Studying its villains

Ravanamay have brought Germany much further than the Philippines studying its heroes, buried or not. Are those unworthy of emulation – “huwag tularan” – more important in teaching national lessons? The Philippine cult of heroes always was suspect to me. During martial law, it was suspected that some supposed leftists were mere agents provocateurs to get idealistic youth to show their colors. Working part-time at the Philippine Embassy in Bonn in February 1986, I saw how the new government telexed straight from the Wack-Wack golf course – while people were still at EDSA.

For every young idealistic Isagani or Basilio, there have often been enough jaded, cynical Simouns using them for their own agenda. This has cut through all ideological fronts in the Philippines. Culture of entitlement in fact makes this nothing special for many – it is very much unlike kings of old who led their men in battle, or captains who had the ethic of leaving their own ship last. Good people often get sacrificed in the Philippines – Andres Bonifacio and Heneral Luna, anyone? Or sidelined when no longer needed – think of Mabini, who unfortunately couldn’t walk his talk.

Many in the generation that experienced February 1986 are disillusioned by how the groups that then came into power, and afterwards, continued to mismanage the country. Were the “yellows” too far from the common people, was the left too ideological and power-mad, the right too corrupt and Macchiavellian? I don’t know. But principled leaders were few and usually too weak, I think. Germany also created a new constitution in 1949. It had less lofty-sounding ideals than the Philippine 1987 Constitution. But Germany’s leaders saw to it that its goals became reality on the ground.

Mistakes are there to be learned from. Airline pilots have said that the safe flying of today is due to lots of crashes that happened in the past – and how many lessons were learned by analyzing them. What is good about the present crisis in the Philippines with regards to the burial of Marcos is that the history of Martial Law is being reviewed – what happened, maybe not enough what led to it. The analysis of how post-1986 governments continued Marcos-era mistakes like wholesale labor export and allowing Metro Manila to grow uncontrolled – to learn, not to blame – hardly happened.

And it takes sustained effort to build a country. How often have Filipinos run after mere hope? Or mistaken leader’s vanity for “willpower”? The Filipino youth of today, the Millenials, seem to be more concerned about the future of the country than many had hoped. Now I hope they are less naïve than generations before them. I hope they do not let themselves be used by any group or person. It will be after all their future they are deciding on in times to come. How they will live when they are around 45-55, around 30 years from now. All I can do is wish them strength and perception.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 20. November 2016



3 thoughts on “Studying its villains

  1. – a very enlightening excerpt from an article of Manolo Quezon – about the postwar middle class, its relationship to Martial Law and People Power even until its last cry in EDSA2… including major migrations like 70s and even more post-1986… not HEROS or VILLAINS but just normal people looking for their place… finally it is about the new middle class formed out of the migrations since the 1970s.. now that is a middle class with different values and behavior from the old postwar middle class, I know some of its representatives… a lot of the support for Duterte might come from them nowadays… because the old middle class hardly knows the new the communication gap is most certainly HUGE… but here you go with the excerpt:

    From a book chapter I contributed to an AIM publication in 2007:

    “And the onset of independence in 1946 also marked an unrecognized but important development.

    “The prewar elite, from that date, actually retreated; its ranks decimated, and displaced politically, it ensured its primacy in commerce through a kind of elaborate protectionist racket: since politico and businessman now increasingly came from different worlds, the camaraderie and common affectations of gentility of prewar days was untenable. Politicians gladly alternated between outright extortion and (increasingly) indiscreetly being on retainer to financial interests to fuel their campaigns; the old elite, still firmly entrenched in business, demanded protectionist policies in turn to protect their monopolies.

    “STILL, from the 40s to the late 50s enough of the pre-war political leadership survived to give the impression that pre-war solidarity had not only survived, but been rebuilt; but this was a case of old assumptions artificially supported by nostalgia and the old generation’s believing its own propaganda.

    “But with Magsaysay this all came clearly to an end: the old parties built on generations-old networks of leaders had been supplanted by his strategy of barnstorming and media manipulation. His election had been as much a referendum on the old ruling class as it was a validation of the vitality of a new generation. The means for political control and continuity put in place during the Commonwealth were systematically dismantled: bloc voting abolished; the power of the president to appoint mayors taken away; celebrity politics introduced (signaled, for example, by the election of matinee idol Rogelio de la Rosa to the Senate) and with it, the unstoppable transformation of both the standards expected of candidates by the electorate, and the manner in which candidates courted voters.

    “The Last Hurrah of the old cozy relationship between the politicians and businessmen was the Garcia administration: its election as the first plurality, and not majority, presidency in Philippine history again served as a harbinger of the fatally-divided and unresponsive political culture familiar to Filipinos today.

