EVEN AS THE MARCOSES PREPARE FINAL RESTING PLACE FOR FM:
MARCOS KIN, ALLIES STILL WITHIN CORRIDORS OF POWER
Even as his relatives prepare to lay the remains of the deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in their new-found final resting place for him in his hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte, those who lorded it over during his 20-year rule are still within the corridors of power. Their former patron may be dead but their political careers are still very much alive.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
As his relatives prepare to lay the remains of the deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in their new-found final resting place for him in his hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte, those who lorded it over during his 20-year rule are still within the corridors of power. Their former patron may be dead but their political careers are still very much alive.
Ever since they were allowed to return to the Philippines from exile during the Ramos administration, the Marcoses had been lobbying for the remains of the deposed dictator to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) – Marcos as they said being a former president who claimed to have a most-decorated war hero. The preserved body has been on display in a glass coffin in a mausoleum in Batac, 471 kms north of Manila, for several years.
They met stiff opposition particularly from victims of human rights violations during the martial law period and their relatives. The indignation has prevented all Philippine presidents since the 1990s from allowing Marcos’ remains to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
But now, his family appears to be satisfied with the final resting place they have found for him in his hometown.
“We identified the place because it’s not part of controversy,” former First Lady Imelda Marcos was quoted as saying in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “He deserves it. We don’t want to cause any more controversies.”
But if Marcos’ remains are soon to be laid to rest, his relatives and allies are far from going to their final resting place, politically. They still exercise considerable influence over the political scene.
Particularly noticeable in their present political influence, among the Marcos relatives and allies, are Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and Panfilo Lacson, the Estrada family, and House Speaker Jose de Venecia.
Military man as “little president”
Ermita, a 1957 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), served with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War (1962-1975). He is said to have taken part in “covert operations” against Vietnamese national liberation fighters during his assignment in Vietnam, a claim he has neither confirmed nor denied.
He served as a senior military assistant at the Office of the Undersecretary, Department of National Defense (DND) from 1976 to 1985. From 1985 to 1986, he was commanding general of the military’s Civil Relations Service.
He became a defense undersecretary from 1988 to 1992, and from 1993 to 2001 was involved in various capacities in the peace negotiations with Moro and communist revolutionaries.
In 2003, he was appointed as defense secretary, and was named executive secretary after the 2004 presidential election.
Ermita is presently the most powerful among Marcos’ allies, as he is said to hold the reins of power as “little president” during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s absences.
The eldest daughter
Imee, who is associated with the opposition bloc in the House of Representatives, has time and again expressed intention of running for a Senate seat. There are signs that she could get her wish. In the July 2006 Pulse Asia survey on senatorial preferences, the late strongman’s eldest daughter came out as 11th out of more than 20 possible senatorial bets, including noted anti-dictatorship fighters like Sen. Joker Arroyo and Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo.
Because of this, it is worth recalling that four years ago Imee issued a number of statements to the media calling for a “thorough and objective study” of the martial law period, in which its flaws as well as its supposed merits would be taken into account.
Data from various human rights groups place the number of victims of extrajudicial killings under Marcos’ 20-year rule at 1,500. Data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) show 759 persons as having involuntarily disappeared during Martial Law. Military historian Alfred McCoy, in his book Closer than Brothers, said there were 35,000 torture victims all in all during the Marcos years.
The economy also plummeted during the Marcos period. In an article written for the Philippine Graphic last year, Rowena Carranza-Paraan showed that when Marcos assumed office in 1965 the country’s foreign debt stood only at less than $1 billion, but had already shot up to $28 billion when he was ousted in 1986.
This is the chapter of our history which, to Imee’s mind, needs a “thorough and objective study” that would take into account not only its flaws but also its supposed merits.
Martial law architect
Enrile is reported to have been recently chosen as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This has drawn denunciation from human rights advocates, who remember him as one of the architects of martial law – having served as Marcos’ defense minister. “I am the author of martial law,” Enrile himself said in a TV interview in late 1991, a year before the election in which he had originally planned to run for president.
In February 1986, in a press conference with then Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos in which they announced their defection to the opposition, Enrile admitted that he had faked his own ambush in 1972 to provide a scare scenario that would justify the declaration of martial law shortly after.
Enrile briefly served as defense secretary under the Corazon Aquino government until he was sacked for his alleged role in a coup plot. He won a Senate seat in 1988. In 1992, he ran for and won a seat in the House, representing his province of Cagayan. Three years later, he won in the senatorial elections.
When Imelda Marcos celebrated her birthday in 1998, Enrile was among the well-wishers present. He was caught on TV getting a pat on the back from the former first lady, who said: “This man is actually a Marcos boy.”
He ran again for senator in 2001 but lost, and would win another Senate term three years later.
The senator from Cagayan has boasted in several media interviews of having himself issued a number of arrest, search and seizure orders against opposition figures during Martial Law. He is one of the most vocal proponents of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which human rights advocates have denounced as running counter to civil liberties.
Another vocal proponent of the Anti-Terrorism Bill is Lacson, who is reportedly planning to run for Manila mayor in 2007.
Lacson joined the Military Intelligence and Security Group (MISG) upon graduation from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1971. McCoy, in Closer than Brothers, said that Lacson, together with fellow MISG officers Roberto Ortega (father of former actress Michelle Ortega) and the late Rolando Abadilla “tortured together” for more than a decade.
A senator since 2001, he ran for president in 2004 but lost in what appeared to be a massively fraud-ridden poll. He joined some of the big anti-Arroyo rallies in 2005.
The Estradas and De Venecia
Estrada was mayor of San Juan for nearly two decades during the Marcos presidency. He was a senator from 1987 to 1992, and vice president from 1992 to 1998. He ran for president in 1998, and won.
He has never been abashed in his sympathy for the Marcoses, and to prove the point one of his first announcements after his proclamation as president-elect in 1998 was on his decision to have Marcos’ remains buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani – an announcement that drew fire from human rights activists and their allies. He had to take back his announcement in the wake of the massive public indignation that it generated.
But throughout his presidency he was always on a collision course with public opinion because of his government’s alleged corruption and anti-people policies. He was ousted in 2001 in what has since become known as the People Power II uprising.
Nevertheless, he continues to wield power through his wife Loi Estrada, who managed to get a Senate seat in the May 2001 elections, and two of his sons. His son with businesswoman Guia Gomez, JV (Jose Victor), became mayor of San Juan in 2001 and is now on his second term, and he emerged as 10th in the July 2006 Pulse Asia survey on senatorial preferences. Meanwhile, his son with Loi, Jinggoy, is now also a senator – accompanying his mother who has managed to win a second term.
Like Lacson, the Estradas are also active in rallies against the Arroyo administration. They are able to send large contingents to these rallies.
De Venecia was not on the political limelight during the Marcos years, then being a businessman. But he saw his fortunes grow during that time, his Landoil Resources being a beneficiary of behest loans together with the many companies owned by notorious tax evader Lucio Tan.
He has managed to stick to his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, which he first attained in 1995 – the only interruption being in 1998-2001. He had run for president in 1998 but lost.
He is the most vocal proponent of charter change and the proposed shift in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary. It is now common knowledge that he intends to become prime minister under a parliamentary system.
Still much work
Marcos has been dead for 17 years and, if plans push through, is about to be buried. But his relatives and allies are still very much active in the political scene. That they continue to wield influence 20 years after the ouster of their patron and 17 years after his death proves that there is still much work to be done. Bulatlat