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PHILIPPINES: The ghosts of martial law
On September 21, forty years ago, President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law. For almost 13-and-a-half years afterwards, the country suffered terribly from a brutal and corrupt dictatorship. Among the victims of the grave violations of human rights under martial law were the following: 3,257 “salvaged” (summarily executed), 35,000 tortured, and 70,000 incarcerated, as documented by historian Alfred McCoy.
Rated No. 2 in Transparency International’s (TI) list of the world’s most corrupt rulers, Marcos is believed to have plundered US$5 to $10 billion from the government’s coffers, the bulk of this during the martial law years. The massive, widespread and uncontrolled corruption under Marcos stunted the country’s economic growth severely.
After “people power” and the restoration of democracy in 1986, many Filipinos vowed that they would resist any attempt to bring back martial law or any other form of authoritarian rule. Never again!
With the passing of time, however, a lot of Filipinos have tended to forget those nightmare years. There have even been attempts to rewrite history, to paint the martial law era as halcyon times of discipline, beauty, development and prosperity.
The foremost advocates of such rewriting of martial law history are the Marcoses themselves – specifically, Imelda, Bongbong and Imee – who, most unfortunately, have managed to make a political comeback of sorts. No, they are not sorry at all for what Ferdinand Sr. did. In fact, they defend and justify his atrocious record.
The chief beneficiaries of Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth wallow in it, even flaunt it, and use this to try to expand their power. One made a failed bid for the presidency; another is now preparing for his own bid. They even have had the temerity to campaign for the ruthless and kleptocratic dictator to be given a hero’s burial.
The return of the Marcoses – perhaps the most visible and irritating reminder of the martial law years – is, however, not the most worrisome development. A deeper look at the legacy of Marcos’ martial law reveals that many of the evils of that era have actually stayed on or come back with a vengeance.
Patronage has been a longstanding feature of Philippine politics, but Marcos, after imposing martial law, succeeded in centralizing and systematically utilizing patronage as never before. Post-Marcos democracy has not provided enough safeguards to prevent presidents from using their control of patronage resources – especially pork barrel, the utmost symbol of Philippine patronage politics – for self-serving ends.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo distributed pork as largesse to her supporters. Fighting impeachment, she simply cut off pro-impeachment legislators from it.
Instead of abolishing pork, President Benigno Aquino III has more than tripled the funds for it. He has harnessed pork as an incentive for politicians to support his reforms, and made the pork process more transparent. But pork, by definition, is still patronage. And the enlarged pork poses a big risk: Aquino’s successors may decide to follow Arroyo’s example, not his.
Corruption and plunder
Presidents Joseph Estrada and Arroyo apparently followed in Marcos’ footsteps.
In just two-and-a-half years of being in power, Estrada amassed $78-$80 million, enough to put him as No. 10 in TI’s list of the most corrupt rulers. He was convicted of plunder, but pardoned shortly afterwards. Following a series of exposés of corruption scandals under Arroyo, some implicating her or members of her family, a Pulse Asia survey in late 2007 showed that Filipinos regarded her as the country’s most corrupt president, surpassing Estrada and even Marcos.
The possibility of plunder on a scale larger (in absolute terms) than that during Marcos’ time cannot be discounted as the Philippine economy has grown tremendously since then.
Rent-seeking clans, dynasties
Emerging in the early part of the American colonial period, political clans and dynasties became even more entrenched after the Philippines gained independence. Under martial law, political clans and dynasties that collaborated with Marcos became much more avaricious and brazen in exploiting government for private gain, especially through the pursuit and capture of “rents” – public subsidies, concessions, tax exemptions, monopolies, etc.
The 1987 Constitution bans political dynasties. Instead of passing a law to enable this constitutional ban, however, post-Marcos legislators have been much too busy building and expanding their own political dynasties. And local officials have followed suit. Under the Arroyo presidency, the rent-seeking was as avaricious and brazen as during martial law … or possibly even worse.
According to political scientist David Kang, Philippine money politics under martial law was characterized by “excessive top-down predation by Marcos and his cronies … and as a result the Philippines lost its opportunity to grow rapidly.”
