Amante: People Power and the public pulse

IT took nearly 30 years for the tide to change, but change it did.

On Sept. 15, 1989, the Supreme Court (SC) denied a petition that would have allowed former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and his immediate family to return to the country. Marcos was dying and wanted to die at home.

Eight justices voted to deny, but seven saw no legal basis to prevent the dictator’s return. The seven were not convinced that allowing Marcos back home posed a clear and present danger to the nation. They said letting him back in would be the compassionate thing to do.

One of the more striking opinions was that of the Cebuano Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan, one of the eight who voted to deny the petition. He said that while it wasn’t a legal ground, “the public pulse” ought to be viewed as one factor in the Court’s decision.

“The ouster of the Marcoses from the Philippines came about as an unexpected, but certainly welcomed, result of the unprecedented People Power revolution,” Chief Justice Fernan wrote. It was “a moral victory for the Filipino people, and the installation of the present administration, a realization of and obedience to the people’s will.”

Marcos died in exile less than two weeks after that decision. It took a little longer for his widow to return to the country, but return she did in November 1991. She ran for president the year after that but lost. She eventually won a congressional seat in Leyte in 1995. It took a mere six years for a Marcos to return to power.

Twenty-seven years after Marcos died, his son narrowly lost the vice presidency, a result that he continues to challenge.

A different Supreme Court, by a vote of 9-5, ruled in 2016 that President Rodrigo Duterte acted within the bounds of the law when he issued the order allowing Marcos to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The Marcoses made it a point to thank him for honoring a campaign promise.

How long does a shared memory last? Not that long, as it turns out. The more realistic view is that there aren’t too many memories a nation can fully share, because we remember the same events differently.

Today’s celebration means different things to a family that lost a loved one in the martial law years and a family whose fortunes grew with the dictator’s largesse. His office has announced that President Duterte will absent himself, for the second time in his presidency, from the official celebration at the People Power Monument today.

Three months ago, the President also trimmed the membership of the Edsa People Power Commission from seven to five persons That wasn’t the first time such a thing happened. In December 2010, within his first six months in office, then President Benigno Aquino III reduced to seven the commission’s membership, from the 25 originally designated in 1999 by then President Joseph Estrada.

When Estrada created the People Power Commission in his eighth month in the presidency, he emphasized the “need to safeguard the truth of history of the martial law years, and a need to remember the struggle for freedom and democracy.”

Attempts to rewrite that history are rife on many fronts.

To hear some people say it, most commonly on social media, all three decades after the ouster of Marcos in 1986 could be lumped into one, a time of “the Yellows.” To hear some people say it, martial law was a golden era, instead of the systematic plunder that saddled the country with nearly US$25 billion in foreign debt and an economy in shambles. To some people, the more than 75,000 claimants who have gone to the Human Rights Victims Claims Board may as well be fictional characters.

We have much to learn all over again, and much to teach. Six out of every 10 Filipinos today were born after the fall of the Marcos regime. Yet they may not necessarily be the ones who have chosen to reflect less on martial law’s atrocities. Is it willful ignorance or our changeable memories that’s to blame?
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