The 2022 Philippine presidential campaign has so polarized and divided the nation that whoever wins on May 9, the task of unifying and rebuilding the socio-political, economic order will have to take first priority. This becomes especially urgent if the most militant parties make good their threat to reject any unfavorable electoral verdict and call for “another EDSA revolution.” This is something the government cannot handle alone. Civil society will have to step in—churches, schools and universities, professional associations, cultural institutions, advocacy and business groups will have to do some heavy lifting on their own.
But what if the same institutions and organizations are not entirely blameless for the division and polarization? We see this as various groups adopt an apparently coordinated political stance and try to “create” a color-coded bandwagon in favor of a particular presidential candidate against another candidate who is seen to lead in the opinion polls. Among them are politically active religious men and women who want us to believe their partisan political hype is a Church-approved “Catholic” thing.
It is not only baseless but wrong. The Church does not have a candidate in any election and does not have one in this election. This is crystal clear from the Church Magisterium. But not all our Church leaders seem eager to confess this particular teaching. In one Metro Manila diocese, a presidential candidate was reported to have “campaigned” inside the cathedral, accompanied by a couple of priests and religious sisters. This has prompted some parishioners to write to their bishop, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, and the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to complain.
They said they felt like lost sheep that needed a shepherd, but they saw that their shepherds were lost as well. To whom do they turn then? Having asked the question, they now demand an answer. The question must be answered. We cannot allow our political crisis to develop into a Church crisis. Just when the Holy Mass is being celebrated again in front of the congregation, after two years of isolation and “social distancing” because of Covid-19, we cannot allow Catholic churchgoers to be turned off by this divisive politicking.
Unless the Church obliges its priests and religious to strictly follow its teaching on this matter, it could unnecessarily suffer from the mistakes of its politically active members. Thus, if the candidate who is falsely perceived to have gained the “Church’s support” wins, his or her supporters might expect a theocracy or a clerico-fascistic rule.
This is not the only danger. If and when the candidate who is falsely perceived to have gained the “Church’s support” loses, despite the media hype, the blast of trumpets and drums, the parade of colors, etc., his or her Church supporters might feel obliged, as some have already suggested, to carry their failed politicking into the public square, calling on everybody else to resist the newly elected government.
Unable to overtake Bong Bong Marcos (BBM) in the opinion polls, some desperate parties are reported to have started asking some foreign donors to fund their “special operations” and bankroll “another EDSA revolution.” It is not clear who these prospective donors are, (they are certainly not Russian), or what has been their response. But these reports, if true, cannot be condoned. Any attempt to bring in foreigners to meddle in our elections is a criminal offense, equivalent to “treason” in war.
It is not the first time though that someone has tried to use this “scare.” In 2010, the late Benigno Simeon Aquino III, having launched his presidential bid upon his mother’s death, tried to bamboozle then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into supporting him. He declared that he would win the presidency by a margin of at least five million votes, but that Arroyo would rob him of his victory, so he would have to launch another EDSA uprising in order to claim his rightful office.
It was an absurd claim, without any verifiable basis. But Arroyo fell for it, and agreed to help Aquino get elected, provided he would do nothing against her once he became the president. And so it came to pass. The modus vivendi held for a year, but immediately thereafter, P-Noy had Arroyo jailed on some trumped-up charges. He also had Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona removed by paying off 19 senator-judges of the Senate impeachment court (P50 million to P100 million each) to convict Corona on a single impeachment charge, using illegally procured evidence.
To this day, the parties to this bribery have remained unpunished. P-Noy is gone (May he rest in peace!), but most of the senator-judges are still around. Some are running again for high office and talking of the alleged corruption of others, unmindful of their own unpunished crime.
Although P-Noy’s threat worked on GMA in 2010, a similar threat today may not work on President Rodrigo Duterte or on BBM. Duterte is stepping down at the end of his term on June 30, while BBM, as of now, is just hoping to become the president. If people still vote for him despite his being his father’s son, and despite his non-participation in the media “debates,” which has angered all his opponents, then his adversaries could perhaps march on EDSA to air their grievances. But they will have to wait, if he wins, until he is installed in office.
We shall pray that such a march, if it pushes through, would not be marred by violence. But what happens if and when the crowd proves unruly, and the new palace occupant, instead of responding like the old man Marcos did in 1986 or like Joseph Ejercito Estrada did in 2001, responds like Cory Aquino did to the farmers’ call for just and comprehensive land reform on Mendiola on January 22, 1987, or like China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping did to the Tiananmen Square siege in 1989? Will those who had proposed the march assume full responsibility for it? Will they accept all its consequences?
