Sunday, November 3, 2013

My Friend Boy

I never had the opportunity to mourn the passing of a dear friend. His was a tragic death that happened two years ago; he was gunned down in the privacy of his own home. The lone assassin escaped into the darkness, etching sharp outlines of a cold-blooded murder. Gasping for breath, Boy was rushed to a local hospital in an effort to save his life. There his children gathered around him desperately trying to keep him out of the light, coaching him to breathe. He remained buoyantly responsive for a few minutes. But the worst is yet to come. Suddenly, it was time to go. And yet, in a matter of seconds Boy summoned enough strength to say his final words. Amid the excruciating pain educed by the multiple gunshot injuries, Boy audibly muttered “I love you” to his children. Then he diligently passed out. Consumatum est! Henceforth, my friend’s journey in the afterlife began.

In a strange twist of irony, both of us knew that his days were numbered but often chose to allay our fears so as not to spoil our once-in-a-lifetime coffee discussions. It was a big mistake to have never talked about those “threats” seriously. Either we had brushed it aside or had simply trivialized everything under the rag. But I mourned his death privately. And mourn him still to this day. What happened next was the last thing I had expected. The death of my friend had forcefully sapped out whatever idealistic ardor I once had for my hometown─ Isabela de Basilan. And so my political career abruptly ended before it even started rolling.

I would like to remember Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo as the “writer” whose idealism represents the impression of the times we lived in. I have lots of stories to tell about Boy but decided to shorten it. You know, my friend Boy hates it when I write long and dense. And so in deference to his wish I will keep it simple and nice.

Boy was a lot older than me. Like my father, Boy was a highly respected elder in church and the whole of evangelical community. I came to know him personally through my older brother Ernani, then a budding seminarian. Boy frequented in our house almost every other day except Sundays. From what I recall, the two spent long hours together discussing about theology and books. Both displayed erudition and spoke English fluently and lengthily. I was then in my teens during their conclaves wandering around the house. It used to annoy me really, because his diurnal visits interrupted my television ritual in the living room. Their relationship however went into hiatus when my brother had a change of heart. He decided to leave the seminary for good and pursue his life in law.

Albeit not a journalist by profession, Boy was a prolific writer─ a fine wordsmith with a poisonous pen. His choice of words and the rhythm of his prose complement each other in a mordant legible scrawl that often illuminates the political malaise of our hometown. One after the other, Boy exposed in his essays unscrupulous practices of local politicians with much gusto. He minces no words the moment he fires his guns at rapacious politicos: Bato bato sa langit and tamaan bukol! Many people back home are unaware that Boy was a regular contributor for local dailies, but one thing that he was really proud of was his (under a pseudonym) extensive piece about Basilan Province which was printed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer many years ago.

It was in this field that we became close friends later. Early 2002, Boy singlehandedly organized a Christian writers group that would showcase local talents who are audacious enough to express their staid political and biblical views on many things. First to be invited to join the group was my older brother, a law student at that time. I pleaded Boy if I could join the group but he was quite unsure about my participation because it had something to do with writing. Once I even heard him say that he didn’t know that I was into writing too. Yes, Boy was right. I was not. At that time, I was still in the process of getting my life fixed, setting my academic record straight. I thought joining the group would be a big leap from sheer boredom and callousness to something more productive. Yet Boy remained somewhat indifferent with me for quite some time. I could not blame him. I was in fact a happy-go-lucky-guy. I hardly read books except guitar tablatures and other rock n roll stuff. But I guess my brother noticed something. I was changing. I’m not really sure how it started though. He then prodded Boy to consider me in the group on the condition that I would be submitting a write-up. I did. As things turned out, Boy eventually conceded after reading my article. “Mar de Gracia,” our very first publication, and ironically our last, came out late December of 2002. It was Boy, ever the philanthropist, who shouldered the expenses from printing to publication, to distribution and all. The journal received critical and positive reviews from the local evangelical community because of its unorthodox content.

Inspired by the initial success of the publication, the group flexed its muscles and channeled its energy on political reforms. In one of our meetings, Boy brought to our attention about a certain lawyer-councilman whose election in office was highly questionable and suspicious. Boy vehemently decried the political apathy of the public despite blatant violation of the law and the Constitution. Boy pleaded that we should do something about the situation, to which we all agreed in principle. Later on, after much discussion, our adherence to law and sense of patriotism prevailed. We then decided to support Boy’s advocacy all the way. Indeed like cowardice, courage can be infectious too. An overwhelming sense of hope must have filled Boy’s idealism when my brother, Atty. Ernani Diaz Bonoan, agreed to handle the case for free.

I was already in Manila when the triumvirate of Boy, Ernani and Marlon Espina (another bona fide member of the group) buckled down to business. Through the DILG, my brother submitted a legal brief citing constitutional rules and legal principles that would clearly show the illegality of the councilman’s assumption of office. The DILG concurred in toto with the legal arguments presented by my brother. At first, the arrogant Councilman remained adamant. He defended not only himself but also two of his colleagues who were in a similar position. In his privilege speech before the city council, he pompously declared that his seat was legally sanctioned by the Local Government Code. Believing perhaps that he might need to sound lawyerly in front of his colleagues, the goner even cited anachronistic Supreme Court decisions just to bone his case. He argued with so much flare that although not elected directly by the people, nonetheless the city mayor appointed him as a councilman representing marginalized sectors in the city. Unfortunately the die was cast. No one believed a word he said on that day. Of course, any law student taking up municipal corporations or laws on public officers would know that his arguments were a big joke. To make the story short, the city mayor immediately withdrew the appointments and ordered the culprits to voluntarily step down from office. It was a wise decision on his part because the legal ramifications alone could reach all the way to the top, clearly implicating him as the appointing authority responsible for the fiasco. Jettisoned by their padrino in the middle of a shipwreck, the culprits quickly jumped ship and renounced their positions. Obviously, the illusion that they were entitled to the same rank and privileges as city councillors soon came to an end.

