WORM’S EYEVIEW: Martial Law took the fun out of citizenship

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/01 June)–Before the unrepentant dictator and the remorseless martial law administrator cast the shadow of authoritarian rule over our society in 1972, we had a vibrant democracy, pleasing to libertarians, exhilarating to freedom-lovers. We faced the challenge of nation-building and we went at it with vigor and determination. Especially in the 1960s, years when the youth of the world awakened and drew attention to the fact that they too were citizens.

Thus we staged eyeball-to-eyeball debates, conducted “teach-ins.” We marched and held rallies, calling it “parliament of the streets.” We organized forums of various intensities, formal and informal, in plazas, on campuses, on radio and TV. We were young professionals and students, but even bystanders debated issues into the wee hours, informing themselves and others, forming judgments and community decisions—which is what civilized debates do or ought to do. And we did so throughout the Philippine archipelago, from Appari to Tawi-tawi.

It was unconscionable for a political candidate in those years to avoid debates or refuse to take part in one. Besides, over a century of Balagtasan, elocution, and oratorical contests had conditioned the young and young-once to watch, listen, participate, or follow debates wherever they took place. Debates were as natural as the haranas and festive singing that took place wherever a guitar materialized and a group formed. Debating was a close cousin of merrymaking among fun-loving Pinoys.

Marcos and Enrile changed it all

The social dynamics changed with Martial Law. Authoritarianism cramped social relations. It inhibited spontaneity and took away the joy of creativity. It robbed merrymaking of its verve, carousing of its abandon. That Marcos needed no coaxing to make a speech, or that Imelda needed no excuse to belt out a song, was no joy to behold but an obligation to suffer—to be indulgent, to be polite, to smile wherever and whenever importuned, as one does towards a monarch holding court before intimidated subjects.

That was the effect of Martial Law. It not only took away freedom, it peeled off the joy of citizenship. It was as if society had been injected with formaldehyde, just like Marcos’ cadaver in his mausoleum, so the surface of its skin would not betray the decay beneath it. Thus embalmed, it could be displayed with a set demeanor that is ever pleasing to the powers that be. Cosmeticized corruption. Corruption with a pleasing appearance and a false façade.

So thoroughly was our society controlled and corrupted during those regimented times; such that like a virus-afflicted computer, our society and political system needed to be cleansed and reprogrammed. But it couldn’t be restored to normal operation unless Martial Law and the Conjugal Dictatorship ended. Unfortunately, by the time we managed to end it at EDSA, neither President Cory nor President Eddie had it in them to undertake the task.

Winning by deception

So the culture of corruption and suppressed spontaneity lingered. And when Erap sought the presidency a decade after EDSA, he had but to slink away behind the shadows of public discourse, avoid debates, and act out the deception of his screen persona. And doing so, he won the presidency! Then this year, just as we all thought we had recovered from Erap’s antics, he ran for mayor of Manila…and won! It’s amazing how Manila voted for two people known mainly for the fakery projected by their screen aliases to be their top leaders.

Then, too, what is it in plunderers and philanderers that drive Pinoy voters to elect them? And what is it in mutineers and coup plotters that wins Senatorial votes? Sure, Gloria Arroyo—that model of unmentionable governance—pardoned Erap, but the fellow was, is, a convicted felon!

Not to be outdone, Jojo Binay’s daughter, Nancy, supposedly convent-bred and university-educated, made no bones about emulating Erap, deftly avoiding a proffered debate with another woman candidate… and won a Senate seat!

Who was it who said that you can’t lose by underestimating the electorate’s intelligence?

Debates fuel intelligent discussion, widen exchange of ideas, broaden perspectives, and promote democracy. Before Marcos and Enrile padlocked our rights and freedoms in 1972, we had a vibrant, albeit freewheeling, Democracy. You could see, hear, and feel it in action and couldn’t help but be involved!

Clinging to power

But now, already more than a quarter of a century since we discarded dictatorship, thinking (wrongly!) that we had banished the ogres of Martial Law, we have managed to let Enrile—the Marcos enabler and legalizer—back into the democratic playing field that he and his cohorts bastardized not so long ago.

We even let our other so-called public servants—the senators!—ensconce him firmly on the Senate’s throne! All this without even having him apologize or show remorse for his depredations during the Martial Law years. Old as he already is, does he show any sign that he will ever vacate power? Perhaps he derives confidence in the assurance of protection and undying loyalty from his erstwhile aide-de-camp, now fellow senator, Gregorio Honasan, a confirmed coup plotter!

We are being very cavalier about freedom and justice in our democracy. Where and how can the excitement and joy of elections return to our society with such brooding vultures sitting atop our political system as they feed on Pork and the perks of high office?

Can it be right that Juan Ponce Enrile and his ilk are empowered to allocate the billions in Pork Barrel funds and other entitlements that decide who shall be our leaders? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at valdehuesa@gmail.com.)