On June 30, 1981, roughly 41 years to the day Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. delivered his inaugural address as 17th President of the Republic, Ferdinand E. Marcos, his father, delivered his own speech on the thrusts of the Ministry of Agriculture.
But unlike the former dictator who applauded the past eight years of his regime’s supposed achievements in the area of food security, particularly land reform, the younger Marcos kicked off his inauguration by hurling history out the window: “I am here not to talk about the past; I am here to tell you about our future.”
It is apparent that where the father sung the praises of what, in hindsight, had long been judged as a botched agrarian reform program, the son chose not to even whistle about it. With good reason, as we shall later see.
Presidential Decree 27 of the martial law era, dubbed “Decreeing the emancipation of tenants from the bondage of the soil,” blah, blah blah… promised the one thing needed for any agrarian reform program to be worth its weight in precious grain: land ownership of farmers.
Marcos Sr. claimed that while previous administrations had failed to take this important issue to account, giving rise “to violent conflict and social tension,” the Marcos regime vowed that “the redress of such legitimate grievances” will be prioritized as “one of the fundamental objectives of the New Society.”
However, PD 27, which excluded traditional crops such as sugar, copra, bananas, tobacco, and pineapples, focused only on rice and corn lands. By doing so, it limited the area available to farmers to no larger than 14% of all arable lands.
Marcos Sr.’s failure, in a nutshell, was blamed on the lip service he paid his own words.
“The Marcos regime’s rhetoric on agrarian reform did not match its actions. The retention limit of 7 has. deprived 55% of tenants in rice and corn lands the right to own lands they tilled. In fact, not even two years into the implementation of PD 27, General Order (GO) 47 and Presidential Decree 472 were signed which gravely undermined land acquisition and tenure.”
Marcos Sr.’s speech in 1981 was, in fact, an oratorical disguise to camouflage a long-crippled agricultural sector which, a mere four years later, led to the Negros Famine of 1985. Regardless of this historical fact, Ferdinand Marcos’ son and namesake, insinuated in his speech that it was only his father who delivered on the promise of food security. It is, at best, untrue.
Unless, of course, history, as actress Ella Cruz said, is no better than “tsismis” or a rumor.
Allow me to park my pen here for a moment. With absolutely no intention to give an ingénue a much-coveted platform for her zany ideas, let me say this: in response to Ella Cruz’s statement, public historian Ambeth Ocampo made it plain that history, as opposed to rumors, “are based on fact, not opinion.”
Ocampo further articulated that “real history is about Truth, not lies, not fiction.” Ocampo’s reply is by no means a slap on the wrist. To Ocampo, the claim of the actress was as serious as a cardiovascular accident.
See, no account should be judged “historical” if and when assertions are based on mere opinion, to say nothing of hearsay and outright lies. Confusing history with “tsismis” or rumor is a grave miscalculation, and in worse cases, a bizarre denial of what history sets out to accomplish: the precise knowledge of our roots.
Novelist Michael Crichton once wrote: “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”
Here is where another respected historian, Prof. Jose Victor Torres, weighed in on the matter: “That irresponsible statement belittled the years of work that historians like me did in order to tell the story of our nation. These stories are not something we pull out of our heads and imagine. They are facts that involve hundreds of hours of work to find, verify, and share to the Filipino people. It is a noble work to discover our past because that history we write about created who we are as Filipinos.”
Real history — not those invented by victors, charlatans, and posers — is a constantly evolving creature of the mind and memory, and by Prof. Torres’ words, our sure promise of discovering who and what we are.
The actress capped her statement with “I respect everyone’s opinion.”
Well, respecting everyone’s opinion may sound self-effacing and meek, and may seem to adhere to the principles of tolerance and inclusivity, but it rises no higher than false humility. It is, in sundry ways, a means to cloak the sort of arrogance that turn a blind eye to vetted facts. Certainly, real history is biased because it deals with the truth.
While everyone has a right to air his or her opinion, the basis of such opinions should be subject to the strictest scrutiny. No opinion is an end in itself. Either one employs it to promote the truth, or it falls flat on its face. The public’s acceptance of a mere opinion, no matter how huge, does not make it any truer than the lie it intends to sell at the cost of the nation’s sanity.
To be fair, Marcos Jr.’s inaugural address did little to trigger everyone’s anxiety in ways the outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte set off personal and national trauma on a scale that made Hitler look like a genteel buffoon.
Marcos Jr.’s inaugural speech carried no threats, no obscenities, none of the I-will-kill-all-of-you rhetoric that pockmarked Duterte’s insufferable midnight monologues.
Nevertheless, if the largely scatological claims of Marcos Jr. were indicative of what we can expect in the next six years, he will need more than the two-ply opinion of a B-movie, and a starlet with little more than imagined intelligence (despite the resources better spent on a good education) to wipe off the mess.
With untold billions at the President’s disposal, I am expecting the next six years to be no less a spectacle of the best speeches money can buy. In the end, however, Herman Hesse, who wrote Siddhartha, has this to say about true and lasting greatness:
“Not in his speech, not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life.”
Joel Pablo Salud is the author of several books of political nonfiction. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas.