08 June 2013

On Phillippine dynasties

"If I were a Filipino, I'd be in the hills with the rebels." - Douglas MacArthur, referring to the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan

Lately several stories have been appearing in the international press about the unlikelihood of political reform in the Philippines due to the feudal nature of its society mired in dynastic rule, often accompanied by nepotism and corruption.

 Take, for example, the current President of the Philippines (since June 2010), Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, son of former president Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino (February 1986-June 1992) and assassinated opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. (Senator, 1967-1972; Governor of Tarlac 1961-1967), son of former Speaker of the National Assembly Benigno “Igno” Aquino Sr. (1943-1944), son of Malolos Congress delegate Servillano “Mianong” Aquino (1898-1899). 

Noynoy’s immediate predecessor was his former economics professor Gloria “GMA” Macapagal Arroyo (January 2001-June 2010), daughter of previous president Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965), who is a descendant of Dula, last lakan (rajah/sultan) of the Kapampangan kingdom of Tondo (1558-1571) before the Spanish conquest. 

Noynoy’s mother, Cory, was a member of one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and largest landowning families in the country, the Cojuangcos of Tarlac.  Her vice president, Salvador “Doy” Laurel, was the son of wartime president Jose B. Laurel who served when Noynoy’s grandfather Igno was speaker.

In much of the latter decades of the 20th century, life in the Philippines was marked bythe business and political rivalry between Cory’s brother Jose, or “Peping”, and their cousin Eduardo, or “Danding”, who was the right hand man of former President Ferdinand “Ferdie” Marcos (1965-1986) throughout the latter’s presidency. 

Both Peping (1961-1969) and Danding (1969-1972) are former congressmen from the First District of the province of Tarlac, Danding succeeding Peping in that office in 1969 and serving until martial law was declared in 1972.  Peping in turn succeeded Danding after the office was revived in 1987 following the People Power Revolution of 1986, serving until 1998.  Danding also succeeded Ninoy Aquino as Governor of Tarlac, serving 1967-1986.  Peping’s wife, Margarita “Tingting” de los Reyes Cojuangco, also served as Governor of Tarlac, 1992-1998.

Ninoy’s brother, Agapito “Butz” Aquino and sister, Maria Theresa “Tessie” Oreta-Aquino, both served in the Senate, 1987-1995 and 1998-2004 respectively.

If the nicknames (by which the press in the Philippines often refers to them) throw you, the widely respected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Claudio Teehankee Sr. had the nickname “Dingdong”.  Ferdie Marcos’ son, who holds his father’s former Senate seat, is “Bongbong”, which is close to the nickname of one of my nephews in the Philippines, “Bonbon”. 

Before becoming Senator, Bongbong served as congressman from the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte province (2007-2010), preceeded by his sister Imee (1998-2007) and succeeded by his mother Imelda (2010-present), a post previously held by his father, Ferdie (1949-1959) before likewise becoming senator (1959-1965).  Imee, by the way, is currently Governor of Ilocos Norte.

Recently in Cebu City, Kris Aquino (sister of Noynoy Aquino, daughter of Cory and Ninoy Aquino, first cousin once removed of Danding Cojuangco and niece of Peping and Tingting Cojuangco, of Butz Aquino, and of Tessie Aquino-Oreta) announced her candidacy for the governorship of Tarlac, an office previously held by father Ninoy, aunt Tingting, and first cousin once removed Danding.

This is getting as convoluted as Olenna Redwyne Tyrell’s explanation of who was or was going to be related to whom and how among the various dynasties at the wedding of Tyrion Lannister and Sanza Stark on “Game of Thrones”.  Which, I must add, had a much happier ending than the Red Wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslyn Frey, unless your surname is Lannister or Frey.

Imagine the Montagues and the Capulets with modern firearms.  Kind of like the 1996 film “Romeo + Juliet” with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.  Only on steroids.  Lots of steroids.

Not usually as over-the-top as the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre in Maguidinao province on the southern island of Mindinao, however.  The 2009 elections in the Philippines had a much lower body count than usual—only about 23 dead—until this work of overachievement gets added into the sum. 

Since 2001, the Ampatuan clan had ruled in almost complete control of the province as allies of Noynoy’s former professor GMA.  When their patriarch’s legal term of office was complete, the clan chose his son to succeed him, only a sizable portion of the province’s people objected to the establishment of the dynasty and backed vice mayor of Buluan Esmael Mangudadatu to run against him.

When Mangudadatu’s wife travelled to the provincial capital to file his certificate of candidacy along with his two sisters, an aunt, accompanied by 34 journalists and 19 others including  aides and lawyers, their convoy was ambushed and all 58 of them murdered by partisans of the Ampatuan clan.  At least five of the women were raped; all the women were shot in the genitals and beheaded.  His youngest sister and his aunt were both pregnant.

Not quite the body count of the Red Wedding in which Robb Stark, King of the North, his pregnant wife Talisa Maegyr, his mother Caetlyn Tully Stark, and most of his 3500 were slaughtered at a loss of about 50 men for House Frey.  But in this day and age of Twitter, cell-phones, texts, and other instantaneous communication, it was a brazen middle finger in the face of the Philippine people by a would-be dynasty wallowing in its own hubris coming from its connection to a corrupt president.  In fact, a text from his wife that identified the man in charge of the roadblock at which they were taken revealed the soon-to-be murderers.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called it the single-most deadly attack on journalists in history.  It wasn’t a very good day for the Mangudadatu family either.

The Ampatuans should have heeded the lesson learned by Al Capone when Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle got hit.  On the other hand, Hubert Webb, son of politician and mover-and-shaker Freddie Webb got away ultimately with the Vizconde Massacre, so who knows?  It is the Philippines, and the Ampatuans are a political dynasty.  As they said in the movie, it’s a dangerous life.

I only picked on the Aquino-Cojuangco clan of Tarlac earlier because they currently happen to be the most prominent nationally and have, together with the Marcoses of Ilocos Norte, dominated the national scene since the 1960’s.  For the most part, they are some of the cleaner politicos in the Philippines.  They are, however, products of a system which makes such atrocities as the Ampatuan and Vizconde massacres possible.

And that’s only what they do to other members of their class and their near hangers-on.  What happens to the people, what has been happening since the days of the Spanish colonial rule and has never stopped, is far worse.  For anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel, it is an outrage, an atrocity, one which will go on and on and on, world without end, as long as the current feudal system remains in place. 

The immense amount of rage that consumed me during the years I was in Mabalacat and Manila over seeing that eventually left me with only two choices.  I chose the latter because of the then recent birth of my son, returning Stateside after four years.  Had it not been for that, following the first choice would have been easy and I would have been in the hills with the rebels as a non-fictional Col. Kurtz.  Like Dugout Doug MacArthur had he been Filipino.  Not that much of a stretch since many my Filipino friends compared me to Jose Rizal.  If saying that seems like bragging, it’s actually rather humbling.

“The Filipino is worth dying for.” – Ninoy Aquino, 4 August 1980, 3 years before he did

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