Boy was definitely in high spirits as soon as the news reached him. It was a stunning team victory. Although I was not there, I could easily imagine Boy’s elation as he was talking to me on the phone breaking the news. Oh yes, he was really proud of our team. While credit goes to my brother for his legal acumen, everything else could not have been possible without Boy’s steering idealism and passion. It was indeed his finest hour, his quiet yet puissant legacy for his fellow Isabelenos.

Looking back, I think that single event changed Boy’s perspective on so many things, especially in politics. It must have dawned on him that political reforms in our hometown might not be a far-fetched dream after all. He vowed to continue the fight. He even dared to dream 'dreams' when everyone else were seemingly wide-awake doing nothing, Boy eventually took matters into his own hands. Twice, he lost the elections. It has been said that politics can bring out the best and the worst in people. True enough, politics brought out the best in Boy and the worse in the people of Isabela City. But Boy came out of the snake pit unscathed, alive and kicking.

Idealism rarely presents itself in paradoxical terms. A case in point is Boy Gonzalo. Surely, the undiluted purity of idealism is often equated with recklessness, naiveté or innocence─ with youth. But Boy could barely qualify as youth. He was way over the bracket. And yet he poignantly embraced the idealism of youth like romance in the moonlight, thrusting its warmth with the passion of a lover so to speak. I have been told a number of times that when a person grows older, plunging himself in the real world, youthful idealism slowly withers away with age. And in one fell swoop, this thing called “realism” takes over. For a time, I was inclined to accept this notion until my friend Boy came along. Years later after reflecting Boy’s life as a political activist and a writer, I’ve realized that Boy’s brand of “idealism” involved a great deal of conviction and hope influenced by the teachings of Christ. And so finally, I got the equation.

Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo may have been silenced by an assassin’s bullet but certainly not his ideals ─ his steadfast belief that Isabela de Basilan will rise again; not economically, but by bringing back decency and respect in public office. To the end, my friend Boy was in his usual self chaffing at the leash, defying the status quo. Now that Boy has passed on to the Great Beyond, his essays will serve as his last will and testament ─or to put it bluntly─ his death wish to the people of Basilan.NB:

Here is a sample of Boy Gonzalo's essay: MAKING MORAL CHOICES DURING ELECTIONS

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Stench of Pork Barrel Politics

The recent talks these days, edging out debates among lawmakers over what to do with pork barrel funds disguised as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), reminds me of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. He said: Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridge even where there is no river. In a way, the same can be said of our very own politicians in general. But Khrushchev’s apt description is quite inaccurate when applied to our honorable congressmen; in a unique way, lawmakers in this country exhibit some sort of edifice complex, a pejorative term once attributed to former First Lady Imelda Marcos. In this part of the globe, lawmakers strive to make good of their promises. They feign generosity to their constituents through pork funds to cover up their lackluster performance in law-making and parliamentary debates.

As promised, policymakers in this country are rather preoccupied with the construction of bridges, roads, waiting sheds, and health centers; the only problem though is that these public works projects are─ substandard. Because our lawmakers visualize themselves as pseudo-DPWH, they utilize pork funds to support pet projects, mostly public works, to impress upon their constituents that they have done well with their fund. But beneath all this, lawmakers wallow in a grand conspiracy to deceive the public. These rent-seeking vultures are more concerned with paperless deals that would put them in a better light come election time. But the stench of institutionalized corruption is hard to contain. It stinks. And most Filipinos are not unaware of the fact that pork barrel is a source of evil.

The scenario is all too familiar: Mr. Congressman identifies his pet projects for his district. The pork fund is channeled through the implementing agency, say DPWH, to execute the public works project. Next is the bidding process. Studies show, and rightly so, that PDAF projects normally attracts just one bidder for each of the competitive tenders conducted by the implementing agency. Consequently, with no real competition in the bidding process, your mighty Congressman exerts influence in the selection of contractors to carry out PDAF-funded projects. The favored contractor, the one tasked to undertake the project, is obligated to hand over at least 30-50 percent rebates of the pork fund, known as kick back or cuts, to your honorable congressman. 30 percent goes to the contractor, the remainder, or 20 percent of the Fund would now go to the cost of the project. This is why most public works projects are substandard, and are in need of continuous repairs despite hefty allocations ostensibly given to them. Worse, in between these projects, lawmakers would get to flaunt their names and vapid faces on project tarps to make sure that constituents would praise their hallowed names to high heavens during elections. Now, whether the pork barrel funds go to the deep pockets of politicians, LGUs, and bogus NGOs the underlying purpose is the same: It’s all for the money. What nerve, what conceit!

The term "pork barrel” is of American etymology. History has it that during the pre-American Civil War, black slaves were traditionally provided with barrels of salted pork as gift, mostly left over food, on holidays. The slaves would grapple frantically, fighting like pigs over barrels of food like it was manna descended from heaven. But the slavery days are long gone. Yet, a new form of servility had emerged in Philippine politics at the inception of the Commonwealth era.

The pork barrel system landed on our shores courtesy of the Americans whose concept of government greatly inspired and influenced the framers of the 1935 Philippine Constitution. It was through the 1934 Constitutional Convention when “discretionary funds” officially saw the light of day in Philippine politics. There was a clamor against it but it did not receive much public attention. Briefly, the proposal to scrap “pork barrel” in the Constitutional Convention was defeated without much debate. I surmise corruption in those days were not as brazen as it is now. From then on, the pork barrel system has become a tradition, a way of life for most politicians. The thrust of pork barrel system signaled the entry of feudal patronage that would greatly define the relationship between two co-equal branches of government.

As defined by PDAF Watch, a civil society organization, pork barrel funds are those allocated to politicians such as congresspersons and senators, to be used, based on their decision to fund programs or projects in their districts. We could use a much technical definition but this will do for this staid article. In reality, pork barrel is a spoiling incentive used by the President to gain political support in both houses of Congress. In return, he gets to have his wishes done, warts and all.

