Two developments this week define how a legacy is made and how a nation is united and built.
The first is the Philippine Supreme Court’s 9-5-1 decision on Tuesday, Nov. 8, allowing the burial of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who died in 1989, at the state cemetery for heroes and the armed forces, Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).
The second is the stunning upset victory by tycoon-turned-political outsider, self-proclaimed racist and bigot, Republican Donald Trump on Nov. 8 (Nov. 9 in Manila). Divisive, deeply polarizing and one who has never held public office before, the property mogul snatched the presidency from Democratic contender, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, 68, in the most bitter, brutal and ugliest presidential election ever in US history. Trump got 290 electoral votes, 20 more than the required 270, and Mrs. Clinton 232, despite her leading pre-election polls.
Both developments betray a sad truth—a divided nation in each case.
The Philippines is riven even today by political discord triggered by the overweening ambition of two political clans whose rivalry has dominated the political life of the nation in the last half century.
Meanwhile, the United States is a divided, bitter, insecure and insular country.
“The 2016 U.S. election was unprecedented in the way it turned Americans against each other,” says Reuters. In a recent Reuters/Ipsos survey, 15 percent of respondents said they had stopped talking to a family member or close friend as a result of the election. For Democrats, this shoots up to 23 percent, compared to 10 percent for Republicans. And 12 percent had ended a relationship because of it, according to Reuters.
Mrs. Clinton early on conceded defeat despite winning the general election although by a slim margin. She had 59,755,284 votes, according to CNN’s tally, with 92 percent of the expected vote total. Trump had 59,535,522, a difference of 219,762 with nearly 120 million votes counted so far.
“We owe him (Trump) an open mind and a chance to lead,” Clinton said, barely able to hold back tears. “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”
For his part, a subdued Trump promised to be the president of all Americans. He pleaded: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.”
Still, pro-Clinton protesters spilled onto the streets in major US cities, declaring Trump is not their president and fearing an anti-immigrant backlash with the victor’s insular policies.
In Manila, the mutual and endless antagonism between the families of Ferdinand Marcos and the late opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. has frozen time for millions of Filipinos, caught in the web of never-ending poverty and a bleak future.
One of every four Filipinos is dirt poor, unable to make more than $1.25 a day, the universal measure of poverty. That’s exactly 25 million Filipinos—out of more than 100 million. The same poverty ratio has subsisted in the last 30 years, the peak period of the Marcos-Aquino rivalry.
When the charismatic lawyer and war veteran Marcos took power in 1966, there were only 32 million Filipinos and the Philippines was the second richest country in Asia, after Japan. Few of the country’s dynamic neighbors today did not even exist as unified or independent states— Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Marcos ruled for 20 years, 14 of them under martial law or one-man rule because he could legislate and execute at will at the same time.
On Aug. 21, 1983, Ninoy Aquino was murdered with a single bullet pumped into his nape by the military in broad daylight while descending from a plane’s stairs. He was hoping to succeed the then-ailing Marcos in an aborted political succession without an electoral exercise. The killing was blamed on Marcos who insisted he had no motive to kill his arch political rival. Indeed, the wily strongman had deftly handled the boyish Aquino with the legal and political arsenal in his command during the latter’s time in the Philippines before his seven-year exile.
On Feb. 25, 1986, Marcos was ousted by a US-backed, Church-inspired military-civilian four-day rebellion, ending his 20-year reign. He was succeeded by Aquino’s widow, the plain housewife-turned-politician, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.
The same night, the deposed president was brought to Hawaii by the US military where he died in disgrace, ignominy and defeat on Sept. 28, 1989, of a heart attack. On Sept. 7, 1993, his body was returned to the Philippines under a deal worked out with Fidel V. Ramos, a third cousin and who helped plot Marcos’ ouster. The West Point-trained general had succeeded Cory Aquino as president.
Cory’s only son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, served as president from June 30, 2010 to June 30, 2016. His election was boosted by his mother’s death in August 2009. In effect, a grieving nation elected a ghost, not her bumbling son.
Outside of the abuses under 14 years of martial law, Marcos is considered one of the best Filipino presidents. He achieved a rice surplus. He reduced the lease on the US bases from 99 years to just 25 and made the America pay for their annual use. He built more roads, bridges and schools than all presidents before him did combined, and managed to unify the country despite two of the world’s longest-running insurgencies—the communist New People’s Army and the Muslim separatists.
On the other hand, the two Aquino terms—Cory’s from Feb. 25, 1986 to June 30, 1992 (six years and four months) and Noynoy’s— are among the most unforgettable presidencies marked as they were by incompetence, corruption of their people, preservation of the vast 6,400-hectare family hacienda, lack of inclusion (for the poor), and lack of vision.
So when Marcos’ body is interred finally at the Libingan complete with colors and ceremony fit for a hero, the nation hopefully will also bury with him the so-called Aquino myth and legend, both of them spurious. And then let’s have enough of the Marcoses and the Aquinos.