Several minutes after posting on Facebook, a CCTV footage of an SUV running rover a man and leaving him dead came viral. It drew thousands of angry emotions from viewers. A week ago, a woman came posting about the harassment she experienced while being on the road with the Angkas driver. This, too, caught the attention of the public and resulted to the immediate dismissal of the driver. The other day, while on the jeepney, I overheard an old couple discussing how difficult it is to stay up late at night and visit their children and grandchildren thanks to the growing number of questionable arrests and encounter with the authority, thanks to the massive campaign against illegal drugs. These are just few of the many crimes reported every day, not to mention the recent calamities caused by Ompong in Luzon and landslide in Naga City, Cebu. Then you begin to wonder how much more for those which didn’t reach the mainstreamed media and social networking sites.As someone who is in constant motion and in full enthusiasm wanting to visit more places around the country, is the Philippine still safe for travelers?
At these times, are we in dire need of an immediate answer to these seemingly unending crimes committed in every corner of the country? Is Martial Law really the answer? Below are snippets of stories I’ve gathered which I think have provided the pros and cons of such procedure done several years back. I am in no way a partisan of any political group, but it doesn’t mean that I have remain ignorant on what’s happening to the country. It’s up to you whether which side would you like to believe in – because just like any other facet of the society, politics is a big show business… many are left untold to the public.
- It strengthened Family Ties. – (The Boy who fell from the sky)
On the morning of May 31, 1977, residents of Antipolo – a mountainous municipality just east of Manila – saw a military helicopter circling low over a deserted area. Minutes later, something fell out onto the rocks below. Then the aircraft clattered away. Curious residents ran to see what had fallen. They found the bloody, battered corpse of a young man. He had been cruelly treated. His head was bashed in, there were burn marks and dark bruises all over his body. On his torso, an examining doctor would later count 33 shallow wounds apparently gouged with an ice pick. He was the 16 year old Luis Manuel “Boyet” Mijares, son of Primitivo, a former aide of the dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos, who then became the whistleblower of the Marcos regime and author of “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos”.
- It prompted Women Empowerment. – (The Woman who Vanished into the Night)
–Hilda Narcisco, a 32-year old woman, was arrested in Davao City, Mindanao on 24 March 1983 while delivering a package to Volker Schmidt, a German pastor who was planning to leave shortly for the Federal Republic of Germany. She had recently arrived in Mindanao from Manila to work for a priest in Cotabato and had been asked by the priest to deliver a package to Schmidt to mail in Germany, which apparently contained an application for a grant. Three others, including Schmidt, were also arrested with her. She was blindfolded, handcuffed, taken to a “safehouse”, threatened with “salvaging” and accused of being a member of the Communist Party. She denied all accusations and stated that she was working for the Church and had come to Mindanao to organize Basic Christian Communities. While at the safehouse and blindfolded, she was raped their leader and was subjected to sexual intimacies by other soldiers interrogating her. She was moved later to Camp Catitipan in Davao City and was allowed to see lawyers to whom she stated that she had been raped. She asked for a medical examination only in May, two months after her arrest and was told that there are no traces of rape. She believed that she could identify the soldier who raped her by his voice and asked for an opportunity to do so, which was denied by local military officials. Up until now, this case remains pending in the military courts on the Narciso complaint.
- It helped in the fight against Criminality, Lawlessness, and Smuggling
In his inaugural speech in 1965, Marcos promised to fight criminality, lawlessness, and smuggling. To do so, he announced that he was going to increase the funding and personnel of the military and implement organizational reforms. The speech seemed to strike the fight, reassuring notes to a public concerned about peace and order, but what Filipinos did not know was that the actions were designed to increase the President’s hold on the Armed Forces. What most Filipinos did not realize was they were cheering on the casting of the first links in a chain of steel that would later bind them. Marcos’ Proposal No. 1 – “a more vigorous implementation of the National Defense Act” – let him increase the size of the Armed Forces through conscription, ostensibly to deal with Communist and Muslim rebels, but in reality to create and shape an expanded military that would suit his personal purposes. In 1965, the Armed Forces of the Philippines only had 51,500 men. Ten years later, the figure had nearly doubled to 101,900. In 1985, a year before Marcos’ downfall, the military had bloated to 165,000 men. Traditionally, as observed, Ilocanos proliferated in the military. As one pro-Marcos senator, Rodulfo Guanzon, jokingly noted in 1965 when Marcos first assumed office: 40 percent of the Armed Forces personnel are genuinely Ilocano; 20 percent are semi-Ilocano; and the rest are diehard Ferdinand Marcos supporters. He then placed more Ilocano officers in key positions. Through this then, Marcos was the first Philippine President who could talk to his military field commanders even in far-flung areas, bypassing his senior military officers and his Defense Secretary. He then used these soldiers for construction projects, building roads and schools, letting the public get used to the idea of uniformed men as “force of development”. This cheap labor though constructed 33,359 kilometers of gravel roads, 210 kilometers of feeder roads and eight spans of bridges. It also put up 52 irrigation projects.
