Aug. 21, 2018. We have just marked the 35th year since Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was assassinated.
It is heartwarming to see Filipinos remember the event and how it changed the country.
However, it also saddens me to watch the people-on-the-street interviews on television in which they were asked what they remember or know about Ninoy. I counted only one in four who answered accurately: He was a hero who chose to give his life for the Philippines. The young interviewees mostly know Ninoy as a figure who was killed; many know very little about who he really was, why he was killed and why the date of his death is a holiday.
Ninoy’s assassination in 1983 at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, now the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, churned a sea of events that rippled far and wide: A dictator was deposed, a widow was catapulted to power, democracy was restored, the faith of the people that the Filipino is worth dying for was rekindled.
Recent storms and floods have caused so much havoc on the country. But political events also give much cause for concern. I cite here a few of the latest disturbing events that make me shudder at the thought that our democracy is under grave threat.
President Rodrigo Duterte says he wants to resign and prefers a military junta than have Vice President Leni Robredo succeed him. He also expressed support for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. or Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero as his possible successor.
Questions surrounding the true state of his health are disturbing enough. But a military junta and defeated candidates as successors when there is a sitting vice president? This would be blatant defiance of our Constitution.
The President has openly expressed dissatisfaction with having Robredo as his successor, even if the Philippine Constitution so provides. He claims Robredo is not competent to run the nation’s affairs.
But he has not given himself a chance to test and see firsthand how Robredo works. I’m certain he would be greatly surprised at the efficiency and performance of the Office of the Vice President and her own nongovernment organization, Angat Buhay.
To further discredit the VP, Duterte claimed that Naga City, her and her late husband’s – Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo – hometown, is a hotbed of the illegal drug shabu. It was blatantly false information he could have easily checked. Naga is among the cities that have been declared drugs-free.
Adding insult to injury, Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde claimed that Naga is “No. 5” among cities with high crime rates. The PNP’s own report says it ranks 29 out of 36, which puts Naga among those with the lowest crime incidence. The “No. 5” mentioned in the report apparently indicates Naga is in Region 5. The chief PNP spokesperson later apologized for the false information.
Next, we have Duterte picking Teresita de Castro as the next Chief Justice, even when she has only 41 days to serve at the time of her appointment. It may be short run, but this would be no barrier to her wreaking havoc on the judiciary and the nation just to please her master, in much the same way that she had allowed herself to be a pawn in the ouster of Ma. Lourdes Sereno as chief justice.
Then we learn that detained Zaldy Ampatuan, principal suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre that left 32 journalists and 26 other individuals killed, was given furlough to attend the wedding of his daughter. Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes granted Ampatuan’s request, citing humanitarian considerations.
Yet the same privilege was not extended to Sen. Leila de Lima, in detention on trumped-up drug charges, when she asked permission to attend her son’s graduation and, recently, to attend the oral arguments in the Supreme Court against the withdrawal of the Philippines from the International Criminal Court.
Unlike in the Ampatuan case, no evidence or witnesses have yet been presented in De Lima’s case. This practice of selective justice is becoming prevalent. Are justices taking their cue from the recent actions of the Supreme Court?
Recently, there were also reports that a big shabu shipment slipped through the Bureau of Customs and into the market. If that was not bad enough, it seems there were neither warnings to the public nor an order issued to the police to be vigilant and look out for big amounts of the illegal drug flooding the market.
Even if there is some doubt whether the four empty magnetic lifters confiscated from a warehouse in Cavite contained shabu, it was a good opportunity to rain fire-and-brimstone warnings against people accountable for the shipment. So far, the police have been confiscating grams or at most kilos of shabu. Miniscule amounts.
The continuous raids and confiscations prove that the supply has not stopped.
Clearly, the suppliers, the kingpins, remain at large.
But the biggest threat to democracy is the return of the Marcoses to power. A few years after their ignominious exile to Hawaii and following the death of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Marcoses were allowed back to the country. By the 1990s, banking on the short memory of many Filipinos, especially in their bailiwicks, they began making their way back to government.
After ruling Ilocos Norte for nearly a decade, Bongbong became a senator in 2010 then ran for vice president in 2016 and is now trying to wrest this position from the duly elected Robredo. His sister Imee, who headed the infamous youth group Kabataang Barangay her father created via presidential decree, was three-term representative of Ilocos Norte and is now incumbent governor of the province.
Mother Imelda, the “Steel Butterfly” with the famous edifice complex, is on her third and final term as representative of Ilocos Norte; she first won a seat at Congress as representative of her home province Leyte, a position she would also hold for four terms.
The Duterte government has been giving Bongbong support in his election protest against Robredo.
This should come as no surprise. The President has publicly acknowledged the large sums the Marcoses had shelled out for his campaign.
Last Aug. 21, as the nation was remembering Ninoy’s death, Imee was quoted as saying, “The millennials have moved on, and I think people at my age should also move on as well.”
What she meant: Move on from the remembrance of martial law and the atrocities of her late father’s dictatorial regime.
Bongbong supported her sickening statement.
Fortunately, the millennials raised an uproar, contesting and condemning her statement. Imee obviously had forgotten that in the protest activities against Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which enjoyed Duterte’s imprimatur, the millennials turned out in full force and undertook the most effective social media campaign against the move.
The millennials reminded Imee how her father had amassed up to $10 billion while in office.
During martial law, some 34,000 were tortured, more than 3,000 were killed, and almost 400 disappeared, never to be seen again. Most importantly, the millennials gave reminders that the Marcoses never apologized for the atrocities of the regime. While Duterte announced earlier that the Marcoses were willing to return a “portion” of their ill-gotten wealth, this too turned out to be nothing but false news.