Category: raul pangalangan

Martial law and the ideological time warp

By Raul Pangalangan

WHY DO those who are old enough to remember martial law make great effort today to mark its 40th anniversary? Because many of us are worried that the next generation seems blasé about a return to dictatorship and some even sound like they would relish it.

I have in the past looked at the pedagogical challenges to remembering that era. The kids’ minds today are wired differently. They are more attuned to specific issues (think environment), not grand causes (think liberalism). We tell them about the systemic roots of a problem but they are more moved by the human drama. And yes, they want the rawness of that drama because they suspect anything edited to have been scripted or manipulated. Finally, they are impatient for real solutions in the here and now. Preach to them “protracted struggle,” and they say, “You mean it will take more than one sem?”

But even for us oldies, there is actually a fundamental problem. We downplay the role of ideology in the proclamation of martial law, and portray it as nothing more than a power grab by Ferdinand Marcos and his cohorts—Marcos for love of power, the cohorts for love of money—and aided by the United States.

The result is that, until the present, we disregard the place of the Left in the martial law story. Remember that martial law was Marcos’ response to the communist threat, that he blamed the communists for the Plaza Miranda bombing (and he was telling the truth, ex-communists now tell us!), that his human rights victims were mostly leftists, and that until the death of Ninoy Aquino, the campus and religious Left (and of course the armed underground component) were the only ones who dared oppose Marcos. Finally, the whole Bagong Lipunan ideology and the Marcos trilogy of books on his “revolution from the center” were needed to counter the Left’s comprehensive vision.

In the foreword to the book “Subversive Lives” (on the saga of the Quimpo family of activists), Filipino-American historian Vicente Rafael asks why “there are no monuments to communism in the Philippines” and why, for instance, even the Bantayog ng mga Bayani dedicated to martial law victims honors them as “nationalist martyrs” rather than as communist cadres.

He replies: “[It means] that there is something about [communism] that defies commemoration and mourning [that the role of the Left] remains unassimilated into the dominant narrative [and] seems peripheral to nationalist consciousness.” He explains: “Monuments act as tombs that bury and so keep in place the ghosts of the past. They allow those in the present to commemorate the dead and thereby overcome their absence. [Communism] haunts the nation in ways that cannot be fully accounted for, much less entombed by the historical narrative of nationalism.”

Just consider the weeklong homage to the martyred youth leader, Lean Alejandro, who was assassinated 25 years ago as a prelude to a coup attempt against Cory Aquino. How many of the published tributes openly acknowledge that he was leftist? Why is it that, long after RA 1700 (Anti-Subversion Law) had been repealed, we continue to sanitize his leftist roots and highlight instead the altruism and spirit of self-sacrifice that indeed the Left embodied then?

My answer is that, once upon a time, it made good strategy to downplay ideology and find common cause with all groups. Indeed if Ninoy’s death was the beginning of the end for Marcos, it was because it mainstreamed the anti-Marcos opposition, from the underground Left to the parliament of the streets. Until then, the opposition to martial law came from the periphery, but with Ninoy’s murder, it arrived literally at Ayala Avenue’s confetti-strewn marches.

But if it made sense to hush the Marxist jargon then, why does it persist to the present? There are several possibilities. One, maybe we should confront the obvious. Cold War propaganda is so effective that, long after the USSR has crumbled and Communist China has become capitalist, Filipinos still look askance at communism. Do leftist party-list groups openly declare themselves communist, I wonder?

Two, maybe that isn’t just the fault of the running dogs of US imperialism. After all, the communists had their own killing fields and their revolution had begun to devour its own proverbial children. They have also degenerated into brigands who extort revolutionary taxes from legitimate businesses. For instance, they sabotage cell sites and cause the delayed transmission of our text messages. That certainly can’t endear them to the Filipino public. And contrast that to the Marcos children today: bright, sophisticated and articulate. Even without the Marcos mystique, they can give any politician a run for his money.

It is time to discard the notion that the communist threat was merely a convenient excuse for martial law. Perhaps the threat was bloated but it was there, and it was just a matter of time. Martial law thrived for the first few years because Marcos offered a vision of a New Society that Filipinos craved then and still seek today, and our hope is that we can find it without the pain and agony that the martial law nightmare wrought upon countless innocent lives.

EDSA 2 as a scripted event

Raul Pangalangan

YESTERDAY, THE 10th anniversary of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s oath-taking at EDSA came and went virtually unnoticed.

I’m not fond of conspiracy theories to explain historical events. So when I say that EDSA 2 was deliberately engineered, all I mean is that though the public outrage was genuine and not staged or faked, it was fostered by events that were deliberately calculated to provoke such outpouring of indignation.