It would be useful to go back to EDSA 1986 and learn a little bit more about what really happened to us there. In my autobiography, “All Is Grace,” (Solidaridad Publishing House, Manila, and Europe Books, London, 2021), I narrate some incidents that may shed a better light on the subject.
On November 3, 1985, upon the prodding of US President Ronald Reagan’s special envoy, Senator Paul Laxalt, Marcos announced a “snap presidential election” on January 17, 1986. He wanted to put an end to the “silly claim,” he said, that he was losing his grip on his government. January 17 was later changed to February 7, 1986.
That same November evening, Marcos asked to see me in Malacañang. He sent his appointments secretary, Ambassador Mark Ruiz, and driving in an unmarked vehicle to the palace, we went straight to the president’s study where we talked. “I wanted to see you because I just called a snap presidential election,” he said. “I would like to know what you think about it.”
“I caught it on TV, Mr. President,” I said, “and I’m still trying to process it. My first thought was that they (the US) are giving you a graceful way out.”
“No, no, no, far from it,” he said. “I’ll lose in some places but lose small; I’ll win in most places and win big.”
“I hope it turns out that way, Mr. President, but you can’t be too careful,” I said.
It turned out exactly as I feared it would. Marcos was played.
On February 7 the nation voted. Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, led a US delegation of 29 election observers, while some political organizations sent another delegation of various nationalities. Their highly publicized presence should have deterred any kind of election cheating, but instead, it appeared to have encouraged some open cheating that was meant to be instantly discovered and blamed on Marcos.
On February 9, 35 computer technicians, alleging certain irregularities, walked out of the Comelec tabulation center at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) and sought refuge at the Baclaran church nearby. They were led by Mrs. Linda Kapunan, wife of Col. Red Kapunan, Reform the Armed Forces Movemen (RAM) intelligence officer, whose comrades had just been arrested inside the Malacañang security perimeter while reportedly attempting to kidnap the President, preparatory to a military coup. This was ultimately overshadowed by the EDSA “uprising” but never denied. Did this walkout have anything to do with the coup attempt? This was never investigated either before or after Mrs. Kapunan received sanctuary from the Australian government.
On February 12, I was having dinner with some bishop-friends in my Quezon City residence. We were hearing all sorts of stories about the elections. A former information consultant of mine, when I was still information minister, reported to me on the phone that the elections “were unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct.” I found the English construction rather odd, since he never spoke this kind of English, but I would read exactly the same text, verbatim, later in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) statement, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” dated February 13, 1986. (“In our considered judgment, the polls were unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct,” the statement said. An all-embracing conclusion without any supporting facts.)
In that dinner, I asked the bishops how they could possibly reach a definitive conclusion on the elections, since they were not a fact-finding body, and had not really investigated anything. They had the benefit of “moral certainty,” they replied. And that was it.
Today, having continually reflected on EDSA-One these past 36 years, we can perhaps ask a couple of questions we have not asked before.
One, was I completely off the mark, or did I hit the nail right on the head when I told Marcos on November 3, 1985 that his American patrons were giving him a “graceful way out” through the snap presidential election in which Cory Aquino would be the other candidate? At the time, Cory was not even qualified to run. The Constitution required (and still requires) a presidential candidate to be “a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding (the) election”— and she had been living in Boston, M.A. until 1983. But this constitutional infirmity was completely ignored.
Two, is it believable or even imaginable that Marcos could have employed the most inept political operatives to brazenly manipulate the votes in his favor, in order to produce “polls that were unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct,” while a multitude of hard-boiled foreign correspondents and seasoned international election observers stood by? Or did not the combination of forces that wanted Marcos ousted perpetrate the most scandalous election fraud in the name of Marcos and denounced it as his handiwork before the election observers and foreign correspondents?
I am not saying this is what actually happened. But was this possibility ever considered? Was it ever ruled out? As far as the nation knows, this question was never asked of those, or by those, who would like to see EDSA-One memorialized without any taint of deceit or falsehood. And why was it never asked? This, too, has never been explained.
It is time to separate the facts from the political propaganda that has covered the larger and more relevant truths of our history for years. A couple of honest, independent and genuinely credentialed historians and scholars, but preferably more, should now commit themselves to this ground-breaking enterprise. But that alone may not be enough. The whole nation must seek to uncover all the relevant truths of its history and abide by them, whatever it takes. So much poison and dross have spread, cleaning up the mess might require the mettle of martyrs and saints, but it must be done.