Under the principle of separation of powers, the Constitution distributed the powers of government among its three distinct departments, each superior in its own sphere-- the legislative makes laws, the executive implements it, and the judiciary interprets the law. But the separation is not absolute. There are instances when these powers blend with each other owing to its corollary mechanism of checks and balances. In essence, the Constitution bestowed upon Congress the power of appropriation subject only to the veto power of the President. But the President is not totally out of the picture. He prepares the budget then proposes it to Congress. In turn, Congress has the final say on what to do with the budget proposal prepared by the President before money from the treasury can be released. So far, this is how our government works. One department cannot act with finality without the approval or participation of other departments. In this way, at least in theory, separation of powers enables the three great branches to check each other thereby preventing concentration of powers that might result to tyranny.

There is, however, a flipside to it. The principle of separation of powers was never intended to promote efficiency. The price of interdependence among the great departments, while notable for its purpose, exacts a high price that could create an impasse in the workings of the government. Needless to say, political compromises are often the result of executive-legislative gridlocks especially when their personal interests transcend constitutional boundaries. It is my view that even if the theory of separation of powers rests on the premise that tyranny can be avoided by allocating distinct powers among the three departments, the same line of argument is no guarantee against determined despots. What if the holders of powers decide to band themselves together in a grand conspiracy to something that is oppressive like the infamous pork barrel system?

Before me is copy of a 1994 Supreme Court decision (PHILCONSA v. Enriquez, G.R.No.113105, August 19, 1994) on the constitutionality of pork barrel funds. This was during the Ramos administration. The challenge centered on the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) in the General Appropriation Act of 1994 which petitioners claim to be an encroachment by the legislature on executive power. Petitioners were of the view that the proposal and identification of projects do not involve the power of appropriation but relates to the power of spending which is the prerogative of the executive. The Court ruled in the negative. In ruling in favor of CDF, the Court held that the law merely allowed congressmen to recommend projects. If the proposed projects qualified for funding under the CDF, execution or implementation is lodged on the president. Beyond the legal gobbledygook, the Supreme Court took notice of the realities concomitant to the dynamics of executive-legislative politics in its mutual quest to serve the needs of the people. The Court, through the pen of Mr. Justice Camilo Quiason, said in part:

The Constitution is a framework of a workable government and its interpretation must take into account the complexities, realities and politics attendant to the operation of the political branches of the government. Prior to the GAA of 1991, there was an uneven allocation of appropriations for the constituents of the members of Congress, with the members close to the Congressional leadership or who holds cards for “horse-trading,” getting more than their less favored colleagues. The members of Congress also had to reckon with an unsympathetic President who could exercise his veto power to cancel from the appropriation bill a pet project of a Representative or Senator.

The Countrywide Development Funds attempts to make equal the unequal. It is also a recognition that individual members of Congress, far more than the President and their congressional colleagues are likely to be knowledgeable about the needs of their constituents and the priority given each project.

Essentially, this is how the dynamics of executive-legislative work: legislation is the exclusive domain of Congress, but the Constitution does not prohibit the president to introduce legislation through party lines in the legislature. Because party-principles in Philippine politics are subservient to personal interests or patronage network, alliances and coalitions usually appear like mushrooms, frantically aligning themselves to the central leadership of the ruling party. What made them tow the line? The 1987 Constitution provides as with a simple answer: Discretionary funds appropriated for a particular official shall be disbursed only for public purposes to be supported by appropriate vouchers and subject to such guidelines as may be prescribed by law. Discretionary funds had evolved in various names hoping to dispel the negative connotation of the term. But whether you call it as Discretionary Fund or Countrywide Development Fund or Priority Development Assistance Development Fund still, the stench of a sullen past exudes a venal odor of anomaly—it institutionalizes patronage politics. “In the Philippines”, as one American legislator observed, “all politics is local.” Congressional power depends largely at the local level. Members of the House of Representative are elected by legislative districts where patronage politics is at its all time high. Thus politicians, especially the incumbents, have an immense advantage in protecting local networks through their control of pork barrel, and they will do almost anything to preserve the system of corruption. Senators, on the other hand, although elected at large had their fair share of a systematize distribution of spoils. Except for some lawmakers who eschewed their pork barrel allocations, most senators had funneled their shares on the basis of specific geographic vote-rich districts. Most of these areas or political districts are highly urbanized cities and provinces with dense population obviously with high voter’s turnout every election. In the end, all things being equal, the pork barrel system hardly benefits the people in terms of goods and services. Instead, the pork barrel system has further cemented the hold of political dynasties and money politics in local fiefdoms.

What then does all of this come down to? You have a Supreme Court that says pork barrel is a necessary evil that seeks to equal the unequal distribution of spoiling incentives for legislators regardless of party politics. A President who pledges to leave a legacy of matuwid na daan by curbing corruption in the system and yet tolerates the pernicious practice of pork barrel politics to political allies. Congress, on the other hand, supposedly an institution for policymakers, has transmuted itself into an open sanctuary for lawmakers who prioritized kickbacks, corruption, patronage politics and wasteful spending of taxpayer’s money. I thus sympathize with those who find pork barrel politics appalling. What makes the spectacle more disgraceful is that almost every election, voters elect the same kinds of buffoons in public office which only signifies that they have shamelessly consented to patronage politics without token resistance. What a pity, what a shame.

I support the call to junk PDAF altogether. Lawmakers are supposed to make laws, repeal laws, and alter laws. That is their primary duty as enshrined in the Constitution. Public works implementation ostensibly through PDAF, is an executive function. Notwithstanding the 1994 ruling of the Supreme Court, I submit that the pork barrel system runs contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution when it reminded us that public office is a public trust. It also frontally violates the time-honored principle of separation of powers by sneaking loopholes through the backdoor, masquerading PDAF-funded projects as executive function when in fact lawmakers have taken responsibility over project implementation more than passing laws. One of the lessons I learned in construing provisions of the Constitution is the rule which says, “What cannot be legally done directly cannot be done indirectly.” I think the rule finds application, one way or another, with the pork barrel funds in relation to constitutional proscriptions. But more that the legality of PDAF, it takes a strong leadership to eradicate corruption. The President, as one commentator opined, can easily abolish pork barrel by not including in its budgetary proposals. Congress, by way of tradition and under the 1987 Constitution, cannot add anything outside the specified budget recommended by the President, the most that they can do is to decrease the figures. Now it is up to P-Noy’s “Matuwid na daan,” to walk its talk. Or has P-Noy succumbed to the dynamics of executive-legislative politics over principles?

