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Bongbong wins on a myth as history wanes

A bongbong
Philippines new president Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr was an indulged youth whose excesses came at the expense of the ordinary people of the Philippines who suffered under his father's ruthless rule


SAMFORD VALLEY, QLD -The result of this week's presidential election in the Philippines are a reminder of the adage that ‘those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.

With the son of the former dictator and looter of the nation’s resources, Ferdinand Marcos Sr, winning the presidency in a landslide this week, the wheel of history turns and brings to mind the worst excesses of the past.

Just how has it been that those who have voted in Marcos Jr –or Bongbong as he is popularly known - for the next six years?

How could they have forgotten the 21 year reign of his kleptocratic father, from 1965 until the People Power revolution of 1986 overthrew him and sent him, his wife Imelda and family into exile in the USA?

Keith Jackson, Phil Charley and Martin Hadlow stop for a Big Mac near the US naval base at Subic Bay on the way to Baguio City in 1986. They had left a tense Manila alive with rumours of a possible counter coup

Marcos Sr. declared martial law in 1972, shut-down independent media, sent his political opponents into prison or exile and treated the country’s money and resources like a personal plaything.

His wife Imelda’s excesses became legendary, not the least her shoe and clothing collection.

The nation’s economy was moribund, cronies and governing families gathered obscene wealth, poverty increased, human rights and civil society bodies were banned, infrastructure (such as the power grid) began to fail,

The daily electrical blackouts and brownouts were a metaphor for all that was wrong with the regime’s draconian rule. 

In 1985, I was operating in the Philippines heading an Australian-funded regional project to provide training and development for the media in six ASEAN countries.

During my visits to Manila, I became very aware of how the Marcos government treated those journalists and media organisations not bowing to his dictatorial regulations.

Arrest, torture, harassment and murder were all tools used against those speaking out against corruption, censorship and electoral fraud.

In August 1983, former legislator and political prisoner Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, who had been forced into exile in the USA, courageously returned to the Philippines.

As he left his aircraft and walked across the apron towards the terminal building at Manila International Airport he was assassinated by a gunman.

It was too much for the Philippines’ people and three years later his widow, Corazon, replaced Marcos Sr as president.

Manila International Airport was renamed in Ninoy Aquino’s honour.

In the safety of the lecture room, workshop leaders and participants listen to a presentation

Following the assassination, civil resistance to Marcos increased dramatically, led by human rights activists and the Catholic Archbishop of Manila with a most unlikely surname, Cardinal (Jaime) Sin.

In addition, the Communist Party’s shadowy New Peoples’ Army (NPA) had ‘Sparrow Units’ of armed urban assassination squads riding motorcycles on the streets in several cities.

By February, 1986 the pressure had risen to boiling point and over two million citizens poured out of homes and offices to overwhelm the Marcos regime in what became known as the EDSA Revolution, EDSA being an acronym for a major boulevard in Metro-Manila.

Key to the events of EDSA were the efforts of the hugely respected and influential Radio Veritas, the Catholic Church-owned radio station operating with 50KW in Manila.

Radio Veritas had been barely tolerated by the Marcos regime and suffered from a range of measures seeking to close it down - ranging from regulatory laws to intimidation of management and personal threats to staff.

With no other independent radio or television stations in operation, the uncensored calls by Radio Veritas for people to come to the streets were absolutely critical to the success of the People Power Revolution which was then erupting in public spaces.

Marcos sent in the Army to shut-down the station, with armoured personnel carriers firing heavy calibre machineguns at the transmitter site. The Radio Veritas engineers adroitly switched transmissions to another privately-owned mediumwave radio station with a 10KW transmitter.

The voice of freedom continued broadcasting as Radyo Bandido (Outlaw Radio) but still carrying Radio Veritas programming.

In short order, several senior leaders of the Philippines military soon realised that history was not on their side.

They, and some politicians, turned against President Marcos, called for political change and ordinary soldiers were welcomed on the streets by citizens as fellow revolutionaries.

Observing all this from my base in Malaysia, I could only worry about the safety of the staff members I had meet at Radio Veritas in Quezon City during my previous visits. Fortunately all survived.

Once Marcos Sr, his family and cronies flew into exile, the spirit of optimism and a new democracy on the streets of the Philippines was palpable.

People were relieved that the yoke of oppression had been lifted.

When I again travelled to Manila just after EDSA, I visited Malacañang Palace, the official residence of the president and saw not only Imelda’s infamous shoe collection.

It was contained in what staff called the ‘cash and carry’ basement, alongside boxes full of his and hers bulletproof jackets and even chalkboards detailing the military tactics that head of the Army General Ver intended to use against protestors.

I encouraged the staff to protect the chalkboards with plastic sheeting to keep this historical record for posterity. However, in the post-revolution confusion and enthusiasm, I’m not sure if they did.

The return of freedom of expression to Philippines society was immediately evident with the nation’s famous newspapers again free to publish what they wanted, along with the rise of new radio and television voices.

