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The Artist Abroad

Quo Vadis, Filipinas?

/ 12:28 AM April 30, 2016

NEW YORK CITY — With the presidential elections just around the corner, three decades after the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, there is the distinct possibility that instead of moving forward into a more egalitarian and prosperous tomorrow—both the premise and promise of the 1986 popular uprising—the body politic may be moving backward.

The specter of strongman rule looms over the archipelago. Rodrigo Duterte, the frontrunner for the presidency, pledges to fill Manila Bay with the corpses of criminals and make the country safe in six months while Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., a leading contender for the vice-presidency, embraces the dark legacies of his father’s dictatorial reign. A Duterte/Marcos tandem should ring all our alarm bells. Of course, either Mar Roxas or Grace Poe may yet overtake Duterte (though Poe’s campaign is said to be heavily funded by Danding Cojuangco, a favorite Marcos crony), and Leni Robredo could edge out Bongbong,

When Corazon Aquino took over the reins of the presidency after an electoral campaign and an uprising that had the whole world riveted, a nation swore never again. In terms of personal honesty Cory was practically a saint, and seemed above gutter politics. Too bad she turned out to be an ineffectual administrator, unable or unwilling to get into the trenches and engage in the necessary battles for substantial reforms.


By many measures her successor Fidel Ramos was more effective, and an anomaly: a Protestant president in a largely Roman Catholic nation. But the two who succeeded him were more obvious throwbacks to the old system, particularly Joseph “Erap” Estrada, thrown out by EDSA Dos and convicted of plunder. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the outset seemed to be a vast improvement over Estrada (though admittedly that was a rather low bar) whom she pardoned though she herself came undone by the deadly undertow of massive corruption.

Never Again? That might be wishful thinking. Three recently released books address the complex issues the country has faced since 1986.

In her Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, Raissa Robles, a respected, Manila-based investigative journalist and blogger, draws from interviews, documents, transcripts and other sources, to detail the rise and fall of the Marcos dictatorship. I haven’t seen much less read the book but in a recent interview, Robles described her book as “one means of correcting the revisionist history” that portrays the martial-law era as a kind of golden age.

Thirty Years After: Catching Up With the Marcos-Era Crimes, by the San Francisco-based writer Myles A. Garcia, examines the sordid realities underpinning those two decades of a violent and corruption-steeped conjugal dictatorship. This muckraker of a book catalogs in fascinating detail the crimes and misdemeanors perpetrated by the Marcoses. In his “Introduction,” Garcia writes that his book is “to help remind the Filipino people, especially the new, young voters, of the dangers of the Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos, Jr. or Jejomar Binay candidacies and the waste and turmoil left behind by the illegitimate twenty-year rule of Junior’s parents.“

Garcia pays particular attention to the profligate desires of Imelda and those of her fabled Blue Ladies. Imelda was notorious, of course, for her shopping sprees that were truly catholic: from bubble gum and antique furniture and silver, to jewels, paintings (many apparently were fake) to choice Manhattan real estate. Imelda the jetsetter shopped but she never dropped—most of the pricier purchases were done through third parties.

The book includes a chapter on where the principals of that era are now. It has thumbnail sketches of such well-known personae as the late, lamented Ninoy Aquino, the still alive and unlamented Juan Ponce Enrile (he of the fake ambush that set the stage for martial law), and the late heiress Doris Duke, who provided Imelda with bail money when the latter was put on trial in New York in 1990.

Garcia’s work is a breezy, partisan read—and a timely reminder that the Marcoses are still very much with us. A more sober and multifaceted analysis of the past three decades is Remembering/Rethinking EDSA, an anthology of essays edited by JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau.

This collection gathers the reminiscences and reflections of academics, artists, and activists. (Full disclosure: I have an essay in the book.) The roster of contributors include well-known (Jose Maria Sison, Alice Guillermo, Gemino Abad) as well as lesser-known names. The editors were wise enough to include several pieces written in Tagalog, including poetry, and the incisive drawings of Jose Tence Ruiz.


As the book makes clear, as with the central scene in that classic Kurosawa film, Rashomon, EDSA meant and continues to mean so many different things to not only those who witnessed and even participated in it, but also to those who grew up in the post-Marcos years. 1986 has significance beyond its calendric limits—a significance heightened by the fact that it has the same numbers as 1896. This doubtless will only heighten how vastly rich with interpretative possibilities both years offer to not just this generation, but also to succeeding ones.

Copyright L.H. Francia 2016

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TAGS: Bongbong marcos, books on Marcos dictatorship, EDSA Dos, Imelda Marcos, Joseph Estrada, Juan Ponce-Enrile, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again by Raissa Robles, Philippine elections 2016, Remembering/Rethinking EDSA edited by JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, Rodrigo Duterte, Thirty Years After: Catching Up With the Marcos-Era Crimes by Myles A. Garcia
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