Note: The ruling in Philconsa concerning the constitutionality of CDF, was reiterated in SC Resolution titled, ANDRES SARMIENTO et al. vs. THE TREASURER OF THE PHILIPPINES et al, [G.R. No. 125680 & 126313.September 4, 2001]. For reference see link:

Online Sources:

The Flow of Pork by Karol Ilagan see:

Pork Barrel, Philippine Politics and the Economy by Adrian M. Tamayo see:

PHILCONSA v. Enriquez see:

Friday, June 21, 2013


“I did not become President to preside over the death of the Philippine Republic.” ─FM

I’m not an apologist for the human rights violations committed during the Marcos regime. Nor a blinded loyalist whose claim for credibility greatly derives from personal biases owing to my father’s ethnic origins. I was barely five years old when Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from power which he held twenty long years. Now, having said this, could I really write something positive about a man speciously detested by history─ disowned by his countrymen?

Over the years, I have accumulated books on Philippine political history. A chunk of my collection goes to martial law literature. I must say that like any other mainstream bookshops, I too have a handful of anti-Marcos books in my shelves. Along with a plethora of Supreme Court landmark cases that were assigned to us in law school, the anti-Marcos views─ the left and the right─ took solace in the corners of my mind. I learned so many egregious things about Marcos like his idiosyncrasies as a political persona; the way he mangled the constitution to suit his brand of revolution; rigged elections and even marital peccadilloes. But as a fledgling student of history, I know I was merely looking at one side of the coin. What’s the other side all about I thought. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but somehow my curiosity led me to a metal trash bin.

There it lay, alongside with dead insects. It was a little blue book and its pages were stamped with indelible water stains. The front and back cover were hardly recognizable but the signature at the bottom was somewhat classy and all too familiar. Later I came to know that the book in my hands titled “Notes on the New Society” was penned by no less than the man himself─ Ferdinand E. Marcos. That very same book, which I still have in my possession, relatively changed my life on two major fronts. It propelled my own political awakening as a citizen on the one hand, and inspired me to excel as a law student on the other. Being the vociferous reader that I once was, I craved for more. As of this writing, my Marcos book collection is almost complete. I’m bound to keep it for posterity and pass it on to my child in my old age. But more than its value as an antique collection the thoughts inside those books are gems. No right-thinking Filipino except perhaps the yellow school ideologues can quarrel with the fact that Ferdinand E. Marcos is/was a genius and a first rate Filipino leader to have ever walked in the annals of our history.

My salient purpose is not to convince anyone that Marcos is a saint or a hero for that matter. Like any other visionary in the entire universe, Marcos was all too human; imperfect and susceptible to the whims and caprices of his mundane existence. But he was bold and daring ─Machiavellian in a way─ and those characteristics are part and parcel of his sense of nationalism that unfortunately caused his spiral downfall in the contours of history. Why has this happened? What were his thoughts when he used martial law to radicalize society? Lessons must be learned from the Marcos experience for Filipinos can benefit a lot from his didactic thoughts and visions of greatness.

Fearing that the younger generation would not know anything about Marcos’s sage thoughts behind his brand of a “Democratic Revolution,” I attempted to present a discourse on this subject, not as complex or esoteric as one could readily imagine, but I offered it in the vernacular to invite healthy discussions. To encapsulate the Marcos ideology in a nutshell is not an easy task. It takes prodigious effort to be able to do it. But somehow owing to my fiery admiration for the man whom I consider the foremost Filipino thinker of our contemporary political history, I felt that his ideology deserves consideration be it for academic purposes or otherwise. Although the man had passed on to the great beyond for more than two decades now, his visions and ideals are immortalized in his scholarly written books and speeches. Sadly, the books are now out of print. Except for a few dedicated souls, who either obtained copies of his books in an antique shop (at a very high price) or through online booksellers, the Marcos ideology as embodied in those literature I’m afraid, is on the brink of extinction.

This article is my modest effort to fill the void so that young Filipinos, vulnerable as they are from the lessons taught by the ‘yellow’ school of history, would come to see Ferdinand E. Marcos in a different light; through his piercing ‘ideals’ and profound ‘visions’ for the Filipino nation. For a single moment, let us demystify ourselves and deal solely with his thoughts.

Mandate for Greatness

Ferdinand E. Marcos was not only an ideologist and the most historic minded of Filipino Presidents. In a broader sense, he was the classical nationalist leader summoning his people at every opportunity to recover their past greatness. In his first inaugural speech entitled, “Mandate for Greatness,” Marcos spelled out the blueprint of his vision for the nation and the path that he would take to achieve these insurmountable goals. Armed with his finest oratorical skills and a sonorous voice, Marcos was forthright when he declared that his election is a mandate not merely for change but for greatness. Then he delivered the coup de grace when he said: This nation can be great again! Not one hero alone do I ask from you, but many, nay all. I ask all of you to be heroes of our nation. Offering all our efforts to our Creator, we must drive ourselves to the great again. This is your dream and mine. By your choice you have committed yourselves to it. Then in the most dramatic way, he concluded with these poignant words: “Come then, let us march together towards the dream of greatness!”

More than a politician and a lawyer, Marcos too was a scholar, a fervent student of Philippine history. This is why during his reign Marcos had been both writing and supporting the study and research of Philippine history, especially in those neglected areas of the past where traditional historians and textbook writers neglected or barely touched on (e.g., second century of Spanish colonization in the archipelago). In hindsight, Marcos’ dream of greatness for the Filipino nation takes its roots from history itself and not purely rhetorical as others would argue to this day. As evidenced in his well-researched book entitled “Tadhana: The History of the Filipino People” Marcos, the historian spoke about the dangers of disunity and the value of unity for the Filipino nation. For instance, to further emphasize his point, he elevated previously disregarded historical figures like Sultan Kudarat and Sirongan as heroes of the whole Filipino people and not merely confined to Maguindanao muslims. He also argued, contrary to conventional Western thought, that the concept of pre-Conquest “ethnic states” claims for the early Filipinos a degree of political sophistication. Later on, his keen sense of history would greatly benefit grassroots political institutions (e.g., barangay assemblies) of the nation by empowering them with a vast degree of participation in the conduct of government. Admittedly though, I only read portions of Tadhana because the book is quite voluminous but the intention of the writer is quite clear right from the start: to disengage from the hoaxes of Western historians and of Filipino historians schooled in their texts.