Consider this. Had the impeachment trial been allowed to take its course, it was clear that—given the political alignments in the Senate then—President Joseph Estrada would have remained in power. The constitutional threshold of two-thirds of the senators needed to convict Erap was quite formidable; in other words, assuming a full Senate line-up of 24 senators, a minority of nine votes can effectively veto an impeachment. Erap knew that already in November 2000 when he gave his allies in Congress the go-signal to send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. Let the case go to trial, let the impeachment charges be heard fully, and let Erap be acquitted in a proper proceeding. That way, Erap remains in power completely in accordance with law. Stated otherwise, once Erap is acquitted, it will be too late to oust him through People Power.

In order to unseat Erap, it was therefore imperative not to let the trial be completed. People Power must take place before the impeachment court adjourns. In other words, the anti-Erap forces desperately needed a trigger to abort the trial and shift the arena from the proverbial court of law to the court of public opinion. Providentially for them, the pro-Erap senators furnished that trigger on a silver platter: the now famous “second envelope” that 11 senators voted to suppress. The evidence was supposed to show that Erap was the owner of the questionable “Jose Velarde” bank account. (Ironically, when the envelope was eventually opened, its owner was not Erap.)

This was the perfect moment to incite rebellion. One, it was a legal issue clothed with moral overtones. The pro-Erap Senators insisted on bank secrecy laws. The anti-Erap senators deprecated that as mere legal technicality (remember the term “legal gobbledygook”?) that shouldn’t hinder the search for the truth. Two, this logic, once embraced by the public, is the same logic by which they can countenance another EDSA. In other words, if you can sell this idea to the public, namely, that moral imperatives trump legal niceties, then you have laid the rational groundwork for a repeat of People Power that relies precisely on that reasoning.And three, appealing to the pragmatic side of the Pinoy, if Erap can get 11 senators to suppress the second envelope, that is a preview of how they will vote at the end of the trial. Why wait till then when you already know how they will vote?

There was a second reason it was important to provoke EDSA 2 when it happened.  If the EDSA logic was indispensable that we must read the rules liberally so that the law will not stand in the way of the truth, that logic would soon begin working in Erap’s favor by the next stage of the trial. That logic worked against Erap only during the first stage of the proceedings, namely, the presentation of evidence by the prosecution. The next stage would have been the presentation of evidence by the defense, which should have transpired sometime around February 2001. All of a sudden it would be Erap’s turn to claim to cast off technicality so that he can tell his story. The shoe is then on the other foot. That would’ve placed the Erap haters in a moral quandary when Erap takes his turn to invoke all the lofty principles invoked by the prosecution. In other words, if as I assume EDSA was a rational event, the flip-flopping between rules and truth-seeking will actually expose the anti-Erap crowd’s partisan side that was hidden in their lofty rhetoric of accountability and anticorruption.

Foreign observers couldn’t explain EDSA 2. Was it impatience on our part, they asked? But we are otherwise a patient people, they said. Was it part of a morality tale? Probably, they answered, given the presence of Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin. But the “more disturbing, albeit most plausible, theory … involves a conspiracy. …. Was this a revolution of the Filipino people-or of a few hundred thousand Filipinos prompted by a few hundred powerful individuals?”

In May 2001, I noted in the Supreme Court Centenary Lecture Series the “constitutionalawkwardness of EDSA 2” that “had barely, pushed People Power within the pale of constitutional legitimacy.” Commentators abroad were more condemnatory: It was either “mob rule or mob rule as a cover for a well-planned coup [b]ut either way, it’s not democracy.’’ Others agonized that the end, namely, the restoration of public accountability—was betrayed by the means, namely, the weakening of legal institutions. That seemed like a Faustian bargain even then, and much worse today. Would the “hooting throng” have gathered at EDSA 2 had they known what Arroyo would wreak upon our country?

sex, love, joy

I was reading a book on the evolution of the human brain and then I stumbled upon the irony of the Filipino Catholic clergy’s position against contraceptives. They insist that the only function of sex is to make children. Whoa! That’s exactly what animals do! The savage beasts in the jungles mate only to breed. In the entire animal kingdom, human beings are one of the few species that mate for emotional reasons and long-term bonding. Sex for love and joy, it turns out, is uniquely human, and our local venerables would insist  that we forswear what is human and revert to what is primitively animalistic.

Make up your minds, guys. If we were made in the image and likeness of God, why insist that we act like animals? We can express love in poetry, music and paintings and, yes, through sex. Apparently you guys don’t care what is being expressed (namely, love) because you are so fixated on the “how”(namely, sex). In fact, by opposing divorce, you actually insist that couples remain together even after the love has faded, and presumably have sex even in the absence of love. Don’t you think that that’s the real sacrilege?

read the whole essay by Raul Pangalangan