“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.
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.
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.
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.
SOURCES FROM CLARO ENRIQUE D. BONOAN MINI-LIBRARY:
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.