2/25/2011
The middle ground

When I was young, I had the impression that Ferdinand Marcos was an evil man. It was too simple a thought, really. He declared martial law in 1972 to get back against his enemies and entrench himself in position. Thus, the moment he was finally kicked out of power in 1986 - thanks to a swarm of people gathering in EDSA to protect military officers who broke away from the status quo - was defined as a classic good-conquers-evil scenario.

My grandfather, however, wasn't having any of that. He's a Marcos loyalist, judging from the Marcos/Tolentino campaign sticker I found in the walls of a room in his house. Or, maybe he wasn't a Marcos loyalist. Maybe it's because both of them hailed from Ilocos Norte. You know how fierce your allegiance to your home town can be. Anyway, he argued - and note, I was probably a nine-year-old smartass back then - that during his tenure, Marcos had built a lot of infrastructure, all with the vision of a progressive Philippines. He'd invoke that the very highway we use to get to his house was Marcos' brilliant idea - and true, what we now call the South Luzon Expressway was built under his watch, to link the southern provinces to Manila.

Of course, I wasn't having any of it, especially when my grandfather claimed that it was Cory Aquino - the meek housewife who was brought to power by that popular uprising twenty-five years ago - who was the bad one.

I'm not saying Cory is a bad person now. Her contributions to the restoration of democracy in this country cannot be denied. While her administration was beset with problems, mostly stemming from the fact that we were impatient enough for the change her coming into power signified, she was the person we needed to steer us through a particularly turbulent time in our history.

And I'm not saying that Marcos is a bad person. Sure, he and his family lived a lavish lifestyle, and there are allegations of human rights violations aimed at him, but he assumed power - at least initially - because he wanted to make our country better. There were his ideas, the ones my grandfather invoked. And there was his brilliance, the thing that catapulted him to the highest office in the land at such a young age.

I'm pretty sure that is too simple an assessment, but I'm no longer nine. I'm twenty-two, and I've studied my history, more or less, and while I wasn't alive when all of this was happening, I sure am feeling the effects now.

Back in college, during history class, my professor offered a theory as to why martial law seemed to be a good thing back then. Days after Proclamation 1081 was issued, he says, the unrest surrounding the country - all those immoralities, all those concerns - went poof. He thinks it's because Marcos was behind it in the first place: once he declared military rule, purportedly to "save the Republic" from, among others, the threat of communist rebels, he flicked the off-switch on all those shenanigans and the world was fine again. It was a plausible theory, but it seemed too fantastic for me to believe.

So, maybe, there was a clampdown, and he took on a harder stance so the country could progress. And some may say that his concept of a New Society - Bagong Lipunan, our coins then said - was just wallpaper put up to cover the problems our country was in, but to an extent something good came out of it. But, of course, there were the clamps on our rights. Ariel Ureta was put to jail for kidding about bicycles, for one.

But now I can't call Marcos sheer evil. I'm sure, in his head, he's thinking, what I'm doing is necessary. It's what we called the lesser evil, although what it really was is a different discussion altogether. It's the reason why studying ethics in school is such a headache: there are no absolute right answers. What makes one thing the right thing or the wrong thing is a matter of perspective.

It's the same reason why some will say now that Cory's administration was a relative failure. Land reform didn't take off everywhere, especially in her family's land. There was unrest from the military. There were allegations of nepotism and corruption. Or maybe it's because we had our freedoms back, and we could complain about anything and everything without fear of reprisal, until it all became about the complaining and not about the improvements. We all got carried away.

Krizzie and I had a discussion along these lines during the elections, when Cory's son Noynoy still a candidate. He, of course, ran on the back of popular support: his mother had died, there was no good alternative, and we wanted to get over the corruption that marred the Arroyo administration. Or so they all thought. We both didn't want him to win: we both thought he was incapable of running the daily affairs of the state. Sure, he has good intentions, but how can he back it up? Krizzie went as far as waxing sentimental over the Marcos years, of a brilliant mind with brilliant ideas and terrible implementation - she wasn't alive back then, but I trust she knows more than I do, since she's in the Student Council (or what used to be it) and I just wrote about it.

And sure enough, Noynoy won. "Kayo ang boss ko," he said during his inaugural speech. And he said that again today, in ceremonies marking twenty-five years since his mother assumed power. Or, as we'd all like to call it, the moment that defined us Filipinos - the moment when we were really united towards one goal. Before that we can't even get our acts together, possibly cowering in fear. After that, we couldn't get our acts together. Just one moment. And lots of faux sentimentality.

Noynoy is a product of the revolution, and in his speech, he spewed out his usual clueless rhetoric. Maybe attacked Bongbong Marcos for saying that we could be like Singapore if his father, the dictator Marcos, wasn't thrown out of office. I didn't listen to the speech. I don't like their president. He doesn't say anything relevant anyway, although he did point out that our foreign debt ballooned under Marcos' watch, something that we're still paying to this day. And then he goes to talk about the legacy that moment left behind, about the things we aspire for now, as we try to get back.

A product of the revolution, where all we do is prop ourselves up as the savior while kicking the asses of everyone who disagree with us. A product of the revolution, with hope that for once, we can get a break and get back in the game. Or maybe both. It's all a matter of perspective. Exactly why ethics is a headache.

And your responses...

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