Rescue From Disgrace in a Pharaoh's Prison
Delivered before the Joint Philippine and Foreign Chambers of Commerce, Intercontinental Hotel
February 3, 1986
As I draw near the end of my campaign for the presidency of our troubled nation, I welcome this opportunity to be able to address this distinguished assemblage of men and women of varied nationalities. (I was even thinking of having my fingernails done for this occasion.)
As I stand to face this international gathering, however, I feel in my heart a deep pain.
I think of our highest monetary officials compelled to swallow their pride in international negotiations: Mr. Virata and Mr. Fernandez knocking humbly at every banker’s door and offering profuse thanks even for loans grudgingly given and at humiliating terms to a government that cannot be trusted.
I think of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, proud leader of a city state one-fourth of the size of Metro Manila, publicly doubting the capacity of our nation of fifty million people to show the fortitude needed to rise to the challenge of shared responsibilities in the ASEAN community.
I think of Congressman Solarz pointing an accusing finger at Mr. Marcos and his First Lady for stealing pesos and centavos from our countless poor to stash them away in the form of multi-million dollar real estate holdings abroad, while our children starve and millions are unemployed.
I think of our highest military officers forced to answer embarrassing questions from American investigators digging into shady transactions in the disposition of foreign military aid.
I think of Senator Paul Laxalt, grey-haired like a Grecian oracle, solemnly secretive of the burden of his message from Mr. Reagan, but broadly hinting that Mr. Marcos must mend his wanton ways lest he plunge the nation further towards irreversible disaster.
Finally, I think of sensitive official documents from United States military archives, declassified at last after forty years, unraveling a sordid story of fraud and fantasy upon which Mr. Marcos has anchored his political career, a career which I have vowed to end.
And now hundreds of foreign correspondents and observers have swarmed to our land curious to see whether this nation gripped in a crisis of cruelty and corruption can redeem itself.
I have reflected and I have asked myself: What is it that has brought this nation to its knees? Who has brought us to this posture of humiliation and ridicule before the world? Who has desecrated the Pearl of the Orient?
The answer is inescapably clear: Mr. Marcos. The same Mr. Marcos who, even in the years when the idealism of youth should have ennobled his soul, did not hesitate to fabricate fantastic feats of heroism for a measly measure of military backpay and a spurious salad of mythical medals.
And as he began his public life so is he ending it.
He dragged us to the pit where we are today through a policy of mendacity and deceit. The conduct of his current political campaign – by lies, by smears, by half-truths and fairy tales woven out of thin air – is shameless public proclamation that there is not an iota of remorse in his soul.
And so I say to Mr. Marcos what Moses said to the cruel enslaving Pharaoh – Let our people go! Let the Filipino people go! Tama na! Sobra na!
My friends, in recognition of the foreign personages here today, I had originally planned to use this occasion to present my foreign policy. You will pardon me if I set my plans a few steps backward. For, as I reach this point in my campaign, and contemplate the ruin Mr. Marcos has wrought, I see very clearly now what our more urgent and prerequisite task must be.
Before we can mend out international fences where they have been damaged, and build lasting bridges where there are none, before we can be accepted as friends and not suspected as swindlers, we must rebuild our confidence in ourselves as a nation. We cannot renegotiate our foreign relations with dignity and honor, we cannot build solid bridges of international friendship, unless we can restore our self-respect as a nation, knowing that we are trusted because we are honest, respected because we are credible, eagerly sought because we are competent, and because we are loyal to our pledged word.
The external relations of a nation are founded not on the prosaic formulas of diplomatic treaties; they are founded on the dignity and the respect a nation has earned in the family of nations. Rizal, Quezon, Osmeña, and other great leaders led our country, with honor, away from colonialism to become the first Republic in Asia. We rose with honor from the ashes of World War II in the Forties. We emerged with honor from threat of internal war in the Fifties. We were honored by the valor of our men in the Korean war. Twenty years ago we enjoyed the respect of our neighbors and of the larger community. I am embarrassed to admit that today we have largely lost that honor and respect. Carlos P. Romulo, the grand ole man of international diplomacy, shortly before he died, voiced his lament: “Mr. Marcos is destroying everything we have built. Someone has to stop him.”