It is imperative to understand at this point why Marcos demanded the standard of ‘greatness’ not only to himself but to his people, as well. Of course, not everybody could have attained the heroic proportions called for by Marcos in his yearning to form a New Society. To be a man is one thing, and to be a hero is another. But Marcos’ call for ‘greatness’ was ostensibly an invitation, or to put it more bluntly, a soaring challenge to the people to join him in his quest for excellence─ the motive force for greatness. It was his way of arousing the sense of patriotism among the people, reminding them that like their forebears, they too could attain heroism by believing and living the moral ethos of a useful citizen. He urged every Filipino to become a repository of heroism; a symbol of the revolution in the struggle against colonialism and oppression, who, having overcome the economic and political difficulties has become the emergent generation, a contemporary hero in the tradition of Rizal, Mabini and Bonifacio. Why national greatness? Marcos, in one of his speeches, intoned: Because armed with nothing but raw courage and a passionate intelligence and patriotism, our predecessors built the noble edifice of the first Asian republic. In another light, Marcos’ sense of history provides a vital linkage of the past and the emerging New Filipino. The modern day Filipino, which he envisioned under the New Society, is one who is well aware that he is the product of a brave and historic past and has a stake at his country’s future.

The Impetus of a Constitutional Revolution

With the declaration of martial law, President Marcos singlehandedly led a ‘crisis government,’ which is supposedly a transition government in the real sense. Designed extensively to steer the ship of state from crisis to normalcy, martial law served as the transition period; a precursor to the revolutionary reforms he was about to make. Clearly, it began with the installation of martial law and ended with the formation of the New Society. For indeed what lies at the core of Marcos’ September 21 Movement was not merely to stamp out lawless elements of society or the reestablishment of the social order but an aspiration to lead his people toward a “democratic revolution.”

The concept of a “Democratic Revolution” was judiciously explained by Marcos himself in his book “The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines,” a synthesis of his two previous books: Today’s Revolution: Democracy and Notes on the New Society. To begin with, Marcos deliberately fused two seemingly incongruent buzzwords “democratic” and ‘revolution,” a choice he made to dispel the traditional negative connotation of its day. At height of the Cold War, the Marcos presidency was drawn right onto the vortex of this phenomenon and the government seemed impotent at that time to stop the rise of communism in the Philippines. Marcos, the man of the hour so to speak, fought communism on two visible fronts: first, through the imposition of martial law and second, by discrediting communism as a foreign ideology unsuitable to Filipinos. Because ‘communism’ at one time was highly regarded as the wave of the future, the term ‘revolution’ was fashioned as the exclusive franchise of the “progressive” left. Thus, all revolutions with the exclusion of the “conservative” right perhaps, were being trumpeted as having necessarily Marxist origins. Ferdinand Marcos obviously disagreed. For Marcos, the use of the phrase ‘democratic revolution’ had something to with his own unique conception, contrary to the prevailing opinion at that time, of a revolution proceeding from the “Center.”

The term ‘Center’ here refers both the center of the political spectrum and the center of society that, according to Marcos─ is the state. “Government in a democracy,” he expounded, “stands at the center of ─ not above─ the political community. It governs, and the men in government may constitute a governing class, but only in the democratic sense that the masses, sovereign as they are, cannot govern.” More than anything else, Marcos wanted to stress ‘democratic,’ a stark contrast to the kind of violent revolution sponsored by the left and the right, a revolution aimed at the existing government and seeking for its overthrow. In fact, what really Marcos is trying to say by “Revolution from the Center” is nothing more but a revolution undertaken by the existing government itself. In An Ideology for the Filipinos, Marcos articulated this concept in a simplified manner, he said:

We have characterized the democratic revolution as ‘revolution from the center,’ because it is a revolution initiated by the government, which stands at the center of society and not above the people. Ours is a revolution neither from the left nor the right, neither from above nor below: but a revolution or, better still, a radicalization of existing social arrangements, initiated not simply by a duly constituted authority but by the only authority morally bound to act in behalf of the people.

Suffice it to say that Marcos did not intend to lead a unilateral movement, meaning proceeding from the President alone. The revolution that he was leading, and he mentions this numerous times in his writings, is the culmination of the “rebellion of the poor.” In other words, it is a joint revolution of the people and the leadership. But to do this, Marcos believes that the first task of the government under the ‘democratic revolution’ is to establish once again its credibility as an autonomous institution. Necessarily, it must free itself from the shackles of the old society that used to identify the government as a party to a grand conspiracy of the rich against the poor. The government must exert its own will if it were to genuinely preside over the interaction between the rich and the poor, and the democratization of both wealth and opportunity. Without credibility and autonomy, the government is bereft of any justification whatsoever to lead the ‘revolution from the center,’ let alone to supress the rebellion of the poor. To conceive of it in this manner would be a most grievous mistake to make.

But there is an added dimension to Marcos’ brand of revolution because for one, it partakes of a character that is essentially constitutional.

Marcos and the 1935 Constitution

Did President Marcos correctly use martial rule when it was declared in 1972? Were his actions consistent with the commander-in-chief provision under the 1935 Constitution? By all accounts, I think these questions remain unanswered conclusively to this day. Queries such as these could still very well spark fierce oratory between the antis and the loyalists.

When Marcos declared martial law through Proclamation 1081, one of the justifications cited was the burgeoning communist insurgency which according to President Marcos poses a grave danger to the republic. Martial law, as understood in its classic sense, is an instrument for insuring public safety in times of emergency and for protecting the continuance of normal civil government. It was meant to be a weapon for stability, the final resort of the government to maintain the status quo. In 1972, the year when martial law was first used in the Philippines, President Marcos ostensibly navigated deftly through these uncharted constitutional boundaries. Ultimately, his actions were challenged before the Supreme Court and the president submitted to its jurisdiction despite the turmoil that looms ahead. Certainly, President Marcos did not impose martial law if he knew that his actions were in violation of the constitution. He was, after all, a skilled trial lawyer and a constitutionalist in his own right. To make sure that his actions as the commander-in-chief had firm constitutional basis, protracted studies had been made by legal luminaries of his time before he resorted to the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus then later on, to martial law.

