31 million

May 19, 2022

by John Paul Andaquig

I wish I could also celebrate like them. I wish I could feel that elation of having my bet win the presidential race, and with a landslide one at that. A majority vote, a historic mandate.

But I can’t stop wondering, “If the Philippine electorate truly voted like this, what kind of candidate could he be?” And that has been my recurring nightmare during my waking hours nowadays.

I remember the 1992 presidential election. I was only eight years old. My older sister wanted to vote for Jovito Salonga. In my young mind, I thought he was going to win. A statesman, nationalist, had a command of both national and international issues and the issues of the everyday Filipino. But he could only manage a 6th place finish. There was someone else I wanted to win, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, simply because she was a woman and strong, fearless of the corrupt, criminal and inept. I thought then how cool it would be for the Philippines to have two women presidents in succession. She was leading in the first five days of counting, before former defense secretary Fidel Ramos took over and eventually won. Like many others, I felt strongly that she was cheated.

Maybe in a parallel universe, the Philippines would vote by a large majority someone with the statesmanship of Salonga and the no-nonsense character of Santiago.

Yet reality is harsher and scarier. The one taking that “landslide win, majority vote and historic mandate” is Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr, son of the late dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr.

Marcos Sr. – a dictator to many, and a hero to perhaps an equal many. Yes, an equal many, or maybe even more, if we only allow the so-called numbers to speak.

I have friends and relatives who voted for Marcos Jr, alongside his running mate Sara Duterte-Carpio. Most of my relatives are Ilocanos, hailing from Abra and Ilocos Sur. I even found out from my aunt in the US that my grandmother (from Nanay’s side) was the lone female politician in La Paz, Abra during the 1970s. She ran under the party of Marcos Sr.

But reality is not only harsher but also far from being straightforward. The 31 million is not about my relatives and others like them. It is in reality about the resurrection of the myth of the Marcoses – a decades-long project and well-engineered plan to restore them to power.

And restored they got. Before we knew it, the family was back in the country, their wealth intact, their businesses within their control. Bongbong got to the Senate and then so did his sister Imee. And then Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency in 2016, and under his watch, Marcos Sr was allowed to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in a hurried ceremony with only a 21-gun salute and short of a state funeral. Still, the Marcoses got the closure they wanted.

And then right under our noses, the myth building that was started decades earlier has been intensified. From the ground through the power of patronage politics and unexplained wealth to social media through a well-financed machinery of disinformation, the imagined glory of Apo Lakay has spread around among believers and the converted. Before we knew it, like a bad religion, temples have been built. We never thought the Marcoses could resurrect that fast, yet before we realized it, they are back in Malacanang.

I realize, quite painfully now, that despite my fine social and political education, the unimaginable 31 million has happened in my lifetime.

I was not raised to be uncritical despite my proximity to blind followers. As early as first year high school (that’s Grade 7 for the K-12 babies now), there were already questions in my head. Bakit andaming mahirap? Bakit may korap? For some reason, I was already anti-US or anything hegemonic (even though I would only understand that word in college). Bakit sobrang idol naman ng mga Pinoy ang US?

I found the answers to my questions through the social and political education I had in college and even more outside school. It also didn’t hurt that I was interested in journalism in high school, then I got that as my course in UP Diliman. My awareness of social issues grew from reading news and editorials, features and commentaries, and that consciousness shaped my love and passion for writing.

Watching then the film, Schindler’s list and seeing that young female engineer Jew get shot, it occurred to me that tyrants typically attack first those who can write, speak and think critically. Tyrants are afraid of wordsmiths joining forces with the basic masses, I was telling myself, because that’s when revolutions begin.

But today, some so-called writers ascribe the 31 million to some sort of a revolution, where the majority have simply chosen to “move on” from a dark past and to achieve “unity” for the dawning of a “new society”. And it is here where the deeper pain I am feeling is coming from – we are seeing so-called writers being paid to weave lies, peddle a revised version of history, and shape a generation of mindless and uncritical citizens who shall forget their history lessons and shall have a distorted sense of democracy. And there is no solidarity between these so-called writers and the basic masses – there is only treachery.  

It also doesn’t help to think that the presumptive vice-president Sara Duterte is going to take over the reins of the education department when what she has demonstrated so far is her plan to heighten military education and her aversion to the Lumad schools. Peace and discipline – that is apparently the thrust for education, which is quite reminiscent of the martial law years under Marcos Sr when academic freedom was curtailed and the youth were being shaped to be robots.

The NTF-ELCAC and the military will be cooperative in achieving “peace and discipline” in schools. They have already forcibly closed the Lumad schools. They have vilified progressive teachers and demonized student activists. They have put parents against their children. They have killed the positive values of nationalism, radical and progressive thinking, human rights, freedom and democracy. They cannot even allow the concept of peace based on social justice to be elucidated. This is not just the end of democracy, this is the end of civilization.

These days, I wake up everyday, hoping that our reality has changed. And it hasn’t of course, because that is not the way we make change happen.    

31 million should be an inspiration, I keep telling myself, to keep up the hope for a better Philippines. Our patience and strength may wear thin, and we may even think of just giving up, but right now keeping at it is the only way to make us dream again.

I can only hope that writers, teachers and even artists who remain dedicated to the people will choose to continue to persevere to deliver the truth, correct information and analysis, and positive values. Our best piece is yet to come – and that is when we get to write history.