August and September usually mark the peak of the Marcos martial law debates.
On August 21, 1971, the Liberal Party political rally in Plaza Miranda was bombed. The blast hurt scores and killed two. Among the injured were several LP senatorial candidates. It led President Ferdinand Marcos to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which essentially justified arbitrary arrests. Several protest leaders were imprisoned. Others went underground. A surge in mass protests and opposition activities ensued.
On September 23, 1972, Marcos declared martial law; closed down the Senate, the House of Representatives, major newspapers, and radio/TV stations; and arrested opposition and protest leaders. The exodus of activists to the countryside rejuvenated the armed struggle for power by the Communist Party of the Philippines. This armed struggle has smoldered ever since.
On August 21, 1983, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. arrived in the Philippines, after deciding to come home from his US exile. He was shot dead at the Manila international airport, right on the tarmac. The assassination was traced back to the Marcos military. The ensuing massive protests culminated in the 1986 EDSA Revolution and installed the slain senator’s widow, Cory Aquino, as the new president.
Every year, these events are recalled by the generations of Filipinos that went through them, triggering similar debates between pro- and anti-Marcos sides among the millennial generation.
In the coming years, these martial law debates will rise in intensity, as the 50th anniversaries of events that happened in 1969 to 1972 are commemorated.
2019 will be the 50th anniversary of the 1969 presidential elections that saw Marcos reelected for a second term. It was an election marked by the widespread deployment of “guns, goons, and gold”. It will also be the 50th anniversary of the New People’s Army, the communist party’s armed force for winning political power.
2020 will be the 50th anniversary of the First Quarter Storm of 1970, which marked the momentous upsurge in student activism that changed the lives of an entire generation.
2021 will be the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. It will also be 50th anniversary of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, which eventually allowed Marcos to stay in power beyond the two-term limit imposed by the old constitution.
In 2022, these will culminate in the 50th anniversary of the 1972 declaration of martial law itself.
We can therefore expect in the coming years a crescendo of debate on martial law fueled by unsettled issues about those historical events as well as revisionist efforts to change history.
But 2022 will also be a national election year, when we will elect a new president. Or perhaps a prime minister, if a new charter changes the designation of the national leader.
I see an interesting scenario for the national leadership contest in 2022.
A Marcos will definitely run, to rehabilitate the family name. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presumably, but Imee is also a possibility. Note that a group of justices in the Supreme Court almost always votes as a bloc on major issues, such as the Marcos burial, martial law in Mindanao, and the quo warranto petition versus Chief Justice Sereno. They have enough votes for a decision in favor of vice-presidential candidate Marcos Jr.’s electoral protest.
If Marcos Jr. becomes VP and Duterte resigns in his favor before the 2019 elections, the new president cannot run for a second term anymore. (This is where Imee may come in.) He still can, if Duterte resigns after the elections. This is how Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got to be president for nine years.
Speaking of GMA, her hunger for power remains insatiable, it seems. She wanted to become Speaker of the House so badly, that she couldn’t even wait after the President’s SONA to go for it. She claims she’s not interested in the presidency anymore. This was exactly what she said in 2003, that she was not running for reelection. Reneging on her promise, she declared her presidential candidacy in 2004. In the counting, she gained more votes than Fernando Poe Jr., with the dubious help of Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and his “one million” votes. Practically everyone wanted to kick GMA out for cheating. But former president Fidel Ramos inexplicably rescued her crumbling administration after she said “I’m sorry!” on prime-time TV, and she survived what should have been another EDSA revolution. Wily and lucky, GMA is definitely a potential contender.
With Pres. Duterte himself chummy-chummy with Sara Duterte-Carpio’s Hugpong, is there any doubt that the Duterte family have their sights on 2022? Can Sara turn her back on a presumed filial duty to shield her father from the court cases that will surely hound him after his term ends? There’s your third potential contender.
Speaking of presidential daughters, don’t forget another one — Kris Aquino. She has the charisma, and enough of a rebellious streak in her, to run against a Marcos. After all, the 2022 election results will be the millennial generation’s historical judgment not only on the Marcos martial law regime but also on the 1986 EDSA revolution, her mother’s presidency, and her father’s status as national hero. The election results will define Philippine history’s textbook heroes and villains and what tomorrow’s children will learn in their history classes. With such huge stakes, how can Kris refuse?
A run by Kris will truly make the 2022 elections a battle royale between pro- and anti-martial law sides.
Among these presidential offsprings, except GMA, running will almost be a family obligation. An Erap son may also run for similar reasons, but he will be a weak contender.
Others may throw their hats into the ring, like Pacquiao, or VP Robredo. But given the tight field, if you don’t have a presidential parent to defend and a version of history to fight for, you’d probably be treated as a spoiler and told to get out of the way.
While anything can happen in Philippine politics, events seem to be leading inexorably towards a historical reckoning in 2022.
It is my hope that millennials will study Philippine history with utmost seriousness. They must prepare themselves for the unique historical privilege of rendering judgment through their votes on the main Philippine political players in the past fifty years.
Then, perhaps, we can move forward as a people and face climate change, microplastics in our water and the food web, the sixth global wave of species extinctions, the accelerating collapse of the Earth’s life support systems, and all the new 21st century problems that confront our children and grandchildren.
Roberto Verzola is a Senior Fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. He is currently president of the non-profit Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST).