Funeral for an era
It took Ferdinand Marcos only 30 years to come back to power in the Philippines after his fall in 1986. His burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani marks his posthumous and his family’s undeniable return to power. And it might as well mark the triumph of revisionist history. More than his lifeless body will be buried. For surely, this act of interment marks also the turning of at least three cycles of history if we read the cycles this way: the regimes of Marcos, Cory and EDSA, and the present under Rodrigo Duterte. But if some suspicions are right, all these three cycles really fall under a single narrative arc: The fall and the return to power of the Marcoses.
Cory Aquino was installed to the presidency in 1986 with much euphoria and hope. This led eventually to hard times when her presidency was met with multiple attempts at a coup. Despite this, she weathered the storms, so to speak, and succeeded in establishing here the return of representative democracy. But only at the cost of providing breathing space for most of her political rivals including some who had been behind the coup attempts, and including as well, the Marcoses.
Well and good for being inevitable. And yet it might have been expected that such a laissez-faire political environment can only lead to a political fragmentation such as would prepare the way for a strongman like Rodrigo Duterte to come to power. As indeed, we had seen through all these the return of the old warlordism such as had marked the political life of the country before the period of martial law. I am not using the word “warlord” loosely.
A warlord is a leader with a well defined geographic base or bases and well-adept at using violent force (and dirty money) to affect their continuity. The Ampatuans are warlords. Duterte is a warlord. Michael Rama and Tomas Osmeña are the less so, quite ironically, but only by increment degrees. In a sense, the network of illegal-drug syndicates might also be seen as a practice of warlordism often working with or through political surrogates.
The logic of Duterte’s war on drugs is that it seeks to demonstrate how effective he is at destroying some if not all “warlordism.” He needs only to appear to succeed, and only for a short time; since he has practically announced how the drug problem is a global problem. “The drug lords are not in the country.”
Thus, the most we can hope for is that Duterte will arrive at some peaceable equilibrium among the warlords of the country. But this is the same hope such as had driven the populace when Marcos declared martial law. And if quite a number of the populace are thus as hopeful with Duterte, that only works into the logic of the same cyclic pattern set by the Marcos regime. It always takes a bit of time before people wake up to certain abject realities about themselves and their country.
These cycles will continue until people realize certain fundamental truths about life. And the truths are these:
1. We are led by people who methodically exploit our gullibilities and fears as a matter of course.
2. The use of force, especially acts of murder inside an environment of impunity does not work. In the historic sense: We’ve been there and done that.
3. Civilization, democracy, and modernity result only from a genuine respect for law and order, and not the kind of selective respect for law and order as we are practicing now.
4. And, the previously listed goals cannot be achieved unless we begin with a concerted effort to solve the problems of poverty and high-contrast inequality that now pertains in our country.
Below these strategic goals, the battles we see every day through media are at best short-term battles that serve only to promote the continuity of the regime.
All these suggest that the solution to the problems of our country follow a longer arc than what the present regime promises us. What can be achieved in three or six months are only tactical goals at best. They are meant only to impress those who are easily impressed because of a collective myopia.
And, of course, they are many before they become fewer in number. Meanwhile, perhaps the best we can do is wait and keep calling it as we see it.
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