We commemorated the 28th anniversary of the first People Power Revolution this week. As is customary, we ask the question: are we better off today, 28 years after the dictatorship?
In fairness to everybody, we are definitely better off living in today’s nominal democracy compared to the absolute dictatorship of the past. For one, we have at least a semblance of freedom of expression which was the first liberty infringed upon by the dictatorship.
Of course, despots despise free speech. This is because they fear the truth. Once people know what the truth is, they can form their own opinion. When taken collectively, public opinion can make or unmake governments, even dictatorships. This is exactly what happened to the Marcos dictatorship.
I was fortunate to have been raised in a family of activists. In my grandfather’s farmhouse, noted journalists would gather and whisper at the latest misdeed of the dictatorship. They would talk about Imelda’s avarice, Dovie Beams, Alfie Anido, and other taboos that the dictatorship kept from the public. Their informants were other journalists in the know but could not write the truth. Later in the day, an obscure publication, known as the “mosquito press” would surface. This was the WE forum. My Grandpa’s group would then converge late at night to read with eagerness back and current issues of the outlawed tabloid.
Peaceful assemblies were also prohibited. One of my fondest memories is how as children, we would defy the ban by walking and chanting anti-Marcos slogans in the rice fields behind my grandfather’s subversive farm house. That experience, needless to say, shaped the kind of person that I became today.
The dictatorship of course suppressed freedom of expression because it had closets upon closets full of skeletons. There was the fact that the dictatorship was downright corrupt. There was the fact that Marcos, the despot was megalomaniac and the wife, delusional. There too was the fact that despite systematic violations of human rights, the dictatorship survived because of Uncle Sam’s support in a region which became a battleground for the Cold War. There too was the fact that bereft of a popular mandate, Marcos had to invent himself as some kind of a demi-God with a divine mandate to rule. These were some of the reasons why he was averse to freedom of expression. Simply put, behind the lyrics of the “Bagong Lipunan” propaganda song lies the ugly truth that the dictatorship was in power only for itself.
Twenty-eight years later, we find that many of the ailments that afflicted our society during Martial Law are still prevalent. There’s still the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. And while President Aquino has not himself forced our children to sing his counterpart of the “Bagong Lipunan”, he has been peddling an equally pernicious lie that we’re now on the “Daang Matuwid”. Worse, while we have a thriving media industry that will not be cowed by the presidential bad mouths, we have a worse form of censorship that we did not see during martial law: the systematic and pernicious killing of journalists. In fact, the impunity against journalists has earned us the notoriety of being either the most or the second-most murderous country for journalists worldwide.
So are we better off today?
I submit that yes, we are better off today. While our journalists continue to die heroes’ deaths, at least our media has been persistent and untiring in exposing the scams in government that led to the public contempt and indignation for the PDAF, the DAP and the Malampaya scams. While the presidential bad mouths of Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte continue to wreak havoc, PNoy at least has taken steps to have a more palatable spokesman in the person of Sonny Coloma. And while scandals continue to hound the administration with the likes of Dinky “when he hold on together” Soliman’s election fund raising dubbed as poverty alleviation, Ging Deles’s bloody peace pact with the MILF, and Butch Abad’s DAP, the reality is PNoy himself remains untainted with corruption. Thus he continues to honor the memory of his parents.
Yes, we’re not in heaven. But because we’ve been to hell during the days of the dictatorship, we would be damned if we allowed it to happen again. This is why PNoy and his cohorts better watch out. For unless they do better in the next two years, he may not have a legacy to speak of and may very well be equally notorious—if not because of kleptocracy, then because of sheer incompetence.
Shape up, PNoy!