Inquirer debunks attempt to sanitize Marcos

Cleaning up Marcos

Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 14th, 2016

ON SEPT. 11, the Official Gazette of the Philippines decided to mark the 99th birth anniversary of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, by releasing a graphic. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out: Almost everything.

The graphic produced by the Gazette carried a photo, a quote, and a caption. Under sustained social media criticism, the caption went through three editions—each one deeply problematic both because of what was included and what was left out.

The first version stirred controversy because it failed to describe Marcos for what he was, the architect of what he himself was proud to call “constitutional authoritarianism.” In other words, there was nothing in the graphic to suggest that Marcos was an authoritarian who changed the Constitution to entrench himself in power.

Instead, we got euphemisms like this: “He was the longest-serving President of the country for almost 21 years.” Withering feedback on social media channels was quick to point out that Marcos had engineered the declaration of martial law in 1972, just before his second and final presidential term under the old Constitution was up. THAT was the reason he became, in the new Official Gazette’s view, the “longest-serving President.”

The first version referenced the military rule that allowed him to “serve” until 1986. “In 1972, he declared Martial Law to suppress a communist insurgency and secessionism in Mindanao.” This is only partly true.

The communist insurgency he used as an excuse was but an incipient movement; by 1986, the insurgency had spread throughout the country and grown to 24,000 regulars. The Mindanao secessionist movement was provoked by Marcos’ own interventionist plan. Marcos’ own diaries revealed that he was planning the imposition of martial law from the start of his second presidential term, all the way back in 1969.

The first caption also offered a version of history that manages to praise the dictator. “In 1986, Marcos stepped down from the presidency to avoid bloodshed during the uprising that came to be known as ‘People Power’.” This is the exact opposite of what transpired: Marcos did not try to avoid bloodshed.

In fact, he called on the military to attack the mutineers and their civilian supporters on Edsa. Also, he did not step down, but was—in the chaos of a Palace surrounded by protesters and enveloped by panic, on the long night of Feb. 25, 1986—ousted.

The second version of the caption removed the mention of avoiding bloodshed (perhaps because the video and documentary record is clear that Marcos gave orders to attack). But this attempt at airbrushing history was seen, too, and denounced.

Finally, a third version of the caption was tried; the second paragraph on the declaration of martial law supposedly to suppress the communist insurgency and the third paragraph on “stepping down” from the presidency were deleted. The first paragraph was tweaked to include the following last sentence: “He was the longest-serving President of the country for almost 21 years, declaring Martial Law in 1972 then went to exile to the United States in 1986 at the height of the People Power Revolution.” And a new one-sentence paragraph was added: “He was succeeded by Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.”

The third version managed to correct one error present in the two previous versions. Marcos started his first term as president in 1965, not 1966. (In those days, elections were held in November and presidential terms began on Rizal Day, Dec. 30.) But other infelicities remained.

The main problem persisted, too: The Official Gazette had failed to take the full measure of the Filipino politician characterized in both law and jurisprudence as an authoritarian leader, whose regime was marked by thousands of extrajudicial killings, tens of thousands of human rights abuses and the wholesale plunder of the economy.

The neutral-seeming language the Gazette chose to use is a clumsy way to clean up Marcos’ image: He was not the longest-serving President, but rather a dictator who kept his grip on power; it is not true that he “went to exile to the United States (sic),” he was SENT into exile, by a popular uprising.

Now why would the Official Gazette under an administration that seeks to remember the atrocities of the Americans a hundred years ago attempt to cover up the atrocities of the Marcos regime—when these happened only a generation ago?

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