Review Essay: The Politics of Plunder by Dr. Belinda Aquino

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Rafael, Joshua John M. DS 199.1

2014-12072 Dec. 6, 2017

Review Essay: The Politics of Plunder by Dr. Belinda Aquino

The Marcos era was a period of flagrant human rights violations, massive poverty, widespread political unrest, and adverse economic trends. Many social movements, armed and non-violent, sprung up to resist the Marcos regime. After two decades in power, he was finally forced into exile, bringing an end to a kleptocracy that plundered $5 billion to $10 billion from the Philippines (Denny, 2004). But generations later, while the effects of his corruption are still felt, a good number of Filipinos seem to have forgotten—or choose to forget—the many sins of his regime. Indeed, a millennial today is faced with the seemingly uphill battle of not only resisting a quick-developing fascist regime headed by current President Rodrigo Duterte, but even in the memory of such a painful period in Philippine history, a struggle ensues. To talk about Marcos and Duterte today, with all their similarities, is to delve into not just the politics of plunder, but perhaps more so, the politics of memory.

The struggle for the collective memory of the Martial Law period is of course, an issue of acceptance of facts versus disregard of it—taking over the discourse of history. In the age of trolls, fake news, paid experts, and misguided pundits, millennials today are dangerously susceptible to historical revisionism—especially of the Marcos era. Who was once a violent, greedy dictator whose oust was celebrated, is today a hero, a genuine leader who was robbed of the chance to guide the Philippine future.

The revisionists are not a mere mob of paid supporters, rather some are historians, pundits, and respected members of the academe. When faced with these people who have the intellectual capital to railroad any conversation regarding the Marcoses, it is imperative that those who seek to tell the truth and fight back against this tide of revisionism be armed. Armed not just with the truth—established facts are blatantly disregarded by revisionists—but with the methods, the ways and means—the evidence on how the truth was gathered. Only by presenting a systematic gathering and analyzing of evidence left behind by the Marcoses themselves can finally crush the tide of revisionism. To bring back the rational mind that seems to elude Filipinos nowadays, it is necessary to engage them with proof.


Belinda Aquino’s book, Politics of Plunder, come in handy for this. Published in 1999, it is the culmination of a very deep and comprehensive research that followed the paper trails left behind when Marcos flew to Hawaii after the EDSA Revolution.

It draws its information from voluminous papers and documents, ranging from those found here in the Philippines after a thorough investigation of government records to even those retrieved form the plane that carried his possessions. These papers include bank records, contracts, financial statements, certificates of deposit, incorporation papers, personal communications and notes, listings of assets and properties, and other information on the business dealings of Marcos and his cronies. The inventory of Marcos’ planeload of assets alone is a veritable cornucopia of information on plundered wealth stashed away in a desperate last minute.

Besides that, it also used primary reports form newspapers and periodicals, and discussions with parties involved in the recovery of Marcos’ unexplained wealth.

Sources of information are a vital part (arguably its most vital) of a research methodology. Especially of a research concerning not just proving, but explaining how the Marcoses plundered the Philippine state, a researcher must find definite proof of these wrongdoings. Fortunately, the Marcos regime supplied its own smoking gun. The task of Aquino was to gather it and analyze it.

Her book is commendable for its depth and grand scope. It is no easy feat to synthesize twenty years’ worth of documents and then explain it in an easily-understood format. Nevertheless, her persistence paid off and her book serves to smash any misconceptions about the truthfulness of whether there was money stolen by the Marcoses. What is notable about her writing is that not only did she elaborate on the multiple crafty methods and the whopping amount; but she has mentioned the peeks into the souls of the Marcoses and their cronies—theories abound as to why their greed was insatiable. In fact she wrote that systemic explanations alone are inadequate to understanding the "politics of plunder" under Marcos; one must also "look at the role of individual dictators themselves in the destruction of their own societies".

