Our Politics in Review
It is almost 2022 and we are already being reminded that next year is a political year. What with all the campaign streamers of a particular candidate that we are already beginning to see everywhere. Despite the candidate’s denial of his intention to run, his banners are everywhere. Why is that? I thought it was illegal to post campaign information until it was election time. Why is such brazen display of illegality being allowed? Such describes the politics and rule of law that thrive in our country.
Before martial law, the political landscape in the Philippines was pretty much like that in the United States. Naturally because we were colonized by the Americans after we were a Spanish colony. That is why we have our western education along with our Judeo-Christian religion.
There were two predominant parties, the Nacionalista and Liberal, distinct from each other along platform lines, not personalities. The president and vice-president belonged to the same party. Which made a lot of sense because after all, the VP was the ‘spare tire’ who would continue the same policies and programs if the incumbent leader became incapacitated. All then made better sense. The dominance of wealthy political families notwithstanding.
Then came martial law following two elected terms of Ferdinand Marcos. Extending Marcos’ drunkenness with political power until the EDSA Revolution in 1986. The Marcos era lasted 20 years. All constitutional provisions were suspended, supplanted by the whims and caprices of just one man. Never mind if majority of the Filipino people did not choose him to be their leader. Opposition to the one-man rule was promptly eliminated. And who could execute that, but the coercive power of the state commanded by that one man: the security services namely the police and the military, especially the latter which had bigger guns.
Then the New Society established following the dismantling of the old oligarchies began to crumble. Because the New Society replaced the old elites with new cronies endeared to the ‘apo’ in Malacanang, soon the cronies themselves and political warlords were vying for supremacy as there were no checks and balances to moderate greed.
Corruption becomes even more irresistible in autocratic regimes because the temptation to monopolize and control supply and demand is much greater. The law-making body and final arbiter of law are basically stamp-pads of the all-powerful chief executive. Self-absorption led to abuse, which led to political decay. Public discontent was the end result. The uprising on the streets was not an accident. It was the result of years of abuse by a governor upon the governed.
Then came EDSA in 1986. If some still question whether or not it was a revolution, then they do not know what defines a revolution. Which is, the ‘forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.’ The EDSA Revolution of 1986 was indeed one. The relatively peaceful but forcible overthrow of the decadent Marcos regime was so successful that it was copied worldwide by other countries dissatisfied with their abusive rulers. EDSA was a shining moment in Philippine political history. It restored back democracy which was stolen by the dictatorship from Corazon Aquino who won the presidential elections despite the dishonesty of a controlling regime.
Rebellious elements of the military rallied behind the withdrawal of support to the corrupt regime led by Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, both fair-haired boys of the dictator. The extent of public discontent with the decayed regime was self-evident in the masses that crowded EDSA upon the call of Jaime Cardinal Sin as well as the successive withdrawal of recognition from the regions and provinces. The shift of air power to the rebel side almost coincided with the actual departure of Marcos to Hawaii, not Paoay. Corazon Aquino wasted no time in being proclaimed president, a title she actually won even before the attempted coup. Supreme Court Justice Claudio Teehankee presided over the one-sided transfer of power at the Club Filipino in Greenhills. I was there witnessing the historic event as a rebel in 1986.
Democracy was restored in the Philippines but not the challenges to political power, both peaceful and violent. Seven coup attempts tried to overthrow the government of Corazon Aquino between 1986 and 1992. Two were exceptionally violent: August 1987 and December 1989. My unit, the PC Special Action Force, became an anti-coup force. The allies we had before the democracy became our enemies as they tried to grab power in favor of frustrated political oligarchs. Gregorio Honasan’s men trained us only to become our enemies. But democracy survived the Aquino years. The restoration of democratic governance was Aquino’s legacy, courtesy of the man she overthrew and who killed her martyred husband.
The surviving democracy was ruled paradoxically by Fidel Ramos, a military man who was Marcos’ longest Philippine Constabulary Chief, martial law implementor, and a cousin. Ramos exemplified change and encouraged others in the military to do the same that was why he was magnanimous to returning Marcos loyalists. Many of these men who hold power today owe their lot to Ramos. Tabako was relatively successful in restoring competent political leadership in his country. He graduated from West Point and used his leadership and management skills well as commander-in-chief. He made peace with the rebels left and right. There was zero coup attempt in his term. Having achieved political stability, Ramos next turned to economic development making the Philippines the new ‘tiger’ economy in Asia. Despite the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. He had restored industrial power. Unlike Marcos who used Imelda for diplomatic state visits, Ramos himself marketed the new Philippines to many countries in the world. I know because we covered his movements as members of his PSG. Competitive governance and economic recovery were hallmarks of the Ramos legacy.