Relief from our humiliation and shame can come only after Mr. Marcos is ousted. As Rizal, our national hero, so aptly put it, “The glory of saving one’s country cannot be given to one who has authored its ruin.”
The road to where we are today is a story of twenty years of pharaonic rule. For twenty years we have been enslaved by this man as the Israelites once were by the Pharaoh.
Our Filipino Pharaoh has ruled this nation longer that the combined years of all previous presidents of the republic. He has enjoyed more power than any of them ever had. Yet he has been the ruination of this nation, destroying the achievements of previous presidents, and building for himself a pyramid of disgrace.
When Mr. Marcos began his rule in 1965, our country was touted as the economic miracle of Asia, next only to Japan. Today we have earned the unflattering title of the basket case of Southeast Asia. In twenty years Mr. Marcos has stripped legitimate entrepreneurs of their ability to compete, and has rewarded his friends with fiefdoms which have enabled them, like vampires, to suck the life-blood of a once vigorous economy. He borrowed massively but was evidently less interested in sustaining the economic momentum of the Philippines than in helping sustain the level of crony investments in the United States. He then proceeded to plunder the forests and lands of the nation. He has expelled tribal groups and pioneering settlers and set them adrift in painful uncertainty to eke out a living from the left-overs of rapacious plunderers.
In those same twenty years, our country fell from being the showcase of democracy in Asia to being the kingdom of a plutocratic pharaoh. Marcos stripped his rival politicians of their constitutional authority – and pocketed the constitution for himself. He elevated himself to godhead, master over life and liberty, subject only to his latest passing fancy.
Ever the Machiavellian politician, he very cleverly concealed his mendacious machinations behind a veneer of constitutionality and legality. Surrounded by a phalanx of judicial and bureaucratic sycophants, guarded in his Palace by hordes of security and intelligence forces, he was confident that his pharaonic kingdom was safe and his conspiratorial secrets as cleverly concealed as were his war records in the United States archives.
So indeed he thought. But he was wrong. One treacherous bullet was fired and the empire he had so carefully and callously constructed came crashing down around his ears. One treacherous bullet through the head of Ninoy, and the nation rose as one – in indignation and protest. The yellow revolution was born.
The nation has awakened. I, like millions of other Filipinos, look on this awakening as the dawning of a new day.
But crisis has two faces. On one face it says danger; on the other it says challenge.
We are ready to face the danger. Just as Ninoy was when he returned home. We can do no less.
We are also ready to face the challenge carried to our ears by the four winds of our archipelago.
Less than two months ago I said yes to a million signatures that asked me to run; the people-power phenomenon began and rallied around the widow of Ninoy.
The people are crying for change. Volunteers have bravely come forth in battalions. Even the poorest have proffered gestures of support. And the women! The chauvinist Mr. Marcos would confine them to the bedroom! But I tell you, they have cast caution to the winds to campaign and lead in the people’s crusade. They are determined to prove that people-power is mightier than all the men and money of the crumbling dictatorship.
I have criss-crossed the length and breadth of the nation. I have traveled by air, by plane and by helicopter; I have traveled by land.
I have seen the devastation wrought by a policy built on a mountain of lies.
I have seen the broken bodies of men, women, and children buried under promises of peace and progress. I have heard the anguished voices of the victims of injustice answered only by hypocritical pledges of retribution.
I have been kissed by the poorest of the poor, and have felt the warmth of their tears on my cheeks. I have been emboldened by the eager embrace of throngs determined to put an end to this regime.
I have heard them shout that I must win. I have been electrified by their every cry for freedom, and inspired by their every clasp of hope.