- It forged Strict Implementation of the Law.
As a lawyer, Marcos well understood the need to ground whatever he did in legality, or the semblance thereof. By holding office for two terms, Marcos was able to appoint so many justices to the Supreme Court, that when he declared Martial Law in 1972, only three out of 11 justices were not his choice. But even before Marcos packed the High Court, it had already tended to be deferential towards executive power, something which the President used artfully. On August 21, 1971, two grenades were hurled at a political rally in Plaza Miranda, killing nine and injuring 95. Marcos used the occasion to promptly suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and order the arrest of dozens of suspects. It would prove to be a trial run for the imposition of Martial Law that would follow a year later. When those arrested challenged the constitutionality of the suspension, the Supreme Court, of course, upheld the President.
- It solved lapses in a Democratic Country.
The violent rallies and demonstrations against the Marcos Government fell nicely with the president’s own plans to paint the country as falling apart and in need of a strong despotic hand to fend off a Communist threat. On February 21, 1970, he told his diary: “a little more destruction and vandalism and I can do anything.” A year later, on March 5, 1971, he wrote: “… there must be a massive destruction and sabotage before I do this (Martial Law). I keep repeating this to myself.” Not to sit idly, he helped things along by assigning psy-war experts and provocateurs to go around Manila to incite violent demonstrations and plant bombs, which he then blamed on Communist, singling out the tiny New People’s Army. But there was evidence he himself was responsible. One remorseful Constabulary sergeant confessed to having planted the time bomb in the department store “on superior orders”. Senator Aquino was about to deliver an expose pointing to a special military unit as the perpetrator of the bombings when Martial Law was declared. According to historian Alfred McCoy, General Ramon Cannu, one of General Ver’s deputies in the Presidential Security Unit, “organized some of the bombings that were done to convince people that there was a crisis and democracy was not working.”
- It protected the country against Leftist Rebellion.
Marcos invariably and regularly warned members of his National Security about the Communist rebellion. Strangely, in spite of all the President’s concern and his extensive military reforms, it seemed that the Communist menace just seemed to get stronger each year, at least that was what he and his officials said.
However, a former intelligence officer said that “even when Martial Law was declared the Communists were not a real threat. The military could handle them.” The officer who once worked under General Fabian Ver conceded that the number of armed rebels was growing then “but to me it was not really a threat.” Armed rebel threat therefore was not enough reason to impose Martial Law but Marcos found it convenient to cite it as a cause for declaring Martial Law.
- It answered perennial problems with regards to health.
Globally, during the Marcos regime, the Philippines had the highest rates for whooping cough, diphtheria, and rabies; in the Western Pacific Region, it had the highest rates for tuberculosis and polio. About 400 children were dying every day due to diarrhea and communicable diseases. Although potentially fatal, these diseases were all preventable; however, as per studies, seven out of ten Filipinos died without ever seeing a doctor. For a typical hospital, the ratio of beds to patients was approximately 1:650. Meanwhile, the Marcoses had a mini-hospital in Malacanang worth an estimated $250,000. Imelda’s hospital projects like the Lung Center, on the other hand, could only be accessed by those with the money to pay their exorbitant fees. For instance, in 1986, the Lung Center had only one patient, while the Quezon Institute still had multiple tuberculosis patients sharing beds. Meanwhile, international donations from organizations like the WHO and UNICEF were diverted to Imelda’s London account to purchase diamonds, as well as Minister of Health Florentino Solon’s account to purchase several houses around the country and even a beach resort.