Her methodology precise, Politics of Plunder is a must-read—for both revisionists (to slap some truth into their heads) and truth-thumpers (to arm them with the evidence needed to overcome trolls and hacks). As a millennial, it is disconcerting to see that great studies like these are overlooked, ignored, and left collecting on the dust when its knowledge is needed more than ever to combat historical revisionism and the potential return of the Marcoses to power.

Besides seeking the truth, a rereading of Martial Law literature is essential for one more thing: Duterte’s idolatry of the Marcos dictatorship.


The first two years of the Rodrigo Duterte presidency saw a tumultuous yet quick transformation from a hopeful administration open to comprehensive socio-economic reforms to a regime reminiscent of one of the darkest periods in Philippine history—the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Duterte’s perverted idolatry of the Marcos family began with his bid to bury the late dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, a national cemetery reserved for distinguished patriots and past Philippine presidents. A highly contested decision, it was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in a majority decision (“SC decision on the Marcos burial case”, 2017).

Since then, his policy direction, speeches and outbursts, and even chosen allies and appointed officials are reminiscent of those terrible years under the dictator—either emulating or praising Marcos.

After a botched operation in the City of Marawi in Mindanao, the Maute terror group has taken control of the city and a 5-month siege of the area then ensued, with a declaration of martial law not just in the city, but in the whole island of Mindanao effected.

A drug war—rooted in his campaign promise to prevent the Philippines from becoming a narco-state—has already claimed the lives of approximately 12,000 Filipinos (“Philippines’ War on Drugs,” 2017) who are predominantly poor. Due process is set aside in a widespread practice of summary executions (Gershman, 2016) that do not only rob victims of their right to be proven innocent, but even end up killing the wrong person in cases of mistaken identities (Agoncillo, 2016). Minors are not spared from the horrible spate of state-sponsored killings (Talabong, 2017) with two boys killed in the City of Caloocan in a span of a mere two days.

Drawing condemnation from various sectors, progressive groups, and human rights advocates, the Congress supermajority of Duterte retorted by filing an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno (De Jesus, 2017)—a blatant attempt to undermine the separation of powers—while activists are either jailed, threatened, or slain (Serafica, 2017; Galang & Orejas, 2017) after Duterte’s proclamation that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) would be treated as a terrorist group, following the breakdown of peace talks (Placido, 2017). Previously, Duterte has declared an all-out war policy against the NPA after various clashes with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in 2016 (Romero, 2017).

After going after the unorganized communities of urban poor, it seems that Duterte has set his sights on a new war: against the organized movement of the Left and its activists. Harkening back to those Marcosian days of repression, it seems that fascism has reared its ugly head once again and set its sight on blatantly oppressing the Filipino people. But he can expect resistance not only those who fought back and survived the Martial Law period, but from us millennials themselves, who have not forgotten our history.


Agoncillo, J. A. (2016, December 21). Witnesses in Pasig teen's slay heard gunman say: 'It's not him'. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Aquino, B. (1987). Politics of plunder: the Philippines under Marcos. Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines, National College of Public Administration and Governance.

Denny, C. (2004, March 26). Suharto, Marcos and Mobutu head corruption table. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao. (2017, May 23). Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

FULL TEXT: SC decision on the Marcos burial case. (2016, November 11). Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Galang, A., & Orejas, T. (n.d.). Priest killed in Nueva Ecija. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Gershman, J. (2016, December 16). Human Rights and Duterte's War on Drugs. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Jesus, J. L. (2017, December 5). House panel to move deadline of hearing on impeachment case vs Sereno. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Philippines' 'War on Drugs'. (n.d.). Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Placido, D. (2017, December 04). Duterte declares CPP-NPA as terror group. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Romero, A. (2017, February 8). All-out war vs NPA. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Serafica, R. (2017, November 30). To friends, Jo Lapira was a tiny UP activist with big dreams. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

Talabong, R. (2017, September 4). Kian and Carl: What the deaths of two boys have in common. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from

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