On September 21 of this year, it’ll be exactly fifty years since the public declaration of martial law in the Philippines by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Before that, this Thursday, on June 30, his son and namesake, Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos, Jr., will be at the National Museum (then the bicameral congress building in his father’s first term as president) for his inauguration as the seventeenth president of the Republic of the Philippines.
By tradition, president-elects are inaugurated at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta. However, the venue is unavailable this year because it is also the site of many field hospitals that have been dedicated to administering care to patients infected by the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19). How appropriate, then, that Marcos Jr would choose the old congress building as his alternative inauguration spot, the old venue of his father’s government before democracy was shunned altogether in favor of fear and violence. History, they say, doesn’t repeat, but it surely does rhyme.
During the May elections, Marcos Jr’s victory by popular choice, commanding 31 million votes, a feat achieved by no other than his own father before him when he won a re-election in 1969. His return to power was initially, defeated in the previous elections in 2016, when his votes were outnumbered in the vice presidential race by Leni Robredo. This year was not quite as fortuitous for the opposition, however, and Marcos Jr secured the elections accompanied by thunderous applause (to quote Natalie Portman as Senator Padme Amidala: “so this is how liberty dies”).
Marcos Jr’s election as president marks the culmination of years of a counterrevolution by the Marcos family after their ouster during the 1986 People Power revolution. This counterrevolution played out over nearly five decades, beginning in 1992 with the election of Fidel V. Ramos, a distant cousin of the Marcoses and former Chief of the Philippine Constabulary and Vice Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the elder Marcos’s rule. Over the years, the Marcoses and their allies focused their attention to filling important government offices with sympathizers and family members. Marcos Jr. himself has held on to various positions like governor, congressman, and senator, experiencing only a brief hiatus after his defeat as vice president in 2016.
Journalists have expounded in very informative detail how the Marcoses strategically encroached upon Malacañang. But what arguably gave their cause a significant boost is the free-for-all social media space and an embarrassment of an education system that has failed to cement in the historical consciousness of the people the many horrors that previous generations faced under martial law, and the many economic blows we continue to suffer as consequence of the terribly mismanagement and crony capitalism by the Marcos family.
For the Marcos family, it was a long-fought war, but they have emerged as victors. Come June 30, they will be returning at long last to the palace from where they were once kicked out.
There is a famous quotation from the speeches of Martin Luther King that goes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” While these powerful words have inspired an entire civil rights movement long gone years across the Atlantic, the entire world is now slowly sobering up to the fact that this just isn’t so. There is no great trend line giving us more rights, and making us all better citizens of a gradually improving social order. If anything, the arc of the moral universe is really a retrogressive spiral, and the rights and liberties that a generation struggles to achieve are due to be overturned by the next one. Good will not always prevail.
Our movies and fairy tales always close at the happy ending, when witches and monsters are banished from the kingdom and the people celebrate. Somebody gets married. The town gathers for a fiesta. These endings conveniently leaves out that painful truth that history and reality will always have to acknowledge: sometimes the witches and the monsters come back. Because witches and monsters are an awfully patient lot. They hide in the bushes, shielded by the dark. They bide their time with the guarantee that, eventually, people forget.
The long arc of history doesn’t bend towards justice, and believing it does has only blinded us with complacency. We must never forget again.
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