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Jakarta Post

Corruption in Philippines: Marcos was the worst

John Nery
Manila   ●   Wed, September 11, 2013

Former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo practised what the Freedom from Debt Coalition called '€œfiscal dictatorship'€'€”impounding allocations at will and realigning items in reenacted budgets without congressional authorisation. (Those who visit her at the hospital where she is detained may continue to deny reality, but it was this control of the budget that allowed the pork barrel scam to flourish.)

Joseph Estrada centralised jueteng operations right in the Palace. (He also forced the Social Security System to buy stocks for which he received a 180-million peso or $4.7 million commission.)

Compared to Ferdinand Marcos, however, Arroyo and Estrada were rank amateurs.

Marcos institutionalised corruption on such a scale we continue to feel its effects today. In his 20 years in power, the country'€™s foreign debt metastasised from about $1 billion to over $25 billion; in a statement released last year, FDC repeats the estimate that as much as a third of all that debt, about $8 billion, went into his pockets or those of his cronies. The country will continue paying for all that debt until 2025.

I am of the opinion, however, that the money was secondary, even incidental, to Marcos: what he really wanted was power. He was among the brightest of his generation; he prided himself on his legal acumen; but it was his political skills that drove him, like a daemon.

Writing in November 1976, the eminent scholar David Wurfel described Marcos as a superlative Machiavellian. '€œHis political skills are practically unequalled in Philippine history and, in fact, he must rank high among Asian power-holders today in the sophistication of his tactics'€”indeed one of Machiavelli'€™s most apt disciples. He is also, unlike Diem (Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam), finely attuned to the nuances of Filipino behaviour. Said Rafael Salas, his former Executive Secretary, who resigned before martial law, '€˜He knows the average Filipino: to what degree [he] can be scared, what are the limits before he becomes violent. Within these limits, he will apply any sort of artifice.'€™'€

The diaries Marcos kept, beginning with his second term, help throw light on the sophisticated artifices he fashioned and then applied. I haven'€™t read all of the diaries; I don'€™t know anyone who has. I have only managed to read the pages available online, especially those on the Philippine Diary Project. But even the investigative journalist William C. Rempels acknowledges, in his updated '€œDiary of a Dictator,'€ that the copies he received in the late 1980s were missing many pages. I am curious to know whether Manolo Quezon, now back in the Palace as a one-man brain trust and resident historian, has had a chance to see the originals for himself.

There is also the fact that Marcos wrote his diaries with an eye on history; he was posing, and at times deliberately fabricating the record he assiduously committed to paper (which was, more often than not, official Palace stationery). Like almost everything else he did or had his name attached to (for instance: '€œTadhana: A History of the Filipino People'€) the Marcos diaries cannot be taken at face value.

But if even Spanish colonial chronicles can be read and studied profitably to shed light on the history of the colonised Filipino, then surely the Marcos diaries can be read and studied to good purpose, too.

If we do, we can then find out that the dictator kept exclusive, indeed divine, company.

On April 16, 1973, he wrote: '€œOne of my advisors wrote to me of spiritual retreats that I should not be in the company of my subordinates. I must tell him when I see him one cannot call God a subordinate! For that is the company I keep.'€

It is possible that Marcos was merely indulging in a bit of whimsy, perhaps rehearsing a quip in advance. But the pages of the Marcos diaries I read suggest that humour or wit was not his strong suit.

Coupled with his innumerable references to Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill, this passage seems to me to strike the authentic note, of self-aggrandisement.

The diaries have the virtue of being written over a long period of time; it allows the reader to see that Marcos was preparing a '€œContingency Plan'€ (Feb. 28, 1970), a '€œnew plan of government and society'€ (Jan 4, 1971), a '€œpossible proclamation of martial law'€ (Sept 9, 1972) not only weeks but years ahead of time.

And when he finally decides to strike, the self-deception is absolute.

On Sept 28, 1972, five days after imposing martial law, he writes: '€œThe legitimate use of force on chosen targets is the incontestable secret of the reform movement.'€

The Palace coup he has engineered is rationalised as a reform movement. (Indeed, he calls it the New Society.) Many other coup plotters or power grabbers in history have seen their task as social reform. But '€œchosen targets'€? Set aside, for the moment, the startling fact that the first wave of arrests included three sitting senators (Ninoy Aquino, Pepe Diokno, Monching Mitra). What kind of democratic reform requires the '€œuse of force'€?

On Sept 25, 1972, after listing several completed tasks (and indulging in a patently illegal consultation with two Supreme Court justices), he strikes a self-congratulatory note. '€œIt is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero!'€

But what a hero. Even if we credit his repeated rationalisations that he declared martial law to save the Republic from the communist threat, he must be adjudged an abysmal failure. In 1972, his own estimate of the strength of the New People'€™s Army was 1,028 armed regulars. In 1986, the year the people finally chased him out of the Palace, the total had risen to some 22,500. His dictatorship was communism'€™s biggest recruiter.