The powerhouse ABS-CBN TV network was back on-air after years of censorship, and the Government TV station, MBS-4, had been renamed PTV-4 (Peoples Television).

At Radio Veritas, the pride of the staff in their role during EDSA was apparent and it was a pleasure to mobilise the resources of the media project I controlled to assist the station to increase its management and human resources potential through high-level management training.

This collaboration resulted in the delivery of media management seminars for Radio Veritas in both Manila and Baguio City.

It was a pleasure to welcome my old Papua New Guinea Department of Information colleagues, and later authors of the UNESCO-sponsored handbook, Manage by the Moment, Keith Jackson and Phil Charley, to the Philippines as expert consultants to carry out the training.

The courses were a huge success and a moment of change for Radio Veritas, an important radio station that continues its operations to this day.

And now the election of Bongbong Marcos as the new president. How did the people of the Philippines forget? Or did they? Perhaps the events of 36 years ago no longer resonate with the people.

The Manila workshop ends. Both two-week courses in media management were conducted amidst great civil tension and fears of a counter-coup

It seems that the incoming Marcos presidential team cleverly used social media to convince citizens to believed that the Marcos years had been ‘a golden era’ when the country was respected, enjoyed prosperity and citizens had unlimited democratic freedoms.

If Bongbong has any scruples, morality or conscience, the least he can do upon taking up the role of president is to apologise to the nation for the excesses of his family, vow to never allow such corruption, nepotism or repression to occur again, and devote his life to improving the lives of the citizenry.

Perhaps a forlorn hope. But the eternal optimist in me seeks retribution for all those who suffered in the past.

Some of us still remember those days and will not forget.

Martin Hadlow, among other senior global roles, is the former director of the Australian-ASEAN Media and Information Program


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Harry Topham

Old Joh Bjeke Petersen when Queensland premier was often cited as saying, when talking about democracy and the unfair electoral gerrymandering that was rife at the time, "We will keep on having elections until we get it right".

What hope is there for democracy when our future is decided by electors who vote with their hearts rather than their heads?

Paul Oates

The problem is Chris, that those who believe they can see the problems aren't able to convince those who are not able to do so.

To a certain extent, this forum is an excellent source for discussion about the background of what is happening around us and why.

But how do you motivate most people when unless it clearly affects them personally, no one wants to rock the boat.

'Bread and circuses' will always win the day.

I was recently told that only around 2% of people are actually prepared to think about problems and how to fix them. I wonder what the percentage is of people who read this blog and then go on to be motivated to do something?

Chris Overland

This article is evidence of a very depressing reality, being that people can be deceived or seduced surprisingly often once they decide to suspend disbelief and accept as true that which is false.

For example, public opinion in Russia is testimony to the power of disinformation as it relates to the war in Ukraine, with most Russians apparently supporting Putin's unjustified and criminal attack.

Abraham Lincoln once said that you can fool some of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

I think the evidence today is that his aphorism must be restated as you can fool enough of the people enough of the time to succeed.

Basically, there are sufficient numbers of ignorant, credulous or simply stupid people to ensure that a person like Donald Trump can successfully leverage a succession of lies, distortions and half truths into political success.

This astonishes and bewilders me. How can it be that in an age when so many people are supposedly educated enough to be able to distinguish fact from fiction that so many opt to believe the fiction?

How, for example, can people continue to believe in the notion that supernatural powers, in whatever form, could and should govern how the human world is ordered?

I think that the undue credulity of far too many people is the Achilles heel of representative democracy. This is especially so now when our political elites have recognised the power of the big lie as a tool to achieve their objectives.

Using Joseph Goebbels method of constantly asserting that a lie is the truth our political elites succeed in bewildering and bedazzling many voters into accepting the lie.

Politics becomes just a series of photo opportunities, door stop interviews, baby kissing and dog patting, bereft of the presentation and discussion of 'big ideas' that actually matter.

All that actually matters is relentlessly staying 'on message' regardless of the circumstances.

So called debates become mere slanging matches, devoid of meaningful content, as has been the case in the current Australian election.

The same old 'talking points' are trundled out to a disenchanted audience who find themselves being asked who was the least worst performer on the night.

Combine this with far too many journalists being either openly biased or having abandoned detailed analysis and probing questions in favour of manufacturing 'gotcha' moments for the nightly news and it is little wonder that many people, both literally and figuratively, switch off from engaging in the political process.

This is a deeply corrosive way of doing politics and helps explain why there is so little confidence in the political process and why populist demagogues can harness the prevailing disenchantment by the deft use of what amount to carnival spruikers tricks.

This is what the ludicrously named Bongbong Marcos has been able to do and Donald Trump before him.

In my assessment at least, unless and until there is some serious reform to the way in which representative democracies are both structured and governed, then the current race to the bottom in terms of the quality and honesty of our governments will continue unabated.

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