14 July 2016


Option #42: Reportage on the Marcoses by Quijano de Manila
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". . . We tell them: Two thousand years ago our forefathers could make this beautiful pot which we cannot do now. And that has led to a different set of values. Before, in the houses of the rich, all they wanted were clocks of gold, that sort of thing. That was true of the country at one time, but not now. Now the pottery is more valued . . . Now they tell themselves that this chair was from their great-grandfather, and suddenly, that chair is so great. Before, that chair was ready for the garbage can."

And as Filipinos acquire a feeling of pride for what is theirs, for what they are, they will become more eager to surround themselves with order and cleanliness, to walk in beauty, to live, move and have their being in a just society. Culture and art and a taste for the beautiful must all lead to goodness.

"As the president said, the government is like building a house. And he told me he would build the structure, I was to take care of the refinements, the trimmings, the details . . ."

-- Imelda Marcos, quoted in "Art in the Palace", August 1968

It's time capsule time again! And boy, do I have Marcos Pa Rin time capsule for you!!!

Nick Joaquin, writing as Quijano de Manila, penned several lengthy articles on the presidential couple Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, all based on extensive interviews with them. And if you knew nothing about the Marcoses except what he said about them and let them say about themselves, you'd probably conclude they were the best President and First Lady the Philippines had ever had. In fairness to our reporter, he also knew nothing about the Marcoses except what was available to him in the 1960s. And his special gift was magical realism, not investigative journalism. Of course they'd appeal to him. Especially Imelda. =P

The catch for us is that these articles from the 60s were compiled and published as a book in 1981. But if the decade in between had affected his views in some way, we get no hint of it. Like his crime beat features in Option 24: Reportage on Crime, these pieces were republished without comment--nothing to put them in any new context. And it's actually refreshing.

One difficulty in a democracy, says Mr. Marcos, is that just when a president has learned to do his work as efficiently as he can, his term ends, he has to run again--"and spend a lot of time engaging in politics, answering stupid criticism." After three years in office, an intelligent president--"or at least a reasonably intelligent president"--would know "all the problems of this country, what he can and what he cannot do, what his resources are, and how they should be employed."

If Mr. Marcos is running for reelection it's because he doesn't want that experience to go to waste . . .

"As a reelected President I would be freer to make certain decisions because, I say this frankly, I would be free of the pleasures of politics. I would be able to view our problems on a long-range basis. This country cannot slide along on four-year programmes . . ."

-- from "The Unchallenged", July 1969

Is it so awful to point out that Marcos could be right about something? Even the authors of the 1987 Constitution, determined to prevent future presidents from hanging on to power by limiting the presidency to a single term, stretched it out to six years because they knew that not much could be accomplished in four. But Marcos is kind of the Philippines' Hitler: attempt to talk about him without virtue signalling every few sentences and you're as evil as he is.

So I say it again: it's refreshing to see him as he appeared in the 1960s, like any other politician--albeit a brilliant one who could deliver long speeches in English from memory, then switch to colloquial Tagalog for the Q&A . . . and who had a stunningly beautiful wife. (Never forget Imelda!!!) And I like seeing the Marcoses this way not because I want to gloss over all the evil they did do, but because I think we need a better idea of them than all the two-dimensional demonising gives us. We have something to learn from Marcos's handling of US-Philippine relations during the unpopular Vietnam war; his plans for land reform in the country and industrialisation in the city; and his way of managing local officials without saying a word, which you might remember from Option #39: Endless Journey by Jose T. Almonte.

We have just as much to learn from his wife Imelda, who clearly fascinated Joaquin as effortlessly as she charmed Filipinos all over the country . . . and many more people all over the world. Even one of my aunts, an activist who risked her life and that of her unborn son to protest Marcos, still speaks in awe of the time she saw Imelda up close. She had had no idea that a woman could be so beautiful. And the First Lady profiled over and over in Joaquin's articles is not just a natural beauty, but a savvy player who knew how to focus that beauty like a laser.

It's also interesting to see the red flags--which we post-EDSA readers know for what they were, but which the Marcoses' contemporaries can't really be blamed for missing. If the Filipinos of the 1960s wanted to believe that gorgeous pre-colonial pottery really was found at an archeological dig, and not planted by order of a First Lady scheming to make us proud of our cultural heritage . . . can we blame them for going with what seemed least like a conspiracy theory? And if they also wanted to believe that Marcos honestly won his bid for reelection with a huge mandate from Filipinos all over the country, and didn't, you know, cheat in certain regions . . . it's easy to see why that was the most reasonable conclusion at the time. We like to think we would have acted differently than those who preceded us in history, but we can hardly see the debacles that future generations can't believe we're walking into right now.

Joaquin's last word on the Marcoses in this collection is an article defending them from the first of the student-led riots. Its final paragraph would have packed a powerful punch back in 1970; it reads like oracular prophecy today.

Whatever the outcome of the current troubles, we will have learned one thing: that Mr. Marcos didn't really break the jinx on presidential reelections. And the reason for the jinx has become obvious. No Philippine president should be reelected because we need a new face every four years to revive hope, rekindle enthusiasm, restore the illusion that we are making a fresh start, this time for real and at last in the right direction. Only the renewal of that illusion every four years has kept this country from violent upheaval. Not religion but the polls have been the opium of the people; but evidently it works only with a new face, a new promiser. The old one, the outgoing president, is the scapegoat on which we load the sins of the past and then drive away, to achieve a sense of relief. But this time around we had no such scapegoat to carry away our frustrations, and no new saviour to start all over again the cycle of hope, enthusiasm, illusion and disillusion. By getting himself reelected, Mr. Marcos did break this chain. He has performed the necessary if cruel service of making us realise that we can no longer continue on illusions.

-- from "Marcos '70", March 1970

No, Marcos didn't break the jinx. It would take another fifteen years, but he would still fulfill his presidential destiny as the Philippines' scapegoat. That he did terrible things to the country is actually beside the point--not a reason, but an excuse. The EDSA Revolution wasn't democratic justice; it was a national purge.

And we are doomed to continue jinxing our leaders, and ourselves, until we come to terms with what we have done.

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you kind of like Imelda Marcos. (Don't worry. I won't tell!)

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Image Source: Reportage on the Marcoses by Quijano de Manila

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