It is a settled principle of law that the power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and declaration of martial law flow directly from the commander-in-chief provision of the Organic law. The determination of the existence of the conditions for the exercise of the martial law powers belongs exclusively to the executive arm of the government, which makes it essentially a presidential prerogative. Under the system of separation of powers─ and as a matter of policy─ neither the legislature nor the judiciary can curtail or review the martial powers of the president without violating the constitution. In legal parlance, lawyers call it the ‘political question’ doctrine. Even so, President Marcos voluntarily submitted his actions before the high tribunal when the validity of Proclamation 1081 was challenged on constitutional grounds. How did the Supreme Court rule on this issue? The question must be answered in the context of pre-1987 Constitution concept of separation of powers. It will be recalled that when President Marcos placed the entire Philippines under martial law, he acted in accordance with the commander-in-chief provision of the 1935 Constitution, which was later supplanted by the 1973 Constitution. Prior to Proclamation 1081, President Marcos had already utilized one of his commander-in-chief powers by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971. This was not the first time that a Philippine president resorted to such constitutional measure. In 1949, the late President Elpidio Quirino also invoked the same power in order to quell the escalating Huk insurgency in some parts of Luzon. In the case of President Marcos, the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus was made in the wake of the Plaza Miranda bombing which nearly killed Liberal Party stalwarts present during the rally. Of course, the opposition quickly pointed its fingers on President Marcos as the alleged mastermind behind the bombing. But as it turns out, the Plaza Miranda bombing was just part of a larger conspiracy between the communists and some desperate members of the opposition in its quest to overthrow the existing government.

When his actions were elevated to the Supreme Court in Lansang v. Garcia, one of the issues raised was whether the Supreme Court had the power to review the acts of the President in the exercise of his commander-in-chief powers. Albeit it was an established rule at that time that the actions of the president proceeding from his commander-in-chief powers were beyond the pale of judicial review ─a political question ─the Supreme Court this time, modified its previous rulings. It went on to rule that the power to suspend the privilege of the writ was not conclusive upon the courts and therefore subject to constitutional limitations like any other governmental powers. However, the Court made a categorical pronouncement that the scope of judicial inquiry was limited only to the degree of determining whether the President acted arbitrarily. Now whether the judgment of the president was indeed correct, the Court said that this is not within its power to decide.

This was exactly President Marcos’ central argument when his actions were challenged in the legal arena almost immediately after he declared martial law on September 21, 1972. Fortunately for President Marcos, this was also the prevailing legal doctrine at that time when constitutional strictures on martial law were merely in its nascent form. Lawyers in those days had to fall back on American jurisprudence to try to understand it much less the ordinary citizens. In the end, President Marcos received the nod of the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of all legal questions, courtesy of Aquino Jr. v. Ponce Enrile. It ruled that the declaration of martial law was validly made based on an existing rebellion and that the President did not act arbitrarily in the exercise of his power. Now, whether Aquino Jr. and its companion martial law cases (e.g., Javellana v. Executive Secretary) are indeed a bad judicial precedent is, of course, another story.

Theory behind the formation of the New Society

Marcos could have stopped right there and then. But he goes farther. He was after all “destined to sit, along with his people, on top of a social volcano,” to borrow the words of an eminent Filipino diplomat. Marcos went beyond the traditional meaning and limits of martial law; he had clearly expanded the scope of martial law to unimagined heights. Indeed, martial law was never conceived to attain revolutionary or radical reforms, it was meant simply to freeze the ballgame and return to normalcy when the emergency ceases. Afterward, it is business as usual as they say. History now tells us, that Marcos had intended all along to hold on to power no matter what. Even before his meteoric ascent to power, Marcos was already ostracized by the ruling clique as power-mad, reviled for his ruthlessness in the use of power. Yet, critics and history writers, the supposed articulate segment of Philippine society, did not bother to objectively understand Marcos’ central motivation. All they could see from which to anchor their conclusion is the fact that along with the declaration of martial law comes the outright dismantlement of the legislature; the closing down of all mass media; and the imprisonment of the alleged enemies of the state. On top of that, Marcos called for a constitutional convention to draft a new constitution that would reflect his visions and reforms under the “New Society.” By virtue of the 1973 Constitution, ratified by no less than the barangay assemblies all over the country, Marcos wielded considerable powers that had the semblance of a one-man-rule. He exercised legislative powers under the ‘crisis government,’ passing laws, reorganizing the bureaucracy, and cushioning anti-democratic institutions which to his mind were vestiges of the old society. These gradual developments undertaken during those precarious times were nothing more but a façade with what he was trying to achieve for the nation. What was President Marcos’ central motivation in utilizing martial law to build a ‘New Society’ for Filipinos? In a word, Marcos envisioned greatness. Not for himself but for the Filipino nation. He did this, not out of sheer joy of enjoying the privileges of his position, nor to hold power for power’s sake rather he was compelled by destiny to transform society and make it scale the heights of greatness that he had envisaged. At the very least, he seized martial law as the only constitutional route, an opportunity that would engender the radical reforms he envisioned. Surely, to wipe out the rebellion and social disorder are just palliative measures that would continue to haunt the nation in the near future because the root causes are yet to be identified. What President Marcos really wanted was to identify the sources that spawned the rebellion like the communist threat; absorb them within the democratic system and try to approximate their desires as concrete expressions of democratic ideals.

In The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines, Marcos admitted that while he appreciates the social and economic benefits that communism could bring to society, his dissent lies mainly on the underlying claim of Marxism that it is the only path towards a genuine democratic order. He intimated the inconsistencies, the fallacies of communism as against the conventional norms of democracy. Marcos, now the prolific scholar wrote a scathing remark designed to unmask the fickleness of communism as a genuine democratic dogma, he quipped:

I can see and appreciate the social and economic good of communism. But I find it difficult to understand how its political society can be called democratic when a single party, the Communist party, or a group of men who control it, has a monopoly of political power. ‘The party knows best,’ is the simplified dictum of the communist political order.

