Tuesday, November 4, 2008

That Marcos guy was really something

It's always insightful to take a look at the past through a thick lens of perspective.

Ferdinand Marcos has been demonized endlessly, pretty much to the point that he's our very own Philippine equivalent of Hitler. Call it Mike's Corollary to Godwin's Law: Get into a Philippine political discussion, and sooner or later someone's going to make a comparison to Marcos. It's the kind of environment where you're not even to admit that the guy had an idea worth looking into.

Marcos, the first president to win reelection in the independent Republic of the Philippines, delivered his second inaugeral address at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on December 30, 1969. Despite the awkward grammar of the speech's title ("To Transform the Nation — Transform Ourselves"), it was an awesome speech with soaring rhetorical flourishes, delivered in straight English unimaginable coming from today's Filipino politicians. No mention was made of specific programs, but he spoke in broad timeless themes that resonate to the present.

The full text of the speech is available at Wikisource. I'd love to watch a video or even to hear the audio of the speech being delivered, but none seems to be available on this internet of ours.

The speech begins with a crushing damnation of his predecessor's administration:
Four years have passed since I took my first oath of office as President of the Republic of the Philippines. We have traveled far since then. On that year and hour when I first assumed the presidency, we found a government at the brink of disaster and collapse, a government that prompted fear before it inspired hope; plagued by indecision, scorned by self-doubt, its economy despoiled, its treasury plundered, its last remaining gleam shone to light the way of panic.
Now, this sounds pretty weird to modern ears. Didn't Diosdado Macapagal leave behind a relatively positive legacy? Wasn't he a modest man that managed to dodge the stain of corruption? Aren't we taught that this was the country's golden era of prosperity? Who are we supposed to trust anyway?

I have this idea that it's the muddle of politics and ambition that clouds people's judgment. It's decades of mindless partisanship that causes politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together for common sense solutions. It's not quite a lack of goodwill-- everyone wants what is best. It's a lack of focus, and a lack of perspective.

Marcos goes on to point out the destructive habit of complaining and tearing each other down:
Too long have we blamed on one another the ills of this nation. Too long have we wasted our opportunities by finding fault with each other, as if this would cure our ills and rectify our errors. Let us now banish recrimination.

There are too many of us who see things as they are and complain. let us rather see things as they should be and inspire. Let us dream the vision of what could be and not what might have been,

There are many things we do not want about our world. Let us not just mourn them. Let us change them.
Regardless of the legacy Marcos left behind, I don't know anyone who would disagree with this assessment. He was right on the money, hit the bulls eye, pinned the tail right on the donkey.

We can't say he was all too effective in reforming our culture's work-ethic though. The very reason this speech resonates to the present is because the Philippine culture is still plagued by the very same problems. On one hand you could see this as an encouraging sign that this mentality is not a problem that has actually gotten worse over the years. Then again, of course, it does not seem to have gotten better.

Marcos continues his speech in broad themes, then ties his presidency into these themes by promising a healthy dose of leadership by example, the change we need. Pretty ironic:
The presidency will set the example of this official morality and oblige others to follow. Any act of extravagance in government will be considered not only an offense to good morals but also an act punishable with dismissal from office.
It's almost poetic in it's accuracy, and Star Warsesque in it's blatant foreshadowing. Almost as if he planned his ouster from be beginning! I may be on to something here. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. The closing line of his speech brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it:
Thus, we prove to our posterity that our dream was true that even in this land of impoverished legacy, the wave of the future is not totalitarianism but democracy.


  1. Wow, great find Mike.

    The irony... no, THE IRONY just gets to my nerves. It's almost... shocking.

  2. I included that speech in my 20 Speeches That Moved a Nation. You may find this eyewitness account by Pete Lacaba interesting.


  3. mlq3: I actually found this speech in the book "In God We Trust", the collection of inauguration speeches that you wrote the introduction to. :->

  4. Hi, Mike. Actually, the Marcos administration started out incredibly well. During his first term, for the first time ever (and the only time since?), we actually exported rice. We built more roads and bridges. We joined ASEAN. Things were looking up. Then, it all unravelled when his second term began.