I cannot shut my ears to them. I cannot turn my back to them.
The question haunts me: What must I do for them? What must we do for them?
I know I have to organized their problems into manageable form. And so I ask myself: Cory Aquino, widow of Ninoy, unorthodox voice of an oppressed people, what will you do? What can you do in your first one hundred days to signal, loud and clear, that the momentum of redemption has been released?
The Pharaoh’s pyramid of disgrace built over the past twenty years furnishes the architectural plan for what must be done – or, more correctly, for what must be undone. The painful and laborious task will be one of tearing down the structures and relationships that have brought dishonor, and of rebuilding structures and relationships that will restore the lost nobility of our nation. We must once more become freedmen, a noble race, led by genuine patriots nurtured in deeds of honor, and not by hallucinating leaders and scrap metal racketeers.
But where do we begin?
Our first one hundred days must manifest to all – to the Filipino people, to our Asian neighbors, to the rest of the world – that the ruinous course Mr. Marcos set has been reversed, that the process of purgation and purification has been firmly set in motion, that a new Filipino nation, honorable and honored, is now re-emerging. What signals can the President, by herself, give in the first one hundred days?
Let me begin with the economy.
For the economy – oppressed, depressed, and stifled by structures of privilege – there can be no magic tricks that will produce instantaneous results. One thing alone I can offer immediately to the nation and to the world, and that is credible leadership.
I must convince not just the local private sector of the economy but also our foreigh lenders that I mean business. I realize that words are not enough. I therefore lay before you a concrete plan of action as an earnest of my sincerity.
First, I shall immediately begin the process of flushing clean the putrid stables of bureaucratic corruption and cronyism, and of retrieving the people’s money accumulated in private accounts built up by thievery. The axe will be made to fall where it must, not in the sycophantic style of Solicitor General Mendoza, but with the zeal of a crusading housewife let loose in a den of world-class thieves.
Second, I reiterate that my first concern and priority is the problem of mass poverty, unemployment, and under-employment which afflicts 75% of all Filipinos. Some of you have complained that I have not been specific enough as to how I intend to address this problem. Here then is my response:
- I shall immediately seek the repeal of the new turnover taxes, and the reduction of the energy tax on fuel and electricity, because these regressive taxes inflict the heaviest burden on the underprivileged masses who are least able to afford it;
- I shall seek exemption for essential agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers from all taxes, and I shall increase the availability as well as reduce interest rates of crop financing to enable our long-suffering farmers to earn a better profit without raising food prices;
- I shall dismantle the remaining vestiges of the crony monopolies in coconut and sugar. Coconut farmers will be allowed to export copra in order to break the back of the oil mills’ cartel. Free domestic trading in sugar shall be restored based on current floor prices so that all producers will be able to obtain financing from private sector traders and bankers. Nasutra will be made to pay all its debts even if we have to liquidate both of Benedicto’s banks in the process. Philsuma will be reorganized to become truly representative of the interests of all sugar producers, and its functions will be limited to export marketing of sugar.
These specific measures will be undertaken in addition to those which I have previously announced, such as:
- in renegotiating better terms for repayment of our foreign debt in order to free enough of our foreign exchange earnings to permit a modest level of economic growth and
- postponing the import liberalization program to avoid further dislocation and unemployment at this time of economic crisis.
Let me go next tot the field of social welfare.
In this field, I must win the active cooperation of the Batasan. I shall immediately put the Batasan’s devortion to the people to the test.
To start with, relief must be given to labor from oppressive labor laws that blot out our statute books. Three such laws stand out clamoring for immediate revision: (1) B.P. 130, called the “New Strike Law”, (2) B.P. 227, known as the “Anti-Scab and Peaceful Picketing Law”, and (3) Loi 1458 authorizing the police and military agencies to compel the return of strikers to their work. I see no honorable reason why within a period of a hundred days the Batasan should not be able to remove the repressive tenor of these laws.