    “The Garcia government, however, nationalist as it was, presented an increasingly clear picture of an elite stripped of actual political power, but canny enough to continue fostering and pandering to a new grasping class, the guerrilla generation with its warlord inclinations. Macapagal’s election was the final repudiation of the prewar leadership, but his attempts at modernizing the political system foundered due to a combination of his own authoritarian instincts and his inability to counter the cunning of his opponents. They marshaled a coalition of landowners antagonized by talk of land reform, financial interests hostile to liberalizing the economy, and the guerrilla generation contemptuous of the New Era’s prewar pretenses to class.

    “WHEN Ferdinand Marcos, exemplar of that grasping class, came to power, he knew that the ruling class’s control of politics was fiction, and that armed with the populism and anti-elitism of the Magsaysay era, he could preside over the liquidation, socially, financially, and politically, of that class; he could, in turn, appropriate the Marxism of the youth more successfully than Macapagal ever could; he could turn it, at least, into a weapon to frighten his generation into supporting him in waging war not only against the Old Society, but the New Generation rallying in the streets. There was simply no line, written or unwritten, that he would not cross.

    “By the Marcos years, a middle class born in the American period had matured; educated and trained in the style of the ruling class, it shared many of that class’s biases and even pretensions. Among them was the illusion that it was the successor to the old landed and industrial families. They were not; they remained employees: the managers and directors comfortable in the new suburbs designed in imitation of the suburban communities of their bosses. They had homes, their children went to college, but in those colleges their children increasingly asked impertinent questions. Their reaction to impertinent questions and demonstrations was to express solidarity with the alarmed political and business leadership: after all, even as students established the Diliman commune, solidly middle-class residents of the vicinity established vigilante groups to assist the constabulary in flushing the rebels out.

    “FERDINAND Marcos mounted a coup after efforts to buy the 1971 Constitutional Convention failed; he was pleasantly relieved to discover that the country, on the whole, welcomed his ‘constitutional authoritarianism.”’ Democracy had proven to unpredictable; dictatorship was a more palatable approach, mirroring the preferred way for handling problems of the propertied and influential. It was, in more ways than anyone could imagine at the time, a deal with the devil.

    “Dictatorship demands conformity and conformity kills innovation. The systematic plunder of the country by Marcos and his cronies stripped the Old Society of its finances and thus, its political means; next came the looting of everything else. The middle class discovered itself defenseless, and without a champion in government: with the disgruntled old oligarchy it rebelled but lost to the old oligarchy as it, in turn, proceeded to loot the post-Edsa democracy to compensate itself for the losses of the martial law years.

    “The middle class, disheartened and disillusioned, clinging as it had to the romantic notion it represented something noble together with the old oligarchy, fled the country (and is now virtually absent from the scene). What’s left of it attempted its own Last Hurrah with Edsa Two, only to discover it was fatally divided over a residual romanticism towards politics, and the adoption of the Marcosian grasping class’s attitudes towards government. A society growing exponentially, and increasingly unexposed to the old institutional controls of education, religion, and civic organization, in turn has reduced the political, business, and middle classes to even more of a minority status, and thus even more fiercely dependent on the military as its protector and enforcer than even the Marcos government was…

    “But for it to be done requires an appreciation of the past; and how each time the country has been confronted with an opportunity to institute change, it has shrunk from the task.

    “The Philippines since 1962, faced several choices, each of which presented the opportunity to expand democracy, integrate the formerly marginalized into the body politic, and rejuvenate public confidence in its political institutions. Instead, protectionism, not just economic, but political, was the preferred choice. The 1971 Constitutional Convention ended up pandering to a dictatorship that sent an entire generation of Filipino professionals, stifled by the dictatorship, into exile; an entire political generation was deprived of power until it came to geriatric and greedy power in 1987, in a sense triggering a second exodus as devastating as that of the 70s: the middle class exodus from the 90s to the present.
    “A new Philippines, it must be said, is being born. Together with the academic and professional elite that migrated in the 70s went Filipinos of modest means who have only begun to establish themselves as a new, entirely different, middle class. Their influence in politics is only beginning to be felt, not in Metro Manila, but in the provinces. The increasingly cosmopolitan and entrepreneurial nature of such Filipinos is, at present, inspiring yet another effort to hold change at bay. It is a confusing, chaotic, even dangerous situation. But proof positive that the lost opportunities of the past needn’t represent an eternal regret, but only a means for reflection in order to more firmly, and daringly, embrace the future.”

  2. “telexed”. Gosh … been a long time I have not heard that word. It is so 80s. Thank you, Irineo, for resurrecting the word.

    My son never heard of that word nor seen a “telex” in his life. He is bewildered to learn we go to defunct RCPI to send messages back in those days.

    Today the messages is now received in their cellphones and telegram is now instagram.

    • Not even fax machines were much used yet in 1986 – that was more like the late 1980s.

      Most people don’t even know anymore how expensive international calls were in those days.

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