[Pastilan] ‘What is happening to our country?’

Something caught my attention when Misamis Oriental gubernatorial candidate and 2nd District Representative Juliette Uy’s group announced on March 27 that she and other members of the National Unity Party (NUP) in the province have decided to throw their support behind the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo.

It was the reminder of Uy’s running mate, former vice governor Joey Pelaez, about the ambush of former vice president Emmanuel “Maning” Pelaez that struck me.

Joey, one of the grandsons of Pelaez’s brother Gregorio, brought back to life the famous question posed by the wounded son of Misamis Oriental to the then Quezon City police chief General Tomas Karingal before he was taken to the operating room: “General, what is happening to our country?”

It was a simple question that could have been asked by anyone. It wasn’t highfalutin. Neither did the words sound oratorical, but they rhymed with the times so well, not to mention that they were uttered by a minister of state – and a former vice president at that – who was struggling for life apparently because he dared speak out against an organized swindling syndicate that prepared on poor people.

It was a time when the word of the then godfather-dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos alias Apo Lakay was considered law that can only be questioned by those willing to face the consequences.

Pelaez sustained multiple gunshot wounds and suffered broken ribs in the ambush carried out while he was on his way home one evening in July 1982. His driver died on the spot after being shot to the head, and Maning Pelaez was left for dead by gunmen who riddled his car with bullets.

Pelaez was convinced, just like many others at that time, that the ambush was meant to silence him. He had no enemies but made noise against the monopoly of the coconut industry and the forced taxation of the country’s coconut farmers from 1971 to 1983.

Dictatorship is almost always a breeding ground for monopolies. Add the absence of accountability because no dictator thinks he is answerable to anyone, and it’s a surefire way to corrupt governance.

The poor farmers were promised the development of the coconut industry and returns, only to find out that their hard-earned money was used to buy shares in several corporations, to the swindlers’ benefit. It was a shameless broad daylight robbery – or budol-budol – pulled off against one of the poorest sectors of our society, made possible by alias Apo Lakay’s decree during one of the darkest periods in Philippine history.

The Pelaez case was never solved, and we find his 40-year-old question being asked again at this time when the disgraced family of the worst Philippine president in the 20th century is moving heaven and earth to get back to power. Some surviving members of that swindling syndicate are behind Junior.

Indeed, what is happening to our country now when Apo Lakay Junior, someone who should have been a nuisance, to begin with, is being taken as a serious contender for the presidency and is threatening to make us a laughing stock in the community of nations?

The world knows that dogs, not humans, eat what they already threw up, and Junior is a small piece of undegested hotdog in that slime.

Why shouldn’t we be the butt of a joke when it only takes Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and the like – with a little help from some foreign trolls and bots – for many to forget what “Never again!” means?

There is no need for Xi Jinping to send troops or fire a missile to force us into submission. In 2016, all that he had to do to accelerate the Chinese intrusion, er, the invasion was explode an atomic bomb on social media to alter public perceptions so that the worst candidate submissive to Beijing’s whims and caprices would win.

(It doesn’t take rocket science for one to connect the dots – a similar social media bomb exploded in the United States a few months later after the Philippine experiment proved successful.)

That explosion caused a system anomaly so that a politician who lacked good breeding but who was willing to look the other way while China encroached on the West Philippine Sea, would suddenly rise to power.

It didn’t come as a surprise then that the bug in the Matrix declared in October 2016 that “there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines, and Russia.” The bug knew that it was the beneficiary of the bomb that went off on social media.

We are at a crossroads just like in 2016 when we saw the first wave of this intrusion, er, invasion by way of social media. Our democracy and its weaknesses are being used as a weapon against us so that a foreign power can continue doing as it pleases in Philippine territory.

The May elections all boil down to a question of right and wrong. It is, as Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Emeritus Antonio “Tony” Ledesma sees it, a moral issue.

In late March, Bishop Tony warned about what he called disturbing moral issues regarding the candidacy of the late dictator’s son.

The bishop explained the position that he and many other bishops, priests, and nuns have taken. They are, according to Bishop Tony, “non-partisan, but not neutral.”

“Non-partisan because bishops and priests, as institutional leaders of the church, are pastors of a community that is open to all, sinners and saints, and should not be divided by political affiliations. On the other hand, religious leaders cannot be neutral when the issues involve a moral dimension,” he explained.

Bishop Tony noted that questions about the Marcoses’ moral conduct, past and present, are glossed over. “It is in this light that the prophetic role of church leaders must be heard. The candidacy of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for president, in particular, has raised a number of moral issues.”

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He summed up his concerns with these four major points: plunder and corruption, tax evasion and moral turpitude, reinterpretation of the iniquities of Martial Law, and deliberate and widespread disinformation.

Bishop Tony has a litany of fundamental issues that should have confronted Junior, but the candidate has succeeded to some extent in avoiding these the way he has evaded taxes. These include the following:

  • Billions of pesos in Marcos assets in various Swiss banks have been declared ill-gotten wealth by the Supreme Court, and Junior is aware of all of these because there are judicial rulings in the Philippines, the United States, and Switzerland.
  • The World Bank and UN Office on Drugs and Crimes said the late dictator stole between $5 billion and $10 billion from the country’s coffers.
  • The Marcos estate tax debt ballooned from ₱23.3 billion to P203 billion because Junior, being the estate administrator, ignored the collection notices from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
  • Junior is a convicted tax evader.
  • He was implicated in the infamous Janet Napoles pork barrel scam, placing millions of pesos in projects via bogus non-governmental organizations in 2011 and 2012.
  • “We are appalled by the blatant and subtle distortion, manipulation, cover-up, repression and abuse of the truth, like historical revisionism – the distortion of history or its denial; the proliferation of fake news and false stories; disinformation…to influence the opinion of people, to hide the truth, to malign and blackmail people. There are troll farms which sow the virus of lies.” (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines)

These, according to Bishop Tony, are things that should be discussed in the people’s circles of discernment.

“Church leaders have raised voices in denouncing these malpractices that shame our democratic way of life,” he said.

The way I see it, the issues about Marcos Jr. are things that all the candidates behind his campaign – from the national down to the local levels – should be confronted with.

Why is it that they have no problems with supporting someone who should be treated like a political pariah from Day 1 of the campaign? He was a participant, enjoyed the Marcos loot, and won’t acknowledge that Martial Law abuses happened and that his father was abusado.

Why should we even bother going over their qualifications now when it’s already a given that they are either 1) opportunists who have no problems with compromising principles or 2) can’t differentiate between right and wrong? If their bet and hero is “Adolf Hitler Jr.,” then we should question their judgment, thought processes, and moral standards.

These candidates, intelligent or slow, have shown that they are not morally fit by choosing Junior as their standard-bearer. And it makes me wonder – what else would they be willing to compromise if they win seats in government? Pastilan. Rappler.com

Journalist Herbie Gomez is Rappler’s Mindanao Bureau coordinator. He is based in Cagayan de Oro City.

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