Just for nostalgia: what was done on May 1, Labor Day, in Martial Law? From the National Library archives, “The President’s Week in Review: April 27 – May 3, 1981,” President Ferdinand Marcos in his Labor Day speech said he “will ask the Batasang Pambansa for early approval of a bill restoring the right of workers to strike.” (officialgazette.gov.ph/1981/05/04). Marcos had just “lifted” martial law in January, and was unraveling what had gone on for nine years as what he called a “benevolent dictatorship.”
The gazette shows that on April 29, 1981, “President Marcos and 15 others filed yesterday with the Commission on Elections their certificates of candidacy for president in the June 16 elections” (Ibid.). More important than the elections (Marcos a shoo-in for another six years) was a referendum that allowed the change of the Marcos-style federal system under martial law to Marcos-style semi-presidential system that retained all of the presidential decrees, legislative powers and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos said the thrust of the coming election campaign will be on development and not on personalities. “The election of President Marcos is only incidental,” Imelda Marcos told newsmen. “After all, the needs of the people is my No. 1 concern” (Ibid.).
And Imelda Marcos was indeed in the center, and in-charge of “the needs of the people”, in what the late writer, former Marcos press secretary turned critic Primitivo Mijares called The Conjugal Dictatorship (written 1976) in the 14-year martial law.
That week of Labor Day in 1981, Imelda as Metro Manila Governor and Human Settlements Minister, welcomed to Manila and hosted the fourth session of the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements, attended by 58 countries with 600+ delegates “to discuss such basic community needs as energy, housing, livelihood opportunities and related topics”. Imelda was elected chairman of the UN conference by acclamation.
At his keynote address, President Marcos declared “the country (as) being relatively peaceful… (so) the government is now pressing forward with its human settlements program as well as the training of leaders (Ibid.).
How eerie that today, 38 years after that probably deemed uneventful week tersely recorded in the government official gazette, the elements of the martial law tableaus seem to come alive in the present governance.
On Labor Day, Wednesday last week local workers asked for the end of “Endo”, the end-of-contract scheme whereby temps are hired for less than the six months for permanency of employment. It was the promise of late-registrant candidate Rodrigo Duterte at the May 2016 presidential elections then, that “Endo” will be ended. “Endo” makes for less rights and opportunities for labor by lack of total participation of workers in a business entity (because the “Endos” have no leverage) in strikes and protests against issues like work conditions, pay, perks and retirement.
Ending “Endo” can be a paraphrase of Marcos’ offering to allow workers to strike. But can Duterte really keep his promise to workers, like did Marcos truly allow workers to strike in his time? Ay, but there’s always Big Business to deal with, in these critical and sensitive issues promised by the two strong-men presidents. When a business faces added constraints and costs (increased employee pay and benefits), that will impact its bottom-line. There will be cost-cutting, downscaling, and less production. The economy will slow down, because in the new arena of globalization, cut-throat capitalist competitiveness has whittled opportunities for both production and labor. And presidents always jealously guard bragging points of GDP growth.
What would Marcos do, Duterte, an unabashed Marcos fan, must be asking himself. Almost step by step, he has copied from the Marcos dictatorship — from pushing for the federalist “divide and rule”, Marcos style, to maximizing control over and across the three supposed co-equal and independent branches of government — the executive (his), the legislative (almost his, pending the critical mid-term elections in May that hopes to seat a significant opposition in the Senate), and the Judiciary (by the time his term ends in 2022, only 3 of 15 Supreme Court justices will not be his appointees: Rappler March 6, 2017). “Is Duterte a resurrected Marcos?” asks political science professor (Ateneo University) Carmel V. Abao in behalf of many Filipinos afraid of another bout with martial law (BusinessWorld Sept. 10, 2018).
Only last month, before Holy Week, Duterte said he would “suspend the writ of habeas corpus if pushed against the wall” (philstar.com April 4, 2019). He threatened to declare a “revolutionary war” after Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked the administration to be cautious in reviewing government contracts. But he has threatened this before, when irked by something or other. “If it (the situation) will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I want to. Walang makapigil sa akin (No one can stop me),” Duterte said before the Davao City Chamber of Commerce (Rappler, Jan. 14, 2019).
“The dominance of fear and violence makes Duterte’s regime a de facto dictatorship — even without the Marcos-style proclamation of martial law,” Prof. Abao says (BusinessWorld, op. cit.). But Marcos was “bureaucratic authoritarian” and Duterte is a “populist authoritarian,” Abao distinguishes, meaning, “alam niya ang kiliti” (he knows the soft spot) of the common people. And thus his popularity ratings are steadily high.
Realizing his peculiar populist charm, he waxes poetic about what he does and will do for the good of his people. One of his latest coups was the signing on February 14 Republic Act 11201 creating the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD). The new law will merge the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. It will also reconstitute the HLURB into the Human Settlements Adjudication Commission (The Philippine Star Feb 20, 2019).
The law also creates the National Human Settlements Board to be composed of the department secretary, as well as the heads of the National Economic Development Authority, the Department of Finance, the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). It shall have administrative supervision of the National Housing Authority, the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation, the Home Development Mutual Fund, and the Social Housing Finance Corporation (CNN News Feb. 19, 2019).
OMG! This DHSUD will be the superbody of all in the bureaucracy, ruling much of the lives and fate of Filipinos. The editorial of the Philippine Star cautioned that “The first time the country had a ministry in charge of human settlements, it was headed by then first lady Imelda Marcos, who ended up being indicted together with her deputy for corruption related to housing programs. They were cleared by the Sandiganbayan in a ruling that was assailed by victims of the Marcos dictatorship…We hope that (the DHSUD) will not go the same way” (Philstar Feb. 21. 2019.)
It has been almost three months, and well into the 180-day period given to the DHSUD to organize itself, and start identifying idle public land for intensive free public housing development. Yet Pres. Duterte has not chosen or identified the super-person who will be department secretary. Some catty oppositionists tease that Human Settlements Secretary will probably be Imelda Marcos, in glorious redux of her esteemed position in “the Conjugal Dictatorship” as Minister of Human Settlements. Or maybe by right of representation, and in honor of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, it will be Bongbong Marcos; or Imee Marcos, if she does not win as senator in the May 13 elections. Or whoever. Whatever.
Why does a leery taunting hurt the sensitivities with that coarse voice saying, “Up yours?”
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.