Monday, August 22, 2016

Memory Loss

[Like a foul smell that refuses to dissipate, the surviving family of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos has been pressing successive governments in Manila for a state funeral, replete with honor-guarded cort├Ęge through the streets of Manila, a hero's burial of the deposed tyrant in keeping with his status as a president, however illegal his term of office (1965-1986) and oblivious of the five to ten billion dollars he pilfered from the nation's treasury. The current Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has given the go-ahead for the long-contested burial at a national cemetery reserved for former presidents and officially-recognized national heroes. The last time the proposal was broached was after the election of Benigno Aquino III as president in 2010. Aquino, son of the man who was murdered on the tarmac of Manila International Airport upon his return to the Philippines at the invitation of Ferdinand Marcos, which sparked protests that eventually led to the People Power revolution, a bloodless coup supported by the Philippine army, forcing Marcos and his family to flee the country in 1986 and paving the way for Aquino's widow, Cory Aquino, to replace him as president, informed the Marcos family through official channels that a state burial of the former dictator would never take place on his watch.

Duterte, who wants the old wounds inflicted by Marcos to heal, has also admitted that he regards Marcos as the best president in the short history of the Philippine Republic. He has been in office only two months, but the violence that has erupted in the country makes it appear that Duterte is picking up where Marcos left off. There is even talk of the imposition of Martial Law if the other branches of the Philippine government won't cooperate with him.

The occasion of Marcos's belated burial, thirty years after his ignominious flight from the country (facilitated by the U.S. Air Force), is as good a time as any, I suppose, to revisit the following six-year-old post.]

Friday, April 9, 2010

A report on Imelda Marcos was aired on the BBC on March 26 which honestly assessed her continuing role, at the age of 80, in the politics of her husband Ferdinand's far northern Philippine province of Ilocos Norte. Though she showed plenty of public contrition at the death of Ferdinand's nemesis, Cory Aquino, from cancer last year, she has since returned to her old unapologetic self.

She is running, if that is the word, for a seat in the lower Philippine Congress, vacated by her son, Ferdinand Jr., who is running for an upper house Senate seat. Typical of such provincial politics, one family has been in power for forty years. Imelda's daughter is running for governor of the province only because Imelda was not as prodigious a baby-maker as her poor Filipina sisters.

When they filmed the body of Ferdinand, now lying, like Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chih Minh, in an air-tight, climate-controlled glass case, Imelda could not restrain herself from planting a gooey kiss on the glass next to the dead man's face. It was the closest she will get, this side of perdition, to her martyred spouse. She then muttered, "this is one of our major injustices," leaving it to the observer to guess exactly what the "injustice" was. The glass case? Marcos himself? His death from multiple organ failure in Hawaii?

But Imelda's presence on the political scene proves how power is passed around by the ruling elite like a private toy, and how a powerful family may endure public disgrace for a short time but are never very far from a position of power.

In the BBC report, a Filipino trike driver was asked for his thoughts on the Marcos's chances in the May election. With a scarcely concealed smirk, he said that it might be "good for the people" if all of them won. Of course, he did not say whom he was for, even if he knows too well the election is practically an unnecessary formality. Like everything else in his life, everything seems to have been decided upon before he was born, and long before he even heard of such things as elections or having a vote or more arcane conceptions like freedom or free will.

Some things never change, and more than twenty-three years after the People Power genie was let out of his bottle, and just as quickly put back in, some Filipinos might have been surprised by the prevailing tone of the piece, which was derisive - the view that most foreign observers take of a system that only serves a tiny minority. Before coming to the Philippines, nearly everyone would respond to the question: who committed plunder? with pirates. After coming here, they would have to include former president Joseph Estrada, who was convicted of that very charge, which is a capital offense, and summarily pardoned by the sitting president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Apparently unperturbed by his conviction, Joseph Estrada is running for president again, and is currently running third in the polls.(1)

Postscript 2016: Estrada lost his presidential bid but won in the race for Mayor of Manila three years later.

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