Nor do I see any valid reason why immediate relief cannot be given to the public school teachers who have suffered more than any other group of government employees from the criminal neglect of the Marcos regime. In order to immediately increase the compensation of teachers, the power of the President given by P.D. 1177 to transfer funds will be used to reallocate money from the intelligence and discretionary funds of the President, from the Office of Media Affairs, and from allocations for extravagant and useless projects of Madame Marcos.
Similarly, I see no reason why we should not be able to make adequate medical services affordable by every Filipino and thereby convince the world that human dignity ranks high in our hierarchy of values.
And I see no reason why education cannot be immediately freed of manipulative instruments. I shall present a bill for the repeal of the National Service Law and similar laws whose overriding concern is the perpetuation of authoritarian rule.
Finally, the political system. I must re-create an atmosphere of freedom in the political system.
First, the most eloquent testimony to the loss of our freedoms is the hundreds of detainees held in political detention camps. They remain in detention either because they have been denied the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or because they have been denied bail. On the very first day of my presidency, therefore, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, that writ of liberty, sacred to free men, will once again be made available to all, to powerful and powerless alike, no matter what the nature of the offense. Bail will also be made available; and, definitely, the PDA will go and all subsisting presidential orders for arrest will be recalled.
Second, the next most eloquent testimony to the loss of freedom is the fawning subservience of the local media. Media therefore will be liberated. They must once more become vehicles of information, reflectors of public opinion, standing threats to corruption, and not tools for manipulation, disinformation, and deceit. Management of media by government will stop when the Office of Media Affairs is abolished. Yes, the OMA will be abolished. Moreover, measures will be pursued to ensure that no one person or small group of persons will be allowed to acquire exclusive ownership or exercise undue control over newspapers, radio, or television.
Third, immediate steps will also be taken to pressure the Batasan into calling a Constitutional Convention at the earliest feasible time. It is evident that a permanent solution to many of our political problems requires radical changes in the Constitution.
Fourth, Amendment 6, until it is finally deleted by constitutional Amendment, will continue to be a sobering reminder of ruthless ambition gone wild. But even while it remains in the books, it will not be used, except, as I said to the Rotarians, as a weapon of last resort against a recalcitrant Batasan bent on perpetuating the chains forged by oppressive presidential decrees. Amendment 6, before it is definitely destroyed by the people, will be turned on itself to destroy itself.
Fifth, professionalism and honor will be restored to the military. The army will be the army of the people and not a private collection of centurions indentures to the service of the President. Overstaying generals will be retired and deserving colonels and other higher ranking officers will be promoted to put fresh vigor into the military. I see a Philippine military force powerful and professional enough to defend the republic, proud enough to protect its honor, and patriotic enough to be loved and respected by the people.
Sixth, to the judiciary, blinded by the glare of power and debilitated by material brandishments, the blindfold will be restored and a bolder, manlier heart transplanted. Or, perhaps, a womanlier heart, like that of the fearless Cecilia Muñoz-Palma.
And seventh, in the re-organization of my government, the guiding standards for the choice of my collaborating team will be credibility, competence, and commitment – and not whether they are cronies, classmates, cousins, or compadres.
I trust that, with these political and socio-economic measures boldly taken, the Filipino nation can demonstrate for all to see that in this archipelago the rule of law is not dead. Temporarily stunned, perhaps, by the misguided ambition of a handful, but definitely not dead. Thus in my first one hundred days bona fides in the family of nations will be regained.
I come back to where I began, asking for your understanding of why concrete measures in matters of foreign relations must take secondary priority. I am also aware, however, that during our first one hundred days we shall be expected to give an indication of our approach to the problems of foreign relations. It is necessary, therefore, that I should also say a few words on the subject.
This, I admit, is an area into which I shall venture with great care. Bit it is clear that, for a country like ours, the basic rule of conduct will be to maintain peaceful, fair, and friendly relations with all countries regardless of ideology.
