MALAKAS AT MAGANDA: The Marcos reign, myth-making and deception in history

Opinion & Analysis Apr 8, 2016 at 4:33 pm
Ancient Philippine Creation Myth: “There is a huge bird that splits a giant bamboo, and Malakas and Maganda emerge from the halves.” During martial law, Marcos became Malakas and Imelda, Maganda.

Ancient Philippine Creation Myth: “There is a huge bird that splits a giant bamboo, and Malakas and Maganda emerge from the halves.” During martial law, Marcos became Malakas and Imelda, Maganda.

Matakot sa kasaysayan pagkat walang lihim itong di nahahayag. (Fear history for it respects no secrets.)
– Gregoria de Jesus, Lakambini ng Katipunan

The darkness of dictatorship descended upon the Philippines when Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and the dictator ruled the nation with impunity.

Great danger now lurks behind a deceptive nostalgia for a past that never really existed—that the Marcos years were a period of peace and prosperity. This is patently Marcos myth and deception. Under martial law, the country was plunged into a climate of repression and plunder and then into a social crisis that exploded in the 1980s.

Marcos myth-making and deception are not new. Martial law itself was set up by grand deception. Marcos raised the Red scare to justify martial rule, but the communist movement then was still in its infancy; it was in fact under martial law that the communist and Moro rebellions grew in leaps and bounds. Marcos claimed to break up an old oligarchy, but martial law instead created a new type under his control, a crony oligarchy. Marcos also couched his dictatorship in deceptive legalese—”constitutional authoritarianism,” but it only served his yearning for perpetuity in power. The fact is martial law rudely pre-empted the 1971 constitutional convention, which sought to prohibit Marcos from extending his hold on power. He thereafter ruled for 14 years until he was ousted.

To prop up authoritarian control, the Marcos propaganda machine contrived deceptive images of Philippine society as in the slogans “New Society and “City of Man,” which sought to paint a picture of a “compassionate society, but Imelda Marcos actually put up whitewashed fences to hide urban blight and squalor from foreign tourists. The Marcoses also portrayed themselves in the likenesses of the legendary personae of Malakas at Maganda in the Filipino origin myth, which made them appear as fount of life in murals and photographic visuals. But the dictatorship actually engendered some of the darkest and direst years of Philippine history.

Economic crises characterized the Marcos years, as economists have consistently revealed, the most telling indicator was the extent of poverty. Poverty incidence grew from 41% in the 1960s to 59% in the 1980s. Vaunted growth was far from inclusive and driven by debt, which further weighed down on the nation. From 1970 to 1983, foreign debt increased twelve times and reached $20 billion (Dr. Manuel Montes, 1984). It grew at an average rate of 25% from 1970 to 1981. Much went to unproductive expenses like the Bataan Nuclear Plant, which was unsound and wasteful.

malakas at magandaThe Marcos regime then imposed an International Monetary Fund debt-repayment program that resulted in new taxes, massive lay-offs and a towering inflation that stood at 54% in 1984. While wages nominally rose by 29%, prices increased by 92% and the economy declined by 5.5% in 1984. BusinessWorld Research (2016) reckoned for 1984 the highest misery index (inflation + unemployment rates) between 1966 and 2015. From the mid70s, the situation resulted in the massive outflow of labor overseas. The grinding poverty of the majority showed in a sharp increase in two areas, infant mortality and insurgency. Crime rates increased; rebellion surged.

Even as inflation cut away at the allocations for health and education, there was an obvious increase in the military budget. Government also increased its contribution to government corporations held by favored friends. Monopolies were created in the sugar and coconut industries that pampered a select group. Marcos cronies made a lot of money through behest loans, which were repaid by tax money. Meantime the international media documented shopping sprees, not to mention lavish parties, by the Marcoses that gave scandal due to the scale of wanton spending. Marcos thus earned an infamous Guinness entry as a man believed to have stolen the most from a single country.

To say then that EDSA interrupted our becoming like Singapore is a big joke, a malicious lie. Marcos had mismanaged the economy; it was in shambles long before the EDSA revolt. From 1970 to 1980, among East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines registered the lowest GDP per capita at 3.490 (An Analysis of Economic Crisis, ed. Dr. Emmanuel de Dios, 1984).

Peace and order, a spurious claim, actually meant an iron-fisted clampdown on civil liberties. Through presidential decree and executive order backed by the full force of the military apparatus, Marcos padlocked Congress, jailed the opposition, gagged media, emasculated unions, and banned student councils. Thousands were jailed without warrant and due Process, not to mention countless killings and disappeared. Yet the national crime rate climbed continuously from 183 in 1976 to 279 (per 100,000) in 1980 (De Dios, ed. 1984 citing Philippine Constabulary data). In 14 long years, repression had also stunted the growth of independent-minded new leaders from the younger generation.

Today the Filipino people continue to seek peace and prosperity as the social structures that gave rise to inequities, debt-dependence, poverty, corruption, human rights violations, rebellion, and criminality have remained after the EDSA revolt. What we ought to do is to expand the spaces for people empowerment and inclusive socio-economic development, uphold selfless public service, seek truth and justice in all corridors of government, render our obligations to Mang Sayan, and make sure that the tyranny of the past will never be written out of history.

We need to critically evaluate the past so that we do not blindly look for solutions to problems of underdevelopment from those who prospered under the dictatorship or those who allow the same sources of social inequities and injustice. We enjoy greater freedoms today precisely because we fought the Marcos regime and the purveyors of Marcos values that, once in the past, bled this nation dry.

The sad thing indeed that could happen is to fall for the trap of seeking a better society from a mythical ‘golden” past. In that past, Marcos myth-making served to hide the power grab and greed of a Malakas at Maganda. Today Marcos deception seeks to evade accountability.

We reject deception and demand accountability!

Department of History
College of Social Sciences and Philosophy
University of the Philippines

Diliman, Quezon City
March 28, 2016