- It allowed the creation of habitat for wildlife.
In 1963, about 105,000 informal settlers were said to be living in Metro Manila, a figure which doubled to about 200,000 in 1975, three years after the declaration of Martial Law. Conservative estimates gave a figure of about 1 in 5 Filipinos living in urban areas without decent housing. Many slum dwellers came to settle in these urban communities to relocate from areas being developed for hotels and infrastructure by Marcos’s cronies. Such living conditions sharply contrasted against the dozens of houses the Marcoses owned across the globe, worth millions in regular maintenance. It is estimated that by 1985, the upkeep of the Marcos residences cost the amount it would take to feed a small town of 48,000 people for a whole year. A particularly disturbing account is told in the island of Calauit, 275 miles southwest of Manila, from which about 120 poor families were evicted to make room for giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and other animals from Kenya. Bought using government funds and maintained at about $30,000 a month, the island was used as a private hunting ground by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.
- It helped in generatingadditional income for the Filipinos.
Antonio Floirendo was a close business associate of the Marcoses – he greatly contributed for his presidency. He soon became a regular member of Imelda’s entourage and a leading contributor to the First Lady’s projects. In return, Floirendo benefited by taking control of one of the biggest banana plantations in the world, taking over the vast expanse of land while driving away their indigenous inhabitants. With Marcos’s assistance, Floirendo initiated a partnership with the Bureau of Prisoners to enlist prisoners as laborers in his cheap plantations. With this cheap source of labor, Floirendo could continuously expand his interests with little concern about cost. Worse than his greed in expanding his banana empire, however, was how he treated his prisoner-workers. Prisoners were forced to wake up at 3am and work overtime. From the strain of heavy lifting at the plantations, many grew to have deformed backs. Yet, workers were offered no job o health security, even when they were injured by the chemicals used in the plantations. One might argue that they were treated worse than the bananas themselves. Bananas were given special refrigeration and cushions in storage and transport to ensure that quality was maintained for export. Meanwhile, as millions of Filipinos starved, bananas were strictly off-limits to the workers even when they did not meet export quality; instead, these bananas were given to special cows whose meat was reserved solely for the Marcoses and the cronies.
- It duly supported local farmers.
Marcos appointed Juan Ponce Enrile to key government positions such as the Chairman of key institutions like the Philippine National Bank, the National Investment and Development Corporation, Philippines Coconut Authority, and United Coconut Mills. Arguably, the largest corruption scheme Enrile was involved with however, was the imposition of the coco levy. The coco levy was essentially a tax that charged coconut farmers with $0.08 per 100 kilos copra, supposedly to fund the Coconut Investment Company, Cocofed, and the Philippine Coconut Authority. During Martial Law, the levy went up to $13 per 100 kilos of copra, eating up about 33.8% of farmer’s incomes. Meanwhile, coconut farmers at the time could only afford about 10% of what was considered the minimum requirement for food. An estimated $475M was raised from the levy, which was not used to support the farmers but to finance Enrile’s business conglomerates and Imelda’s projects, like Miss Universe pageant and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Alongside with him was Danding Cojuangco who also used the money to take control of the sugar industry, the flour industry, and even the San Miguel Corporation.
- It acknowledged and supported the Philippine Ethnic Tribes.
Manuel Elizalde was Marcos’s cabinet minister in charge of ethnic groups. He then headed the Presidential Assistance on National Minorities also known as Pananim, which claimed the discovery of a Stone Age culture called the Tasaday. It was posited that the Tasaday were a culture untouched by modern-day civilization, generating great interest among scientist and tourists from outside the Philippines. Some years later, the Tasaday were later found to be a hoax. Though indeed they belonged to an ethnic group, Elizalde had rehearsed them to look like cave dwellers to make them a more profitable venture, with better prospects for the public image of the Marcos government.
