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Variations | The dark of night

SATURDAY, Sept. 21st, marks the 47th anniversary of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos’ declaration of martial law which made him the P.I.’s absolute ruler until Feb. 1986 when he was deposed by a popular uprising.

He became dictator because the military backed him. He was ousted because he lost its support. As Chairman Mao would put it, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Thirty-three years after Marcos was flown out of his country by a U.S. Air Force jet, his family is once again firmly entrenched in the Philippine political scene. His son narrowly lost the vice presidential race in 2016, but has filed an election protest that remains pending. His eldest daughter was elected senator this year while his Imeldific wife is a recently retired four-term congresswoman who is the subject of a new documentary by American filmmaker Lauren Greenfied, “The Kingmaker,” which premiered recently at the Vienna Film Festival.

The candidate supported by the Marcoses was elected president three years ago, and remains a very popular leader. Moreover, what Rodrigo Duterte’s five predecessors would not or could not do — allow the burial of Marcos in the heroes cemetery — was easily accomplished by the current president who has also made no secret of his admiration for the dead despot. (Marcos, Duterte said, was “the brightest of them all.”)

His critics, then and now, insist that Marcos’ declaration of martial law — which was actually announced on Sept. 23rd not the 21st — was motivated by his desire to remain in power. He was elected president in 1965 and re-elected in 1969. But under the 1935 Constitution, he could not run again in 1973. In Sept. 1972, Marcos was 55 years old, as physically fit and mentally sharp as ever. He had, he said, “energy and wisdom — the philosopher’s heaven.” He believed he could do more as president for his typhoon-battered, poverty-stricken, chaotic country.

There was a “silent conspiracy against our republic,” he wrote in his diary, and it involved “well-meaning men who use the inequities of our society and despair that they say can never be rectified except by radicalism and violence. For there are many valid grounds of grievance [that] the rich and powerful disregard…. [They] are insensitive to the dreams or even the frustrations and pains that torture the masses of our people.”

One of his top advisers, the Harvard-educated lawyer Juan Ponce Enrile, wrote in his memoir published in 2012, that “in those days, like today, there was much graft and corruption in the country. Justice, many believed, was for sale. Perception was widespread that money could buy everything and that the rich, the influential, and the powerful were beyond the reach of the law. Peace and order in the country was also very bad. Lawlessness was rampant. Many killings remained unsolved. Criminal cases were piled in the courts. The pace of trial was very slow, and many accused, especially from the poorer class, languished in jail, waiting for their cases to be disposed.”

Change! was the answer, Marcos said. And there was Hope! in Change! especially if Marcos would implement it — not the radical youth infected with Maoism or the opposition politicians who were in the pockets of the “oligarchs.”

“We must refashion this society,” he said. “The concept of ownership must be changed so the small people have a chance. All the crooks in government must be booted out. The media must be geared to development and progress, not to destruction and retrogression.”

The Marcosian plan for a New Society was intellectually sound. And it had to be. Marcos, according to one of his legal counsels, “was meticulous to a point of being fastidious. He didn’t like slip-ups. He would go through a plan again and again, examining every detail. He used to tell us that he could forgive the big blunders but not the small ones. It was the small blunders, he said, that gave you away.”

In the Marcosian New Society, the government would truly be of the People and would be run by one of them — Marcos came from a provincial middle-class family; his grandfather was a farmer. The role of the leader, a highly educated and experienced chief executive, would be akin to Plato’s philosopher-king, and he would be surrounded by other highly educated advisers and technocrats, including economists and financial management experts.

It would be a government of principled, intelligent and able officials who would not have to deal with opportunistic politicians, the greedy rich or reckless media outlets. Criminals, especially drug pushers, could no longer seek protection from the same law they were violating.

There would be, to paraphrase Enrile, law and order. People would become more disciplined, peaceful and orderly. Their neighborhoods and streets would be safe. The economy would stabilize and flourish. Government revenue would improve immensely.

At around 7 p.m. on Sept. 23, 1972, a Saturday, President Marcos appeared on TV and told the public, “We have, with one swift blow, pushed away the dark of night…. I am confident that with God’s help, we will attain our dream of a reformed society, a new and brighter world.”

What could possibly go wrong?

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