As if hitting the nail right on its head, Marcos continued: Obviously, this form of government does not accept the fact, which I shall discuss shortly, that the people have an inherent right to remove their rulers, alter their government, or discard policy. On the contrary, the logic in the communist view is that the people cannot rebel against themselves. This, of course, is a romantic fallacy. Then he went for the jugular, he averred: In actual fact, the people are never the government and the government never the people. What joins them together is the principle of consent. In a communist polity, the people do not merely consent─ they must consent! An alien ideology that supports a revolution that is destructive of human freedom is definitely not the solution for Marcos. What the nation needs, according to him, is an awakened political authority that coincides with the revolutionary demands of the masses; a ‘democratic’ revolution to be initiated by the existing government itself─ a revolution from the center.

President Marcos had a unique way of envisioning his reforms; he conceptualized everything on the basis of an eclectic ideology that he himself had formulated and weaved specifically for his people. Pundits sum up Marcos’ “New Society,” as an ideology that puts emphasis on individual and national discipline, and the sacrifice of personal liberties for economic development. We must understand at this point that Marcos was leading a transition government, and in a way sacrifices have to be made to achieve the ‘end’ goals of so-called ‘democratic revolution.’ For Marcos, in order to achieve authentic democratic process which rests on such ideals as freedom of speech, the challenge, however, is to first of all establish the credibility of government as an institution oriented; one that concerns primordially with the welfare of the many and not of the few. Marcos made it clear that under the “New Society,” there is no trade off so to speak in terms of economic rights over personal liberties─ but to “emphasize one, as dictated by the real aspirations of the people,” without necessarily denying the other. It has to be so, because Marcos critique of the old society rests on the assumption that political power becomes an end in itself, and not, as the democratic theory would have it, a means to an end. Marcos expounded on this observation in An Ideology for the Filipinos, he argued: A great deal of emphasis was placed on political liberties, and hardly anything on survival. One does not wonder, then, why all talk about political rights hardly moves the poor: the element that would make political rights meaningful is absent.

Passion for Excellence

Stories abound that Marcos had literally planned to become president since childhood. But this is an understatement, a brazen lie to be sure. Marcos did not just want to be president. He wanted to be the best president ever. I would have no fear about Marcos’ place in history. No Philippine President had tried harder─ and with greater amount of passion, to go against the tide of history than Ferdinand E. Marcos. He was an exceptional leader, a crisis-man, one who rarely comes in a century. Marcos had a vision, the range of which can only be matched by his political sophistication and unremitting passion for excellence. The strength of his character was first exhibited in one of the monumental episodes in his life when he was accused to have shot his father’s political rival, Julio Nalundasan. The young Marcos overturned this single misfortune by defending himself in the Supreme Court that eventually earned him an acquittal. In jail, barely past the flush of youth, he reviewed for the bar and subsequently topped it, garnering the highest rating in the history of Philippine bar examinations.

Ferdinand Marcos lived what he preached. On the day of his first inaugural, President Marcos had indeed issued a tall order for his compatriots. He demanded─ nay─ inspired national greatness. He reminded them incessantly of the noble and heroic toils of their forebears, their selflessness and sacrifice. Above all this, Marcos urged them to always strive for excellence because the nation deserved nothing less. He earnestly believed in ‘creativity,’ and the capacity of Filipinos to chart their own destiny free from the countervailing force of entrenched power of vested interests. One of the best reforms instituted by President Marcos at the inception of the “New Society” was the revitalization of bureaucracy. He dubbed it as “Technocracy for the People.” It is in this realm that President Marcos truly injected revolutionary components ─change in attitude and perspectives─ that reflected his character as a radical visionary. First, he reformed the entire bureaucracy by instilling, among others, meritocracy and discipline in government ranks. He then established the Tanodbayan and the Sandiganbayan to secure this noble objective, and as part of the normalization process under the New Society. Second comes the upgrading of the Cabinet─ the first line of civil servants in any given bureaucracy. The Cabinet, in Marcos’ vocabulary, is what determines the character of the government while at the same time dramatizes the personality of the leader. President Marcos knew for a fact that as the chief executive of the nation, he had the first claim over the best human resources in the country. He clearly took advantage of this privilege by enticing men of talents known for their technical expertise and academic preparation in their respective field. Formidable names such as those of Carlos P. Romulo, Cesar Virata, Blas Ople, Onofre D. Corpuz, Roberto Ongpin, Vicente Paterno, Ricardo C. Puno, Conrado Estrella and Juan Ponce Enrile graced the roster of Marcos’ Cabinet. Again, the composition of his Cabinet was perhaps a record breaker in our political history. It was the rarest─ if not the best─ combination of the brightest minds to have assembled in one setting purposively held in bondage by a common vision─ excellence in public service.

Perhaps, it can be said now that what Marcos demanded from the people mirrored the same standards that he had demanded of himself. Not because of ambition, I personally believe that President Marcos’ relentless passion for excellence was not only a direct result of his pride in being a Filipino but his iron determination to put the Philippines on the map. He did actually accomplish his lifelong quest, warts and all. Even on the international plane, President Marcos made giant strides in bringing the country, and the whole of Southeast Asia to the forefront of global consciousness. Filipinos, both here and abroad, during the Marcos years did exude confidence to stand proudly before the world. His eloquence, the speeches he delivered in neighbouring countries and world organizations had left enduring impressions in the international scene. At the risk of being redundant, I say it again, that in terms of local and international stature, no Philippine President of the post war era had tried harder, and with greater success, than Ferdinand E. Marcos.