In the post-Marcos era, the Philippines has in the main reverted to the usual patronage and rent-seeking by political clans and dynasties. But during the Estrada and Arroyo presidencies, crony capitalism became marked once again. Estrada guzzled drinks with his buddies in the infamous “Midnight Cabinet.” Before the NBN-ZTE exposé, former Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority Romulo Neri had been quite forthcoming in lecturing about the “web of corruption” involving the “evil” Arroyo and the “oligarchs” close to Malacañang.
Warlords and private armies
Although warlords and their private armies already appeared after independence, they never enjoyed as much backing, latitude and impunity as they did under Marcos’ martial law, which political scientist John Sidel described as “a protracted period of national-level boss rule.”
Warlords and private armies are still very much around. By the Philippine National Police’s count, the country has 107 private armies. The power and privilege of warlords under Arroyo approached those under Marcos. This was horrendously demonstrated in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, in which the private army of the warlord-governor Andal Ampatuan brutally killed 58 people.
President Aquino has ordered the dismantling of private armies, but whether this will actually be achieved remains to be seen.
Perversion of political institutions
By imposing authoritarian rule, Marcos destroyed the Philippines’ democratic institutions.
He did away with Congress, elections, political parties, etc., destroyed the independence and integrity of the judiciary and the constitutional commissions, and turned the military and police into his personal security forces.
When he “normalized” political processes in the late 1970s, the legislature, elections, political parties, etc., that he “restored” were perversions of real democratic institutions. Toward the end of Arroyo’s presidency, veteran journalist Amando Doronila noted that Arroyo had bequeathed “a legacy of ruined political institutions underpinning Philippine democracy.”
In destroying these institutions, Arroyo did not have to resort to martial law or authoritarian rule. Just “governance by patronage,” to borrow a phrase of sociologist Randy David.
Patrimonialistic political parties
Personality-based and indistinguishable from one another in ideology or program, the Philippines’ main political parties have served as convenient vehicles of patronage. Turncoatism, writes political scientist Felipe Miranda, is a venerable tradition.
Martial law saw the birth of a patrimonialistic political party, Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan (KBL), which went beyond patronage, abetting and partaking in the dictator’s predation and deception. Post-martial law parties are worse than pre-martial law parties. As I have noted before, they can be set up, merged with others, split, resurrected, regurgitated, reconstituted, renamed, repackaged, recycled, or flushed down the toilet at anytime.
Especially under Arroyo, they have more and more behaved not so differently from Marcos’ KBL. Knowing where the pork is, politicians switch to the President’s party or coalition in droves.
Electoral fraud and violence
Under martial law, Marcos regularly rigged elections and referenda. The 1986 rigging proved to be his undoing.
Electoral fraud continues, sometimes worse than before. The Lanao del Sur warlord Ali Dimaporo once reportedly wired Marcos: “You are leading by 100,000 votes. Tell me if you need more.”
Under Arroyo, that was chicken feed. As “Hello, Garci” showed, Muslim Mindanao was turned into the national center for electoral fraud. In many areas of Maguindanao, Arroyo’s Dimaporo – Ampatuan – delivered results of 99% or more for her and 12-0 for her senatorial slate.
Election-related violence reached a historic peak – 905 deaths – in the 1971 elections, the prelude to martial law. After the “normalization” of political processes, election-related deaths exceeded 100 each time in the 1981, 1984 and 1986 polls. Election-related violence declined in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.
But deaths exceeded 100 once again in each of the midterm and presidential elections in 2001-2010. The Philippines now probably has the dubious distinction of having the most violent elections in the world.
Virtual land reform
Shortly after imposing martial law, Marcos declared the entire Philippines a land reform area and launched a land reform program that was touted to be the country’s most comprehensive ever, the response to the peasant masses’ long-ignored demand for social justice.
Due to intense landlord opposition, however, only 126,000 hectares out of the targeted 1,767,000 hectares of tenanted rice and corn land had been turned over to owner-cultivators by the time Marcos was driven out of power. Post-Marcos agrarian reform has fared not much better.
