Contrary to Lee Kuan Yew’s likely apocryphal comment on the supposed problem of “too much democracy” in the Philippines, our fundamental crisis is one of completing the spirit of the Edsa People Power Revolution. A democratic nation fails when it fails to make the most out of its hard-earned freedom — and not because of that freedom per se. For three decades, we have had the golden opportunity to translate our political freedoms into social justice and economic prosperity. Without a question, we have had many shortcomings, with soul-shattering iniquities still bedeviling our still feudalistic nation. A tiny elite (40 richest families, to be precise) has gobbled up much of recently-created growth, our peripheries are still sprinkled with violent insurgencies, and our state institutions are broadly hollow.
Over the past decade, however, we also managed to rank among the most promising economies on earth. And the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and the Bangsamoro referendum last year, have laid the foundation for just peace in Mindanao.
Above all, our economic dynamism has gone hand in hand with a boisterous media and a robust civil society. We should not turn a blind eye to the dark underbelly of our deeply flawed and imperfect democracy. But we shouldn’t also discount our hard-fought collective achievements by succumbing to mindless cynicism.
As imperfect and hopeless as things seem, especially in recent years, we should also never forget that at least we have had, and hopefully still have, the opportunity to attain true democracy.
And this is precisely where we should show at least basic respect, if not full recognition, for the sacrifices of men and women who have led our struggle for democracy. And the Aquinos, despite all their human imperfections and political shortcomings, have been an integral component of this most noble struggle for a better Philippines.
Like most millennials, I was born after the people power revolt, which toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. I have no direct memory of the dark days of martial law, or the broadly peaceful mass uprisings that ended the Cold War.
My first and among the most defining memories is the 1990 earthquake in Baguio, which devastated my family and almost drove us to destitution. Thus, I have been broadly immune to the “autocratic nostalgia” that has poisoned the political consciousness of the older generations.
Contrary to common wisdom, it’s not the millennials who have been itching for a return to a supposed “golden age” under Marcos. The greatest demographic base, both quantitatively and qualitatively, of the ancien régime are the Boomers and their younger Gen X ideological pals, who often wax poetic about the iron discipline and supposed economic success of “the good old days.”
Luckily for us millennials, we don’t mind checking Google or, for the more scholarly types, peer-reviewed academic works, which reveal a diametrically opposed record: a devastating war in Mindanao, total economic collapse by the early 1980s, and gross human rights violations.
Almost all of us have also seen memes and quotations by great leaders, including Lee Kuan Yew. As the late Singaporean prime minister bluntly put it, “Marcos might have started off as a hero but ended up as a crook.”
We were saved from the almost certain disaster of a festering kleptocracy, thanks to the sacrifice and heroic courage of activists and progressives who gave our democratic aspirations a second chance.
Ninoy Aquino’s self-sacrifice marked the beginning of the end of a morally and financially bankrupt regime. To deliberately besmirch his legacy is not only morally repugnant, but is also an insult to our national struggle. Few things are as preposterous as holding the two Aquino presidencies solely responsible for all our national predicaments. Yes, Cory should have aggressively renegotiated Marcos’ odious debt. And yes, the Aquinos should have pushed harder for, among others, land reform, especially in Hacienda Luisita. It’s a long list.
But let’s not forget that each of them replaced two deeply flawed predecessors that oversaw years of systematic corruption and brazen misrule. And while in power, neither P-Noy nor Cory ended up as Guinness Book of World Records-level thieves, enthusiastic supporters of mass atrocities, and slavish enablers of the big bully that has been ravaging our resources in the West Philippine Sea. Never.
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