Filipino Opinion


When you Google “Bayan Ko”, you’ll see words like Nuestra Patria (Our Country), patriotic, unofficial national anthem and seditious.

No Filipino living in any part of this planet can claim to be unaffected by this song. Bayan Ko became the rallying song after the 1983 assassination of a Marcos opponent, Benigno Aquino, and gained traction during the People Power Revolt of 1986. It’s a song that expresses opposition to anything that curtails Filipino freedom, be it a foreign power governing the Philippines or the imposition of martial law, as was the case during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos when he declared this in 1972.


When i emigrated and moved to Canada in September early 70,  the Philippines was under martial law; freedom curtail, curfew enforced. On my first trip back to the old country, I observed some rumblings against Marcos and martial law. Fast forward to 1986 in an election where Marcos claimed victory and which the populace did not accept. Hence, the People Power Revolution. Aquino’s widow, his opponent, ascended the presidency and the Filipino macho culture manifested itself in politics.  She finished her term, scarred by dissents and unsuccessful coup attempts by Marcos loyalists, comprised mostly of men. The country remembers her as the widowed housewife that brought democracy back and words like “Never Again” became the slogan at the start of her 6-year-term, an amendment to the original 4-year-term subject to the re-election of another 4 years, pretty much like that of US presidents.

Cory Aquino, as she was known to Filipinos at home and abroad, was succeeded by a military man, a West Point graduate and cousin of Marcos. Initial apprehension over Fidel Ramos’ experience and blood relations to a former dictator calmed down during his term. There was stability in the country and peace. His term focused on the industrialization of the country by the year 2000, a rather ambitious undertaking if you count the population and how martial law resulted in a brain drain in the 70s. For one, the most expensive road construction transpired during this time and only after his term came the revelation of mismanagement and corruption over the infrastructure. Corruption was equated to Marcos’s 20-year tenure that it had become a way of life, tricking from top to bottom during his successors’ terms. Sad reality.


The third president chosen by the Filipinos to run the country turned out to be a joke. Yes, a joke. To me, that is. As a son of a movie star of the 50s and a brother of a heartthrob in Filipino movies during the late 60s and early 70s, I’ve always believed in the saying, stick to what you’re good at; if you’re good at acting, stick to it. Joseph Estrada was a good Filipino actor until he sat in the Study Room of Malacanang. His tenure was characterized by womanizing, kidnappings, ineptness to run a fragile democracy run to the ground by Marcos. He didn’t finish his term, was ousted by a second People Power revolt and was charged with plunder. His VP finished his term and ran on her academic background.


Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became the face of hope when she was elected to run the country. Highly educated and a classmate of Bill Clinton, she succumbed to the power of the almighty peso. She was a big disappointment to the learned Filipino who hoped she would raise the bar on corruption which was becoming endemic when she took over but instead, engaged into it, without compunction. After her term, she was charged and jailed.


The 5th president was the bachelor son of Cory Aquino – Benigno Aquino! Jr. His term was characterized as a weak presidency, unable to curtail corruption. Memes showing him as the cause of natural disasters started appearing on social media. Unfair really but we’re discussing the Philippines, home to natural disasters, and the Filipino’s penchant for mocking leaders who appear weak.


The current president takes the cake, lifted Marcos’ playbook for running the country and enhanced it to his own style of governing. Often admonished by the international community for his brutal way of dealing with druggies, Rodrigo Duterte is emboldened by his high rating of support by the masses. Whether or not this rating is authentic, only he and his administration know. An ex-mayor of a southern city, Davao, claims to have shot and killed while mayor. He has given the police and military blanket authority to kill and has promised absolution. Scary. He does not believe in the rule of succession, should he be incapacitated to run the government and is often unseen in public functions because of a chronic health condition. I’m remembering Marcos’ last year’s in power, when he was too ill and Imelda, his wife, apparently ran the country with General Fabian Ver, the Chief of Staff. Duterte has two more years remaining and he intends to finish his term. His VP does not sit in his cabinet meetings and is often mocked by his supporters for her involvement in charitable organizations linked to natural disasters.


The pandemic became the perfect instrument for Duterte. Sad yet true. Like all populist leaders, he is using the virus as a weapon to terrorize Filipinos. As if the Filipino is not that afraid of Civid 19,  he is using the latest law passed, the anti-terrorism law to address issues unrelated to the pandemic, issues critiquing his management of the land. Yes, the ghost of Marcos still hovers. By the way, two of Marcos’ children and wife Imelda are political allies of Duterte. Son Bongbong ran for VP and lost but never conceded. Has asked repeatedly for recounts and in each recount, the sitting VP comes out the winner. Talk about like father, like son.


The Philippine archipelago with its over 7,100 islands, not all inhabited, was once known as the Pearl of the Orient. Now it’s among the last Asian country to reach herd immunity from this virus, with 2023 as the projected date. This saddens me. When I left, I had to change my peso into US currency. At the time, I got $1 for every 7 pesos. As of this writing, the exchange rate is 50.00 pesos to US$1. It is mind-boggling but not surprising. During Marcos’ time, it was rumoured that Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (the Central Bank of the Philippines) printed so many bills which caused inflation.


I will never give up on my old country. I can still sing Lupang Hinirang, the country’s national anthem. And I get emotional when I hear Bayan Ko, the unofficial national anthem. When this pandemic is over and the Philippines has achieved herd immunity, I will go back to visit.

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