As quoted by Juan Mercado, economist Solita Monsod observed in 2008: “Landowners just wanted the program stopped. Over the last 20 years, they managed, through every means fair or foul, to keep over 80 percent of their land safe from redistribution.”
With the agrarian reform law due to expire in 2014, land reform seems to be more virtual than real.
Extra-judicial killings and disappearances
While efforts at compensation of martial law victims have continued, calls for the prosecution and punishment of human rights violators during the Marcos dictatorship have sadly died down.
The brutal repression that marked martial law is far from being a thing of the past. Under Arroyo, hundreds of members of left-wing activists were summarily killed or forcibly disappeared in the course of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign. In many cases, the government’s security or paramilitary forces were implicated.
By the end of Arroyo’s term, only 6 cases of extrajudicial killings were successfully prosecuted, with 11 defendants convicted. Human Rights Watch has criticized President Aquino for his unfulfilled promise to punish security forces responsible for human rights violations. Retired Army Maj Gen Jovito Palparan, who has been implicated in the abduction, torture and execution or disappearance of many leftist activists, remains scot-free despite a P1 million reward for his capture.
Separatism and communist insurgency
Although the Moro secessionist movement emerged in the late 1960s, it was during the first few months of martial law that the Moro rebellion broke out and quickly spread in various parts of Mindanao. Maoist guerrilla bands, which operated in a few areas before September 1972, grew into a nationwide insurgency under Marcos’ dictatorial rule.
Due in great part to the government’s lack of sustained commitment to achieving peace and development in Mindanao, the Moro rebellion has persisted in the post-Marcos era despite splits in the rebels’ ranks. The Philippines’ continuing oligarchic rule has played a major role in the persistence of the communist insurgency. The two rebellions are among the world’s most protracted and deadliest insurgencies, with the Moro rebellion claiming 120,000 lives and the Maoist insurgency, 45,000.
Advocates of “Never Again!” would do well to take Imelda, Bongbong and Imee to task more vigorously for defending a ruthless and corrupt dictator, for wallowing in his stolen wealth and for trying to distort martial law history. To counter the call for giving Marcos a hero’s burial, what could be put forward is the demand to give him a Bin Laden-style burial instead, which he fully deserves, and which would help dash all further attempts to transform a monster into a hero, savior or martyr.
Like the Marcoses, many other ghosts of martial law come and go, or have come back and stayed … or never left in the first place. Outside of their apparently “natural” habitat, they have adjusted, sometimes assumed new forms, and become as ghoulish, loathsome and destructive as before or worse.
The Philippine state has been under oligarchic rule from inception, that is, from the time the Philippines was granted independence. Oligarchic rule has persisted – in periods of “democracy” as well as authoritarianism. Not a few evils of authoritarianism in an oligarchic state can still live on, thrive or even worsen when authoritarianism gives way to a deficient democracy.
The Aquino government can be commended for its determined and relentless fight against corruption. But it can only go so far.
With Congress and local governments still very much dominated by landed, patronage-reared, rent-seeking political clans and dynasties, some with private armies, a reform-oriented president, even one who may resist the pressures of the oligarchic clan to which he belongs, can only do so much.
For the Philippines to get out of the rut of oligarchic rule, it may need not just a succession of reform-oriented public officials, but more importantly a vibrant and vigilant civil society that endeavors to learn, propagate, and take heed of, the lessons of history. - Rappler.com
(Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, an associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, is the author of Contested Democracy and the Left in the Philippines after Marcos  and co-author of Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years . A longtime political activist, Quimpo was a political prisoner under the Marcos dictatorship.)
AS THE NATION remembers today the declaration of Martial Law and the imposition of the Marcos fascist dictatorship 40 years ago — we recall not only the crimes and abuses, but the valiant struggles of our people to end the tyrannical regime.
Today is a day of remembering, so that we will not forget this dark chapter in our nation’s history and will not allow it to happen again.
Today is also a day of reckoning, as we continue to pursue justice and redress for countless victims of Martial Law abuses, including crimes and legacies that continue to hound and harm our nation and people.