Much can be learned from the thoughts of Marcos, not the tyrant or the despot that children of this generation came to know about. But in my case, I would like to know Marcos as the true Filipino visionary, ideologist and nation-builder who tried to bend the contours of history all for the sake of nationalism. Once or twice, I had the occasion to cross swords with friends, proud disciples of the yellow school of history, who castigated me for ‘defending’ Ferdinand Marcos despite glaring human rights abuses under his regime. Some even went to the extent of blaming Marcos as the mastermind behind that infamous Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971, a prelude to the declaration of martial law a year after. I refused to take the challenge head on because their observation is clearly beside the point. True. Marcos might have miscalculated his actions, overstepped his boundaries as he dared to revolutionize the government but those ‘aberrations’ are not the core of the ‘Marcosian’ ideology if taken to its logical conclusion. Judging a philosophy by its abuse, a caveat uttered by a great seminal thinker, will definitely drag us away from the objective realm of an honest and intellectual examination of the Marcosian ideology.

In time, history will be kinder to Marcos because leaders of today, and of the succeeding generations to come, will be able to rise taller as they step on the foundational work laid down by him. I don’t think Ferdinand E. Marcos had the inkling whatsoever that all his dreams for the nation will come true in his lifetime. He is but mortal and his flesh will not endure for all eternity─ but his philosophy will.


Marcos, Ferdinand E., The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.,: Prentice Hall International, 1974.

Marcos, Ferdinand E., An Ideology for the Filipinos. Manila. 1980.

Cruz, Isagani A. and Datu, Cynthia C., Res Gestae: A Brief History of the Supreme Court., Rex Publishing. 2000.

Marcos, `Ferdinand E., Tadhana: The History of the Filipino People. Vol.1. Part II., 1979.

Malaya, Eduardo J., and Malaya, Jonathan E., So Help Us God: The Presidents of the Philippines and Their Inaugural Addresses. Manila. Anvil Publishing, 2005.

Tumbokon, Jose T., Marcos: The Builder., Manila. Persuaders Inc., 1981.

Bernas, Joaquin G., The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary., Rex Publishing. 1996 edition.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I was there. I was sitting a few inches away from the man who helped shaped my generation. He came on stage with a swagger. Strangely, he went directly on the left side of the stage, acknowledging someone special from the audience ─ his dad. Then he stood center-stage right in front of the microphone without his guitar. He waited patiently for the thunderous applause to die down before launching the opening song “Higante,” a heavy guitar-driven rock track which he collaborated with the late Francis M. The audience were instantly captivated of the image that befallen in their midst. Right before our very eyes, we have just witnessed one of the best rock concerts courtesy of OPM virtuoso and erstwhile Eraserheads frontman Mr. Ely Buendia.

I’m glad Ely did perform two of my favourite underrated E-heads songs, one is from the Fruitcake album titled “Lightyears” and of course, the cryptic Beatlesque “Spoliarium.” Ely Buendia sings even better today than before. It’s definitely not the best singing voice we have in the market as critics would like to put it, but it has a distinctive flavour that only Ely Buendia could deliver. Apart from that, Ely is a genius songwriter and that to me is what sets him apart from other rock icons of my time. He also showcased his versatility as a musician by playing his guitar riffs flawlessly. I was set out to watch his fingers closely wondering if I have been playing the exact notes all this time. It was a close call. Being a former lead guitarist myself, I say my fingers did hit the right notes but nothing beats the original.

Ely’s repertoire that night consists of materials that ruled the airwaves during the so-called “band explosion” in the 90s. Only this time, Ely did embellish a few changes with the song arrangements and manage to include a 15-piece orchestra to complement with the new tempos. Among the standout performances was Ely’s crooning rendition of “Magasin.” Who would have thought Ely Buendia could sing a ballad? It was fun. Ely has indeed taken a bit of progressive turn with his music. But being a true-blue Eraserheads fan, a part of me is yearning for raw Eraserheads an “Ultraelectromagneticpop” sort of way. Nawawala sa tyempo, nawawala sa tono, and of course Marcus’ sporadic lousy guitar solos were all part of the Heads’ trademark that catapulted them to stardom. Ironically, those honest imperfections in and out of the spotlight captured pristinely what my generation is all about. Ok, much said. I’m not exactly meaning to make a full commentary on his professional life. I just really want to share these pictures and videos which represent nothing less than memories- a recollection of my past, of my present and future.

Big deeper north of nowhere
Outside the room
Inside my mind
I, look forward to tomorrow
But can I leave yesterday behind
How it feels so strange
To have grown and change
Now it's not the same

Little deeper south of somewhere
It looks much closer than it really is
I held it in my hands
But you're forever out of reach
Far as the eye can see
Nothing is meant to be
Doesn't mean much to me

But oh, if I only had a rocket ship to fly
I'd be right there in a minute
But it doesn't really matter where you are
However near is still so far
It's like you're light years away
You're light years away from me

Dumilim ang paligid
May tumawag sa pangalan ko
Labing isang palapag
Tinanong kung okey lang ako

...At ngayon Di pa rin alam
Kung bat' tayo nandito
Puwede bang itigil muna
Ang pag-ikot ng mundo

Lumiwanag ang buwan
San Juan Di ko na nasasakyan
Ang lahat ng bagay ay
Gumuguhit na lang Sa 'king lalamunan

Ewan mo at ewan natin
Sinong may pakana?
At bakit ba Tumilapon ang
Gintong alak diyan sa paligid mo?

Umiyak ang umaga (hmm)
Anong sinulat ni Enteng at Joey diyan
Sa gintong salamin Di ko na mabasa
Pagkat merong nagbura

Ewan mo at ewan natin
Sinong nagpakana?
At bakit ba tumilapon ang spolarium
Diyan sa paligid mo?

I was relatively young when I was enthralled with Ely Buendia, then with famous Eraserheads. He has become since then one of my life heroes- music wise of course. Now, looking at him, he looked so much younger than before. I for one have gained the weight and “maturity” that comes with the passing of the years.But I do have one which Ely doesn’t have and she was right there sitting beside me just like the old times. Now, my past, my present and future have converged before me. She was there- learning to enjoy the beat of the drums as she silently hummed to Ely’s songs. It has been eight years since that night of January 10 when she barely knew that I am an Ely fanatic. And like Ely, we have had major heart attacks too but we are stable.

Happy anniversary, mama! T'was a great night... We will keep on rocking!