One often hears this nowadays, usually spoken by people opposed to the current government: President Arroyo is more corrupt than former president Ferdinand Marcos.
The claim is not true, of course, and distorts the evaluation of Marcos’ rule but some sectors are willing to sacrifice historical precision to achieve their political ends.
Marcos’ record in this regard, obviously because of the length of time he ruled and the power he held, has not been matched by any post-People Power 1 president.
The Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the man who took away the largest loot in history for a reason: estimates of his hoard reached billions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Marcos’ Proclamation 1081, which allowed him and his minions to commit the abuses they were known for, is also being subjected to reinterpretation.
Martial Law, of course, has its positive as well as negative points, and the one declared by Marcos on Sept. 21, 1972, or 35 years ago yesterday, was no different.
But there are problems when one over-emphasizes the imposition of discipline as a Martial Law value because it provides the basis for the acceptance of tyrannical rule.
While democracy has its flaws, including the tendency of some people to use it to foment discord, it is still better than authoritarian rule of whatever variation and style.
There was thus nothing romantic in Marcos’ Martial Law slogan “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan”; it was meant to soften opposition to authoritarian rule.
Our experience with Martial Law not only proves the theory that absolute power corrupts absolutely but also shows that absolute power destroys the fabric of society.
This is the reason why framers of the 1987 Constitution laid down mechanisms that would make it difficult for would-be tyrants to impose military rule in the country.
As for those who say that the Sept. 21, 1972 event should no longer be recalled, the saying that those who forget the lessons of history are bound to repeat it will suffice.
It is the responsibility of the generations that suffered Marcos’ dictatorial rule to remind the succeeding ones of the abuses and horrors of the Martial Law years.
“Never again!” is one notion that should continue to ring true.
–-I wrote this as an editorial for the Sept. 22 issue of Sun.Star Cebu