By Emmanuel Doy Santos
Who would have thought that 36 years after the EDSA ‘People Power’ revolution of 1986, we would face another election where the leading candidates include one Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and a widow, turned politician aligned with the Aquinos?
Having lived through Martial Law, I cannot really fathom what is unfolding. Within what I thought was my own circle of tight knit friends, bonds that have lasted decades have ended. People have left our group because they can’t stand the rhetoric of some of its members. Friends whom I had never known to be political are now quite vocal about their views and are judging those who don’t share them.
I’ve never really seen such partisanship before. People are taking their politics in such a deeply personal manner, the way they treat religion. I mean, if anyone should take it that way it ought to be me. My late father Emmanuel Noli Santos was a bona fide EDSA figure.
Having campaigned for Ferdinand Sr in 1961 and gotten Imelda as a sponsor at his wedding in 1967, he turned when Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. Having sponsored the bill of political, social and economic rights in the Con-Con, as well as the provisions setting up the Ombudsman, he realized that he needed to take a stand.
He decided to throw his hat in the ring in 1978. He co-founded the political party Lakas ng Bayan (LABAN) and ran with Ninoy Aquino. They contested seats for the national capital region in the Interim Batasan Pambansa elections and faced off with his ninang Imelda and her KBL slate.
My father together with his crew helped engineer the noise barrage that swept the capital prior to election day. He and many others considered this to be the first battle cry of EDSA (see ‘Laban ’78 to EDSA ’86, April 23, 2016).
I personally visited Ninoy in Times Street when he was under house arrest. Our family went to Boston in the summer of 1981 and spent three days with Ninoy and Tita Cory going around Harvard, Bunker Hill and other local sites.
After EDSA, dad literally dodged bullets and a grenade that was hurled at him while delivering a speech at his ‘miting de avance’ on the eve of the elections of 1988. He stood for election having been the appointed governor of his home province Nueva Ecija. This was an election that locals to this day maintain was stolen from him.
If anyone should hold strong views about a potential return of the Marcoses and their cronies to power, it ought to be people like me. But somehow, I’m not as affected as some of my friends, who growing up, never really spoke of politics.
I do know that the outcome of this election does matter. When I see Marcos Jr polling ahead, it does affect me. I sleep uneasily at night and wake-up the following morning worrying for my country. But one thing I cannot bring myself to do is criticize nor condemn my friends who are Marcos loyalists.
The reason for that is simple. I recognize that the Marcoses were a product of their time and the internal contradictions of Philippine society that began at its founding when the Spanish friar lands fell into the hands of a few. As Iyer and Maurer (2009) pointed out, wealth became even more concentrated after the American colonial government partitioned and distributed these lands between 1903 and 1918.
“The ‘landed elite’ appears to have been broadened at the expense of smallholding families,” they wrote. This gave rise to the Old Society, where in the words of Ninoy “the few enjoy the fat of the land, and the many suffer.”
I’ve come to recognize a truism (and I mean no disrespect to those aggrieved by the late dictator). Yes, thousands were confirmed to have been abducted, summarily executed, mutilated, raped and tortured during that dreadful period under Marcos Sr. But this horrendous and horrific suffering is itself dwarfed by the tens of thousands that die in our country every year due to lack of basic human and health services, malnutrition, and natural disasters.
Yes, billions were reportedly siphoned off by the Marcoses to overseas bank accounts, and only a fraction was returned. But that too is a fraction of the billions wasted and stolen by corrupt officials. How can we be so intolerant of one kind of abuse, yet turn a blind eye to the other?
The Marcoses are not the real problem. They are merely a symptom of the problem. The fact that their political fortunes have reversed, points to the failings of the post-EDSA neoliberal state that replaced theirs. The reason why I can’t engage in this gratuitous display of faux revulsion at the Marcoses, is that both sides are equally to blame for the perpetuation of our people’s suffering.
After all these years of political squabbles, I’ve grown weary of the circus that goes on at elections, while the fundamental basic needs of our people remain overlooked. For once, I’d like for us to take their problem seriously. Stop pretending that it will go away, the moment we vanquish the other side. No, it won’t go away. It hasn’t.
It is clear that what we need to do is see through the illusion of a dualist world view where the competing narratives of either side battle it out, and deal with the reality of ordinary people’s lives where the true battle for survival persists. The best way to prevent a repeat of the past is not to promote a confected golden age by one side or the other, but to step out of the cycle of reactivity and retribution, to end the cycle of poverty, and attend to the fierce urgency of now.
The author is a development economist completing his doctoral studies in policy innovation at the University of New England in Australia. He supports Isko Moreno for president.