30 years have passed since the People Power uprising, but the post-Marcos regimes from Corazon Aquino up to BS Aquino III have all failed to prosecute and punish the Marcoses and their cabal.
Although the first President Aquino actually led a revolutionary government and ruled by decree until the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, no serious steps were taken to charge the Marcoses for their crimes, not even to find out the truth behind the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and other opponents of the dictatorship. The focus was on money: the sequestration and seizure of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, which the system wanted to be given to big landlords under the sham Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.
Undeterred by the first President Aquino’s disinterest in justice, the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya decided to file a class-action suit against the Marcoses in the U.S. courts. For SELDA and over 9,539 Filipinos involved and represented in the class action suit, it was important to put on record that the Marcos dictatorship was behind assassinations, abductions, rape, acts of torture and other forms of terrorism against citizens.
After years of painstaking litigation, of testimonies retelling the barbaric Marcosian terror they suffered, and of the abject lack of support from the Philippine government, SELDA and the class-action plaintiffs won a history-making and landmark victory. The Marcoses were convicted of human rights violations and atrocities against the Filipino people.
The Hilao vs. Marcos class-action suit and the U.S. court decisions are immutable documents of the barbarity unleashed by the Marcoses so that they could commit untold plunder, thievery, nepotism and corruption. We owe thanks to SELDA and the victims of Marcosian terror for making sure that it would be established both in fact and in law that the Marcoses were thugs and terrorists under martial law and until the dictator’s downfall.
Sadly, it would later take the Philippine governments more than double the time SELDA spent in the U.S. courts to even consider enforcing the U.S. court decision on the indemnification and compensation of the victims of Marcosian terror. For the traditional politicians that dominate the Philippine government, these victims-turned-victors are nothing more than competitors over the sequestered Marcos assets.
Just imagine if the first President Aquino used her revolutionary powers to round up all the Marcoses’ cronies, brought them to court and prosecuted them until they are convicted, punished and perpetually disqualified from office. We could only imagine that now because all the post-Marcos regimes did not do so.
When a second People Power uprising toppled a corrupt president, the new president wasted time before causing the filing of plunder charges and the arrest of the former president. It would take ordinary citizens and private prosecutors to make sure the charges stick and to expose all attempts to give the former president special treatment.
The people won a historic plunder conviction against the former president. Unfortunately, the former president-turned-convict was soon pardoned by an embattled president who thought such political accommodation would buy her both space and time amid widespread protests over her own corruption.
It is no different under the second President Aquino. The Yellow Army claimed the former Chief Justice was out to protect former President Arroyo from prosecution and so they impeached, convicted and removed him from office. But up to now, there is no meaningful result from the prosecution of Arroyo, and the weakness of the prosecution against Arroyo has been laid bare before the United Nations.
Corruption cases are filed with obvious political motivation. It is both sad and shocking that the Aquino administration celebrated the Makati mayor’s dismissal and perpetual disqualification from public service on the same week the son of the former dictator launched his vice presidential candidacy. Sad and shocking because the contrasts only highlights the Aquino administration’s kind of depraved justice: Never mind the big fish, never mind the dictator’s son, never mind everything else. The most important thing is the victory of President Aquino’s chosen successor. How depraved.
The problem with Philippine politics is not the citizens and the voters. The problem with Philippine politics is impunity — the failure or refusal to hold accountable those who commit crimes and offenses against the people. Name it: Plunder and corruption; disaster mismanagement; Lumad killings and massacres; extrajudicial killings of journalists, activists and lawyers; seizure of ancestral domain; even petty crimes; and others. It is extremely rare that the system would take on the perpetrators and make sure that they are found, prosecuted and convicted. If it does happen, narrow political motivations are too obvious and thus become more of a disservice to or a miscarriage of justice. This culture of impunity is a hallmark of traditional politicians and the system that they maintain.
The elite’s culture of impunity allowed the slow but sure political rehabilitation of the Marcoses: They were able to come back, and get elected as representatives, governors and senator because the system not only allowed them to. The system failed to punish them. Other parts of the system did their part: They were glamorized in the media, and their crimes glossed over in schools. Foreign powers too didn’t care, as long as their own business and diplomatic interests are protected.
The coming elections are an opportunity for Filipinos to take a stand against impunity and against the system. Let’s not allow “Never Again” to be hijacked by traditional policians, including the Liberal Party, who helped enable the Marcoses to mount a comeback. Let’s guard against further political accommodation among them and their common acts of treachery against citizens.
“Marcos pa rin” 30 years after EDSA 1986 is perhaps the strongest reminder of the anti-Marcos slogan that all post-Marcos regimes wanted us to forget: “Labanan ang bulok na sistemang umiiral!”.
The system allowed a Marcos to be a dictator and to get away with it. It is now enabling another Marcos to rise up the political ladder. It is up to the people who ousted Marcos to stop this madness, and to seek a system change for justice, broadly-shared prosperity, genuine democracy and national freedom.
Anything less may not just restore the Marcoses, but also bring further ruin to our people.
First published in the Manila Bulletin, 13 October 2015.