 minutes of her time saying she was very busy, while she allowed an hour of chit-chat with visiting actor Tom Cruise. “Cory’s refusal,” according to Laurel, was “her biggest mistake.” Laurel further noted that “we could have paid off our foreign debt.” Remember that our foreign debt in 1989 was more than 30 billion dollars. Did Marcos have that much wealth? Laurel believed so. But Marcos certainly didn’t steal it. As mentioned earlier, the Philippine government treasury didn’t have that much money even if you include foreign borrowings and donations.
To the third premise, the allegation of human rights abuses, Marcos defenders would argue that he was not directly involved. Most of the cases happened during the time when he was already perceived to be at ill-health. He was not the one signing the arrest warrants nor ordering the alleged torture, abduction or killing, and he was not at his full faculty during the time. According to Amnesty International, most of the human rights abuses emanated from the Philippine Constabulary and the Philippine Army controlled by then General Fidel V. Ramos and Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. While this may be true, the fault, however, still falls on command responsibility.
The alleged victims were said to number more than 120,000. That many? One might want to check the list. Were they all happened during Marcos’ time? I’m very sure this list will shrink considerably upon close scrutiny. Every administration has a share of its gruesome acts of human rights abuses. Has everyone forgotten the 1987 Mendiola Massacre? How come no one, no command responsibility prosecution was made accountable for this grave killing of peasants?
As we remember Marcos’ undoing, we should also recall his one last act of statesmanship. At the height of the EDSA Revolt, General Fabian Ver (1920-1998) was coaxing President Marcos to launch an all-out offensive against Ramos and Enrile, but he refused because many civilians will be caught in the crossfire. That part was seen on television, but not once was it replayed. Had Marcos agreed to Ver’s plan, the scenario would be like the Tiananmen Square carnage in China. Thousands would have perished. Colonel Irwin Ver, then head of Presidential Security Command (PSC), in a Rappler’s interview recalling his last days at Malacañang, remembered Marcos ordering him for “strategic withdrawal to Ilocos.” When he apprised the president that they still have the capability to defend the palace for a long time, the latter responded: “I don’t want us to be shooting at our own people. We must resolve this peacefully.” In the young Ver’s own account: “Here’s my president who many thought was a monster, his back forced against the wall, and though armed with tremendous firepower at his disposal, would not fight his way out, but clear in his mind that he would rather avoid it. At the point when the only option left was to defend the seat of presidency, he chose to leave. He would not fire back at those who were ready to shoot him down. At that moment, I felt deep in my heart that I have served the right commander-in-chief.” Marcos’ last act of ceding power rather than see the shedding of a Filipino’s blood is a legacy in itself.
Incidentally, some miswritten books and Internet blogs should be corrected: Marcos didn’t flee to Hawaii. He wanted to go to Paoay, Ilocos Norte, but he was “kidnapped” to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, before being taken to Hawaii, on the adamant insistence of Cory Aquino to U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth (1929-2016) that Marcos should be exiled outside of the Philippines immediately. There are documents, tapes and records to this effect.
|Marcos family in the Malacañang ground.|
|USSR Ambassador Sholmov pins the Supreme Soviet Jubilee Medal of Valor on President Marcos in recognition of his deeds and act of heroism against the forces of fascism and militarism during World War II|