At the same time, however, we shall make a special effort to revitalize our relations with our fellow member states in the ASEAN which has become almost moribund as a result of the duplicitous diplomacy of Mr. Marcos towards Malaysia on the Sabah controversy. We shall also try to promote more balanced and equitable relations with the United States, Japan, the countries of Western Europe and the Pacific Basin, and all other countries with which we share a common loyalty to the principles of democracy.
Let me also say, especially to Filipinos of Chinese origin, that, as far as I am concerned, naturalized Filipinos are not second class citizens. Hence, I deny the rumor being spread that I will cancel naturalization certificates obtained under the Marcos regime. As I have said on other occasions, Mr. Marcos is an inveterate liar and will not hesitate to lie his way into another re-election.
Concerning the military bases, let me simply reiterate the assurance I have already given, that we do not propose to renounce the existing Military Bases Agreement of the Treaty of Mutual Defense with the United States. At the same time, however, I must state with candor that no sovereign nation should consent that a portion of its territory be a perpetual possession of a foreign power. The Bases Agreement expires in 1991. Before such a date, a process of consultation will be undertaken – with the United States, with neighboring states, but, above all, with the Filipino people – so that an arrangement that will serve the best interest of the entire free world, but especially of the Filipino people, can be reached.
Beyond the political, the socio-economic, and diplomatic, however, I have an overriding concern. We are today a nation fractured by deep polarization. Blind partisanship has been assiduously cultivated by the Marcos regime, Pro-Marcos and anti-Marcos battalions have stood savagely ranged against each other during these past twenty years. The process of healing the nation’s wounds must begin immediately. For we are all Filipinos whose first duty is to be pro-Filipino, dedicated to the principle that the nation comes first, ahead of any personal or partisan consideration.
Moreover, I see the nation today as more deeply devastated that it was after the last great war. The devastation then was physical; and it left the Filipino soul tarnished. The devastation today, wrought single-handedly by Mr. Marcos, is both physical and moral. It has debilitated the fibre of the Filipino soul.
Thus, as deep as my concern for regaining our self respect and dignity in the family of nations, as strong as my desire to rise above degradation and shame to which our political and economic plight has brought us, there is also in me a driving pre-occupation with moral regeneration. I am confident, however, that the riches of the Filipino cultural heritage will enable us to overcome all obstacles.
We are an Asian nation, and thus heir to the rich cultural heritage of this ancient part of the world. At the same time, we are also heir to the religious heritage of Christianity and Islam, and beneficiary of the great humanitarian values of Western democracy. It is true that there are times when our Asian cultural antecedents clash with our Western cultural legacy and threaten to fragment our cultural identity. It is also true that we are, in many ways, still in search of ourselves. I am confident, however, that we can merge our rich but diverse heritage into a unified consciousness and tradition that we can truly call a Filipino culture. From this consciousness and tradition, we should be able to reach to the world not just from the pragmatic concerns of economics and politics, but also from a common heritage of shared moral and cultural values.
Moreover, even now, in our present misery, we Filipinos can already assure all that, contrary to appearances created by twenty years of dishonesty and deception under Mr. Marcos, sincerity and integrity, honesty and truth, occupy a sacred place of honor and respect in the Filipino culture.
And now my friends, it is time for me to end.
Briefly, I have outlined for you what I as President of the Philippines can reasonably hope to accomplish during the first one hundred days. Those one hundred days are not so far away.
You have been patient; but one final pleading word.
The road to Malacañang grows darker as election day approaches. The forces of the Pharaoh are determined to keep the people chained to their misery. Sinister plans to cheat the people of their liberation are afoot. I ask you to let your voices be heard. I ask you to let the people’s power be felt. I ask you to send this message to the Pharaoh, in language unmistakable and clear: Let our people go! Let the Filipino people go!