“For one brief shining moment Filipinos from all walks of life set aside their walls of division and came together for a common purpose to open the doors to real change, ‘tunay na pagbabago.’ Unfortunately, we quickly lost sight of our goal when traditional politics re-emerged from the shadows to dominate our lives to this day. EDSA was about a heaven-sent golden opportunity to change our ‘ugali’ (character) — our attitudes and behavior such as apathy and gross negligence.”
Raffy Alunan, my fellow writer of this column, wrote this in this space last week.
Cory Aquino, who led the triumph of People Power on EDSA, is much to blame for that loss of opportunity for real change. Just a year after People Power chased the tyrannical and insatiably greedy Conjugal Dictatorship out of the country, she allowed remnants of the dictatorship to sneak their way back into positions of power. As the UP professor of Sociology Randy David wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the 32nd Anniversary of the EDSA event:
“The people who poured into EDSA brought with them their hopes for a country free from tyranny and corruption, and from degrading poverty and glaring social inequality. Though they were not sure how Cory would fare as a leader, their faith in the future was unshakeable.
“Because the unforeseen events at EDSA portended a new beginning, we all felt confident to call it a revolution….
“Threatened by repeated coup attempts, Cory turned more and more to the United States and to the business and political elites for the support she needed. The popular, if largely unorganized, sectors that campaigned for her in the snap election and bravely faced the tanks at EDSA gradually fell to the side. The revolution that began with so much promise quickly turned into a restoration, giving birth to a political system grossly out of sync with the progressive intentions of the nation’s own Constitution.”
In 1987, the people elected Juan Ponce Enrile, Joseph Estrada, and Edgardo Angara, accessories all of the Marcos regime, to the Senate. Angara was nominated by president Cory herself. She enlisted the services of men and women who served under Marcos or who connived in the plunder of the country’s coffers.
Senior partners of a law firm that drew up the contract for an aborted project that cost the Filipino people $500,000 a day played key roles in her government. She appointed to the Philippine Commission on Good Government a cousin of Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto. Subsequently, she named as chair of PCGG (Presidential Commission on Good Government) a man who lawyered for Marcos crony Jose Campos. She designated as Ombudsman a lawyer of Marcos crony Emilio Yap. At one time, those directly involved with the recovery of ill-gotten wealth — the secretary of Justice, the chairman of the PCGG, and the ombudsman — were former lawyers of the biggest cronies.
A member of her Cabinet who could not account for P10 million and who was accused by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee of violating the law for collecting double compensation, not only remained in office but was given the place of honor in Cabinet meetings, the seat at her right-hand side. She named as the country’s representative in the Asian Development Bank a Cabinet member who was accused of pressuring government financial institutions to grant a P1-billion loan to a new company with small capital in which his son was a major investor. She transferred to a sinecure job in Malacañang a government administrator who could not explain the loss of P17 million worth of palay. She named as ambassador to a Western European country the head of a bureau against whom the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee had recommended the filing of graft charges. If there were cronies during Marcos’s martial law rule, there was Kamag-anak, Inc. during Cory’s presidency. Two law firms during martial law were said to be “walang talo” because their founding partners were close to Marcos. During Cory’s time, a law firm gained the same reputation because it was headed by a close relative of hers. When the highly respected chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Julio Sulit, filed criminal charges against a foreign company for violating corporation laws, the company immediately hired that law firm. In no time at all, the case was closed. The charges were not dismissed by the judge but were withdrawn by the prosecutor for “lack of evidence” — when evidences were submitted by the SEC chair himself.
So, three years into Cory’s presidency, Jaime Cardinal Sin, who turned the tide of battle at EDSA on the evening of Feb. 22, 1986, expressed his sentiments, saying, “Too many have not learned the lessons of sobra na, tama na [enough is enough]. We have gone back to what we really are, a nation of easy-going people, rascals, mayayabang (conceited), and thieves. No day goes by without newspaper reports of corruption, people we elected to office piling up Uzis, Galils, and luxury cars.”
Cory’s own National Security Adviser, Rafael Ileto, the general who opposed the imposition of martial law and retired prematurely from military service to evade executing martial law, spoke of unabated graft and corruption, the involvement of military and law enforcement officers in the commission of crimes, and the shameful display of extravagance and insensitivity to public opinion by some government officials.
At president Cory’s conferment of the Legion of Honor, degree of Commander, on him, Chino Roces, the organizer of the “One Million Signatures” campaign urging Cory to run for president, could not hold himself back from expressing his disappointment at the president. His startling response to the honor just bestowed upon him by the president was this admonition:
“Please allow me to remind you first that our people brought a new government to power because our people felt an urgent need for change. That change was nothing more and nothing less than that moving quickly into a new moral order. The people believed that when we said we would be the exact opposite of Marcos, we would be just that. Because of that promise which people believed, our triumph over Marcos was anchored on the principle of morality. And that for our people was and is the bottom line. It was not rice, roads, bridges, water, electricity, and such other mundane things that people expected of us, it was and much more: a moral order led by you, Cory.”
On the occasion of the launch of the National Coalition for Transparency in June 1989, she said: Marcos and his cronies are not just symbols of the past but the reality of the present. We live and suffer the consequences of the corruption that Marcos institutionalized in every level of government, civilian or military. I intend to address not only the people’s dismay over corruption but their despair over inaction. Too much depends on the success of this venture. For what is at stake here is the people’s continuing faith in democracy, in the force of moral values and law. The campaign against corruption will succeed only when society, moved in its moral core, will no longer have anything to do with it, and wealth by itself can no longer buy our respect or a welcome in our home.”
Yet she allowed the Marcoses to buy back respect and welcome with the very wealth stolen from the people. Her own appointee to the PCGG chair, David Castro, admitted publicly that evidence against the Marcoses cannot be admissible before the courts. That was practically saying the Marcoses can keep all their ill-gotten wealth because there is no evidence it was ill-gotten.
And so came home pompously from self-exile Bongbong Marcos, his mother Imelda, and Eduardo Cojuangco to reclaim their sequestered assets and their positions of prominence in Philippine society. She ordered the Philippine flag flown at half-mast when Ferdinand Marcos died.
The Filipino ugali that Raffy and all Manindigan! members had hoped would be changed when they campaigned for Cory in the snap election and bravely faced the tanks at EDSA, persisted through the Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, and Noynoy Aquino presidencies. That is why, when a candidate in the presidential election of 2016 promised “change is coming,” a third of the voting population elected him president even if he was just the mayor of a city at the southern tip of the Philippine archipelago.
Sadly, as in 1986, the promise of change in 2016 turned not only into the restoration of the Marcoses to positions of influence, but into preservation of our ugali — our attitudes and behavior of apathy and gross negligence. In the time of president Cory, the Marcos influence was controlled. In this time of President Rody, the Marcos influence is pervasive. The people’s apathy towards this development shows clearly that the ugly ugali of the Filipino is very much ingrained.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.