One of these criminal legacies is the regime’s fraudulent and illegitimate debts that were riddled with corruption and hardly benefited the people. In 1986, the dictator fled the country and left our economy in shambles, burdened with $28-billion foreign debt, from $1 billion, at the start of the Marcos’ presidency. Reports have it that 33% of Marcos regime’s loans, equivalent to $8 billion went to Marcos and his cronies pockets. Estimates of the Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth ranged from a low $5 billion to as high as $30 billion.
The plunder of our economy plunged the people into mass poverty. In 1975, 57% of the Filipino families reportedly lived below the poverty line, while Marcos, his wife and their cronies indulged in extravagance and opulence. Today, Filipino taxpayers continue to bear the cost of the regime’s foreign debts, until 2025.
Successive post-Martial Law governments starting from the Cory Aquino government not only failed to deliver economic justice to the people, but honored and paid from the people’s money the Marcos regime’s fraudulent and illegitimate debts. They continued, repackaged and even enhanced the same discredited, flawed and ill-fated economic policies and strategies of the dictatorship that deny development and dignity to the many while ensuring the benefits of the few and the powerful as well as of their foreign partners and backers.
The Aquino government affirmed the Marcos practice of automatic appropriations for debt servicing, at the expense of the health, education and basic social services that the government is duty-bound to provide for the people. This policy contributed to a perennial and seemingly vicious cycle of budget shortfalls and fiscal crises, continued debt and interest payments, increased tax burdens, increased debt burdens and severe reduction , if not criminal neglect of the welfare needs, economic and social services for the people.
The Aquino regime and successive governments, often used the budget and the debt crisis they inherited from Marcos as reasons to allow the imposition of neoliberal policies by the multinational and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in exchange for more loans and other measures to ride out of their fiscal problems. They embarked, for instance, on privatization and deregulation of essential public services like water and power, cheap sale of government assets and properties, and imposition of regressive tax measures such as the 10% value-added tax (VAT) which was later increased and expanded to the detriment of the majority poor consumers. In 1992, when the Aquino presidency ended, the country’s total foreign debt increased by $2 billion more, to $30 billion. Under Cory Aquino’s term, the economy was weighed down by 17% inflation rate, 10% unemployment and 65% of Filipinos who considered themselves poor.
The governments’ stubborn policy of debt repayments and their inability to spend and invest have consigned our country not only to debt burden and debt trap, but also economic stagnation, relative to its ASEAN neighbors. Between 1990 and 2005, for instance, the Philippines’ average annual GDP growth rate was the lowest in the region, according to former FDC President Walden Bello. Between 1986 and1991, the country reportedly averaged a negative $1.5 billion transfer of resources to the creditor countries each year.
Moreover, post-EDSA governments have been increasingly contracting new loans from financial markets in the form of securities. These new dimensions of indebtedness render our economy more vulnerable to the complexities and vagaries of the global financial system.
Today, under the Aquino government, with its “Matuwid Na Daan and Inclusive Growth” policies, the country’s foreign debt stands at a whopping $62.9 billion. For next year, P810.233 billion is earmarked for both interest payments and principal amortization.
The continuing failure of the P-Noy government to prioritize the people’s needs and welfare over debt servicing is not only a failure to rectify the Marcos misdeeds. It is also a continuing economic injustice to the Filipino people perpetrated by the subsequent post-Martial Law regimes to this day. Every hard-earned peso of every Filipino taxpayer paid to service the country’s debt, means every peso of unfulfilled obligation of the government to its citizens and people. This Social Debt to the people by successive governments must be repaid. As of the end-2011, each Filipino, from the new-born to the dying owes P79,885.18 in public debt and is forced to pay P7,544 annually to service the debt. For this year, the Philippine government spends P1.4 million per minute of the people’s money for debt servicing.
Today, under P-Noy’s term at least 23.1 million Filipinos consider themselves poor, with the bottom 30% of our people subsisting on a meager P173/day.
Today, as Martial Law victims and survivors continue to demand justice and compensation for their sufferings, we at the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) join hands in calling for economic justice and freedom from debt bondage and burden for the Filipino people. No to automatic debt servicing at the expense of people’s rights and welfare! Yes to repayment of Social Debt to the people!
21 September 2012