- It first developed the of Build, Build, Build Projects
Rodolfo Cuenca campaigned and raised funds for Marcos. In turn, spring the most well-known projects from the Marcos government – all of them meant to serve not the people but Cuenca’s and Marcos’s private interest. He formed the CDCP (Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines) which was responsible for building Manila North and South Expressways. Through the CDCP, Cuenca was commissioned to do many more unnecessary projects, often at Imelda’s behest. One such project was the San Juanico Bridge. At the time, there was not much traffic between the two relatively underdeveloped islands of Leyte and Samar. Imelda simply wanted a bridge for her province; Cuenca on the other hand, stood to gain a lot from his involvement in the project, including kickbacks and Imelda’s favor. On the other hand, despite environmental warnings, Cuenca reclaimed the land around Manila Bay to get quick money by selling the “new land”. In proposing the budget for what would soon become the LRT system, a swollen $278M was proposed instead of the supposed $8.1M in costs. He also used his position to impose the toll fees on the northern Manila-Alabang Highways.
Another project created during the realm of Marcos was the Bataan Nuclear Powerplant which was thought to be the solution to the oil crisis of 1973. It was estimated to save about 6 million barrels of crude oil in a year and address the country’s numerous power shortages. However, despite the plant’s promise of alternative energy, the construction of BNPP was rife with controversy. The initial quote of Westinghouse was $500 million for the construction of the plant, however the price ballooned to $1.1 billion for only one reactor. After the scare generated by the Three Mile Island Nuclear Meltdown in 1979, the construction was halted and was found out to be unsafe. After its total shut down during the time of Aquino, the BNPP continues to see no use beyond serving as a tourist spot despite the 50M used in annual maintenance funds.
- It gave due emphasis on Culture and Arts.
The development of the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex resulted from the Marcos administration’s emphasis on nurturing Filipino culture and “the Filipino soul”. Designed under the guidance of architect Leandro Locsin, the complex was built on land reclaimed from Manila Bay and became home to the artistic creations of numerous artists such as Hernando Ocampo, Fernando Zobel, Arturo Luz, Cesar Legaspi, and Vicente Manansala. However, the construction of the CCP complex took a heavy toll on the government’s coffers because it relied on loaned resources from Cultural Development Fund, money gathered through Imelda’s fund-raising efforts and money loaned from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
On the other hand, In hopes of turning Manila into Asia’s film capital and to rival Cannes, Imelda rushed to complete the Manila Film Center for the 1982 Manila International Film Festival on January 18, 1982. All in all, the Parthenon-inspired film center cost an estimated $25M to build and took around 7,000 workers working round-the-clock shifts to meet Imelda’s deadline of three months. The film center was completed 15 minutes before its opening. Behold, the Manila Film Center made international headlines, however, it was not for its magnificent structure but for the tragedy that befell it. At around 3:00am on November 17, 1981, the roof of the film center collapsed and an alleged 169 workers were buried under the drying cement. Some were completely drowned in the rubble, while other were half-buried. All rescue attempts were delayed until an official statement could be made. It took 9 hours before ambulances were permitted on site. Despite the scale of the accident, construction did not halt and many of the victims were left buried under the concrete to meet the film center’s tight deadline. While Imelda projected the film festival would draw 4,500 celebrities and gross $52M, many film stars ignored her invitations. The tragedy also worsened the financial problems of the film center. The expenses for the opening night and later operating expenditures amounted to about $4M, which would later be shouldered by the Central Bank.
I have written a number of horror stories, but I guess Shakespeare was right when he said that reality is more tragic than fiction. Re-reading the history of the country is much like marathoning a historical K-drama in which royal families plot assassination against each other to finally own the reigns of the governments. Sadly, unlike the Kdramas I have come to be a fan of, the Philippine tragic story has not come to an end. It seemed like an ellipsis left hanging without a proper closure. We never have learned from the past and we end up backlashing each other instead of rowing together. We point accusing fingers to the government when we haven’t done our part in doing simple and responsible things to help in moving the country forward. And as long as we remain blind, deaf, and insensitive to the needs of other people, the community, the environment, and the country, we are surely doomed to repeat our history.
PS. Yes, we do talk things like these while hiking. Come join us on trails!
SOURCES: Asuncion David. Seven in the Eye of History. 2000
Raissa Robles. Never Again. 2016