The year was 1972. Ferdinand Marcos had time and again declared himself the champion of the poverty-stricken masses against the callous wealthy Filipino elite (the oligarchs). He was progressively exhibiting iron fisted tendencies, espousing taking a hard line against the communists, student activists, crime syndicates anddrug dealers, among others. He had also somehow hoarded a stash of cash into a number of secret bank accounts and had the appetite to amass even more. All he needed then was to declare Martial Law with change – through his so-called New Society – as a plausible justification.
With Proclamation 1081 (Martial Law), Marcos launched a perfect storm that would bring untold suffering on the Filipino people, send the economy into a tailspin and lead to the declaration of a debt moratorium in October 1983. That meant that in 1983, the country was effectively bankrupt with the government coffers practically empty and the Central Bank completely drained of foreign currency to pay for international debt obligations as well as the goods and services that were badly needed by the people.
The deep crisis that followed is perhaps the lowest point in the country’s recent history, leading to the uprising by the long-suffering Filipino people that we now call the EDSA Revolution.
I am sometimes dumbfounded that many of our young people seem to believe that the Marcos years are the golden years of the Republic. Ito ay malaking kasinungalingan. I wish to disabuse the minds of our youth of this brazen lie. Marcos was evil. I am writing this post to chronicle the insights from my personal research about those years, particularly in respect of the hidden wealth amassed by the Marcos Family during the Martial Law regime and which the Cory Aquino government sought to recover afterwards.
I had spoken about what I have discovered about the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses once before. In September 1999, the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute and the Ateneo de Manila University sponsored the Conference on the Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship: Memory, Truth-telling, and the Pursuit of Justice. We really should hold more of these conferences but as far as I know, this has been the only one of its kind. A Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial in February 2004 referenced this path-breaking conference in an article entitled Evil Legacies.
I am publishing my presentation in that conference entitled The Plunder of the Economy under Martial Law as part of this post. I must admit that this is not easy reading. But if our children will take the necessary lessons from our history, it behooves us to understand how the elder Marcos manipulated Philippine society to advance his family’s selfish ends to the detriment of the Filipino people. With better insight and understanding, we can guide our children in a way that our deficient history books cannot.
Allow me to point out a couple of insights from the presentation that is particularly relevant in this political campaign season: Marcos was corrupt even before he became President, extorting kickbacks from war reparations by the Japanese government. The lesson here is that corrupt politicians become more – not less – greedy as they assume more power. As they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ang sinasabi nang iba nating kababayan ay hindi na baleng kawatan ang kandidato basta lamang siya ay namamahagi ng benepisyo sa mga mahihirap. Ang ating kasaysayan ay nagpapatunay na ito ay maling akala. Ang masang Pilipino ang nagdurusa kapag naluklok sa kapangyarihan ang corrupt na kandidato. The seeming concern for the poor is merely a pretext for more rapacious thievery once elected to higher office.
The Marcos ill-gotten wealth is real and is immense. Hence the actions of the Marcos family to dissolve a global freeze in a racketeering case filed by the PCGG in California in 1987. Los Angeles Federal Judge Mariana Pfaelzer, in addition to the global freeze on the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family also imposed a spending cap of 10 thousand US dollar on personal expenses of the Marcos Family in 1989, the same year that Ferdinand Marcos died. At that time, Bongbong Marcos was already 32 years old and two years away from being elected as Congressman for the first time. In 1991, in a serious tactical blunder the post-Salonga PCGG agreed to dissolved the worldwide freeze in exchange for a USD 50 million settlement with Imelda Marcos. This was a settlement that the Marcos lawyers worked very hard to reach. This allowed the Marcos family free access to all of their ill-gotten billions across the globe, which wealth is available to the Marcos family today and allowed the family to re-establish itself in the Philippines after the legal settlement. The significance of the events of this time period is not lost on Bongbong Marcos. Maraming kailangang ipaliwanag si Bongbong sa kanyang kaalaman tungkol sa nakaw na yaman ng kanyang mga magulang. Kaalaman na natitiyak natin na mayroon siya.
The glib exhortation of Bongbong Marcos to move on in order to move forward is a recipe for disaster. Bongbong is asking us to ignore the painful lessons of our history. In response, we should vow to try harder in teaching our children about these tragic lessons. To Bongbong Marcos and his ilk we say: Never again.
Art depicting barbed wire courtesy of Alfredo Liongoren.