POSTSCRIPT / December 10, 2015 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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When is right time to draw the sword?

NOW AND THEN in a nation’s life, a mailed-fist approach to runaway violence, crime and corruption as advocated by presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte surfaces and whips up a debate best resolved in a national election.

We witnessed in 1972 a similar resort to force to meet an emergency when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial rule and assumed dictatorial powers to thwart, he said, a threat to the nation’s survival from the left and the right.

On the issue of unsheathing the sword, Ninoy Aquino –President Noynoy Aquino’s martyred father who was widely expected then to follow to the presidency – also toyed with an extreme solution before Marcos imposed martial law.

As related in my Postscript of Nov. 11, 2010 (part of a series), among Ninoy’s planned measures against economic sabotage was to threaten the big-time smugglers with physical elimination if they persisted.

Sorry, but I have to print excerpts of the column to provide context to that part when Ninoy talked of what he would do with smugglers:

BOSTON MEETING: There was no more time to curl up in bed or gaze out the window to savor an early autumn morning in Boston. I had just woken up when Ninoy walked in to tell me we were going to a breakfast meeting.

“The newsman in me jumped. With Ninoy, one could always expect the unexpected.

“Soon we were in a hotel, where a group of five Chinese (Taiwanese) waited in a function room. I readily recognized one of them — Han Lih-wu – and almost leaped to grab his extended hand.

“As the Manila Times reporter covering diplomatic row before martial rule folded what was then Asia’s largest circulated English-language daily, I used to interview Dr. Han at their chancery or his residence when he was the Chinese ambassador in Manila.

“This very learned and cultured man, a staunch anti-communist, had a run-in with then first lady Imelda R. Marcos. The experience, plus his libertarian orientation, must have colored his view of the conjugal dictatorship.

* * *

TOPPLING MARCOS: What did these democrats meeting privately in a third country talk about over breakfast?

“They talked of violated rights and freedoms under the repressive regime, the physical and political health of the dictator, and the need to hasten his downfall. I got the impression it was not their first meeting since they were referring to earlier discussions.

“A general summary would be: They noted that the Filipino people had suffered enough, that it was high time Marcos was removed by any means, and that the group from Taiwan was ready to help.

“What kind of help? Among other options, they reaffirmed their readiness to deliver arms if these were needed by Filipino patriots. They were already asking about landing points!

* * *

FLASHBACK: I was watching Ninoy. This time, he was not dominating the conversation. He was listening intently, asking about details and making sparse comments, but without throwing cold water on the Chinese offer.

“The scene sent my mind drifting back 10 years — months before Marcos pulled a coup d’etat from the center in 1972, declared martial rule, scrapped the Constitution that barred his election for a third four-year term, and set the stage for his ruling for life.

“In that pre-martial rule scenario, Ninoy and I took off on a private plane from the domestic airport in Pasay. I did not bother to inquire about our destination since I was set to go anywhere with him. Aside from the pilot and a co-pilot, there was a fifth man on board – a Caucasian.

“When we settled at cruising altitude, Ninoy put down the paperback he was speed-reading. I nudged him to ask who the white man was. He did not say exactly who or what he was, but hinted he was from the US Central Intelligence Agency.

* * *

WEAPONS?: At our two stops, Ninoy talked to some people who apparently knew he was coming. At our final destination, in Lanao, I got off to shake my legs and made like a neophyte politician shaking hands.

“By all indications, we were in Moroland. Since I considered the trip a private outing and not coverage (I had no plan of writing about it at that time), I was not taking notes or shooting pictures.

“I gathered that our welcomers were relatives or followers of the Lucmans. Some of the men unloaded heavy wooden crates from the plane and carted them off. I did not have to be an ordnance expert to know what they contained.

* * *

BACKING OUT: When we resumed talking politics on the return flight to Manila, Ninoy surprised me with a revelation that he was having serious second thoughts about running for president in the 1973 national elections.

“The Boy Wonder of Philippine politics was widely presumed to be the shoo-in Liberal Party presidential candidate and was conceded to win. And now the president-to-be was saying he was no longer running!

“He gave a simple explanation: With the population exploding at something like 2.5 percent annually at that time, millions of hungry Filipinos would be fighting for the fruits of the economy that was then growing, I think, at an uninspiring 4 percent.

“With such grim demographics, he said, he would surely fail as president. So why run at all?

* * *

DICTATORSHIP: The only way he could close the economic gap as national leader, he said, was for him to assume dictatorial powers. (That was exactly what Marcos did a few months later!)

“On the problem of big-time smuggling sapping the vitality of the economy, he said he would summon to Malacañang the known smugglers and tell them to stop it. If after the deadline, they persisted, he said he would warn them again.

“There would be no third warning. If the economic sabotage continued, he said, bodies of notorious smugglers would be found floating in the Pasig River.

“If that scare tactic still failed to stop smuggling, he continued, the corpses of more smuggling lords would be spotted among the water lilies in the Pasig.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 10, 2015)

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