Competitive governance was short-lived as Joseph Estrada aka Erap quickly replaced it with shameless incompetence and laziness. The Cabinet meetings and Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council meetings were replaced by ‘midnight cabinets’ of all-night drinking and womanizing right inside Malacanang. Erap worked afternoons only and had no morning appointments as he was asleep from the previous night drinking sprees. Corruption came onto the surface as gambling lords lorded it over claiming affinity to the power center. The Erap administration was so bad that Erap was overthrown by another withdrawal of support by the military led by Angelo Reyes halfway through its term. Incompetence and inability to complete one’s term of office were the legacy of the Estrada period.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) was a promising rising star in Philippine politics who ended up in a collar and string of litigations owing to endless corruption and illegitimacy charges. The daughter of a former president, the Georgetown-educated Doctor of Philosophy still erred recklessly in being caught on tape cheating rival Fernando Poe Jr from a presidential victory. Thus, most of the nine long years of the GMA administration were spent in corrupting the military so that she could stay in power although she was clearly an illegitimate leader. ‘Hello Garci’ led to a revolving door policy in the military where 11 AFP chiefs of staff ruled in her 9 years in office. The most number of AFP Chiefs of Staff and massive corruption are the GMA administration’s legacy. Former AFP chief Esperon, a GMA favorite, once said he will finish off the NPA in just a few years to coincide with Gloria’s term. The AFP then, as the AFP now, even targeted the NDF using hawkish generals like Palparan. But until now, the local communist insurgency is still very much around thanks to the root causes of insurgencies worldwide.
Another presidential child came into power in 2010: Benigno Aquino III aka Noynoy. This Aquino came into power with a big bang but left with a whimper. Many voted for him hoping that his clean image then would cleanse the bureaucracy of its corruption curse. They were massively disappointed as among the biggest corruption scandals were those perpetrated during the second Aquino period. They include the MRT fund mess that resulted in the slowest moving commuter train in Asia today. There was the favoritism in the AFP, discarding the seniority lineal list meritocracy in favor of selecting shooting buddies, their incompetence notwithstanding. An economist by education, Noynoy did very well in improving RP’s economic performance. Despite bureaucratic corruption, the Philippines is able to survive due to a market economy, remittances in the trillions of pesos from overseas Filipino workers, and support from diplomatic alliances. But Noynoy erred massively in sanctioning a delicate mission through insurgent territory for personal glory, leaving behind 44 PNP SAF troopers to die mercilessly at the hands of mutilating enemies. All seen in video cameras in broad daylight. Mamasapano remains the Aquino III’s enduring legacy, which is more of a nightmare. In fairness to Aquino though, all the AFP and PNP generals who stood by without lifting a finger are as guilty as their frightful leader. They were all guilty of being spineless in doing nothing for beleaguered comrades in arms in the arena of battle. I even personally took offense at this cowardice and betrayal as I had been a SAF pioneer when it was still in the AFP.
But nothing beats this administration of Rodrigo Duterte aka Digong that we have today across all fronts. In fairness to the man, he had warned that giving him the power would lead to untold carnage. We did not listen. So, it happened. Many saw promise in Digong as they had with other candidates in years past. The massive and unstoppable corruption made the public scream for radical change. For radical leadership. For Rodrigo Duterte. With his reputation in Davao City. Ramos’ disdain for ‘dilawans’ under Noynoy made him endorse Digong who had stopped listening to his advice promptly thereafter. Then the extra-judicial killings of those in the illegal drug trade, mostly victim users, were killed-off a la Davao style by bikers in tandem. Now numbering close to 20,000 by various accounts. Then the pivot to China. Away from long-time ally, the US. Then the intensified counterinsurgency strategy backed by a new antiterrorism law. China used to be in the AFP’s order of battle list of enemies. Its communist ideology is certainly far from our predominantly Judeo-Christian faith. Its political structure and operational ways and means are certainly opposed to our more democratic rule of law. Its support of the CPP-NPA-NDF was what put it in our Order of Battle list in the first place. I don’t even understand the logic behind launching another aggressive campaign against the domestic communist insurgents when we are not lifting a finger against the much bigger foreign threat that is communist China. What with China’s nine-dash line policy in the South China Sea gobbling up our Pag-Asa and other islet territories there? This is clearly seen in our having won an arbitrary ruling on the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) affirming our sea claims in the South China Sea. A Visiting Forces Agreement with the US as part of our Mutual Defense Treaty with them also binds our former colonial master to support us in case of a shooting war. We must always be wary of China because China is the biggest country-multinational corporation in the world and its below war theater level of engagement already means that it is currently at war with anything and everything opposed to its national security and interest. Then the vaccines in this era of the pandemic. Why prioritize the 55% effective Sinovac just because it is Chinese made than the 95% effective Pfizer vaccine or any of the other highly effective vaccines for that matter? Now there is talk of Federalism being pushed by administration stalwarts and cronies. A looming change of the Constitution if everything goes as planned. Favorable to China. Why this fascination with China? There may be some provisions in the 1987 Constitution I disagree with, like the ones I cited earlier. But I do not think the problem here is the Constitution. The real problem are the people pushing for such change for their self-serving motives. The legacy of the Digong administration is unfinished. But its tell-tale signs are already ominous. The administration is still ongoing and may even be continuing. What with those campaign banners already around us!